After practice on Thursday, Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella discussed his team’s progression in camp, his lineup decisions, and how his team is balancing the intensity of playoff preparation with staying healthy and fresh for round one.
You were really happy with the pace and energy of this team in the first week. You didn’t like the practice on Monday. Have you felt a lag with that? Did you feel the need to push it back up today?
Tortorella: I thought we practiced better today. I think we’ve just got to be really careful not to fall into the trap of thinking we can wade ourselves into this. Each day is an important day. This isn’t getting ready for regular season and then trying to find your game in 15 games during the regular season. This is a sprint.
I think some guys have been dead on right from the start. Other guys, not so much. I think we are in single digits as far as getting ready to play this game. I don’t want us to fall into the trap of wading in. We have to be ready to go.
Has this camp created more questions for you than it has answered in terms of who fits where and who should play together, especially at the forward position? Do you feel less settled there than when it started?
Tortorella: I am not settled, I’ll tell you that. I am not sure who is playing with who — both on D, with the goalies and with the forwards, too. I have ideas… I know two pairs are going to be together. I know sets of forwards — two each — are going to play together. I am not sure where everything else falls into play.
My concern is that some of the people that are going to need to make a difference for us to win in a series I don’t think are ready right now. I don’t think they are doing the things they need to do right now to get ready for that series. A couple of them.
In your mind, has there been much movement between your two groups of players in terms of guys moving into consideration for the Game 1 lineup?
Tortorella: Not so much. There are a couple of spots where I am not sure who is in the lineup. It’s not so much out of the lineup as where you fit in the lineup. There are probably two or three spots that are still up for grabs as far as playing to be in the lineup, but a lot of it is who is going to play with who.
When Joonas Korpisalo gives up 13 goals in two scrimmages, do you worry about his game, or is it still so far away that it is not a measurable for you?
Tortorella: We are certainly evaluating. The scrimmage games are big for the goaltenders in evaluating. We are not thrilled about 13 goals, but it doesn’t put you into concern. We’ve got two really good goalies. We’ve still got to figure out who is going to start. I’ll leave it at that.
Those are the things we are evaluating quite a bit with the goaltending: Manny [Legace]’s thoughts as far as how they have progressed in practice, and for the coaches who know nothing about goaltending, it is watching the scrimmages. We’ll continue to do that as we continue to scrimmage.
The deeper you get into the camp, is it reminding you of the international experiences that you have had in tournaments with teams you coached?
Tortorella: Nah, I don’t even remember them. I don’t even remember those camps. I guess it is old age, but I can’t remember that far back and all of those camps. We are trying to run this camp as best we can in the two-and-a-half or three weeks so we don’t injure people in a crazy situation after being off for four months — following a camp and a regular season — while trying to evaluate what our team is. On top of that, we’re teaching our team concept with some reminders of how we play.
I’ve had people ask me about these tournaments coming in off the summer — the international tournaments. I don’t even think that way. This is a unique situation for the league and we are just trying to do the best we can to get ready to play a five-game series.
How difficult is that balance between staying healthy and still having some intensity in camp, especially given your style as a team is physical?
Tortorella: We’ve had a couple of days of combativeness. You need to get into the bumping and the grind. That is where conditioning is for an NHL player — in those spots of the ice over a 60-minute hockey game. We can come up with as many skating drills as you want; it’s nothing like the thrashing that goes on in a game.
You are hoping you get some of that out of your scrimmage. I think we have. For the most part, I have liked what I have seen here. It is just two or three guys that are pretty important people… It’s a concern of mine. The team concept as far as our neutral zone, our reloads — all of the things we are teaching — I am not sure we are getting total concentration out of some key people. That is what we are working to try to get.
Have you had a chance to speak to any other coaches going through this same experience in the league? There are 24 teams going through this.
Tortorella: Nope. I am not looking for ideas. I think we are going to go about our business the way we think it should be done. I am not saying that we have all of the answers. I am not going to poll other coaches. I am not interested in talking to other coaches. The other coaches that are doing this are hopefully guys we are going to be playing against. I am not interested in really talking to them. We are interested in buckling down with our team and getting ready to play. It is as simple as that.
What have you thought of Devin Shore? He stood out in the scrimmage the other night.
Tortorella: He is a guy fighting for a spot in the lineup. We certainly haven’t counted him out. I think he has progressed nicely throughout the camp. I thought he was really good in the last scrimmage.