After practice on Saturday, Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella discussed his team’s readiness and preparation for Game 1 on Sunday night.
How comfortable are you with either goaltender going into Game 1? What is your opinion on Frederik Andersen of the Leafs?
Tortorella: I just wanted to say one thing before I answer the question. On behalf of the coaching staff here in Columbus and the Columbus Blue Jacket organization, we’d like to send our best to Dale Hawerchuk as he continues the battle he is. We just want to send his best. Keep pushing, Dale.
To answer your question, I’m very comfortable with our goaltending. I know nothing about Andersen.
Has anyone emerged in terms of naming a starter for tomorrow night?
Tortorella: Yeah, but I am not going to talk to you about it right now. You know better.
What have you seen from your group in the days and week leading into Game 1 that gives you confidence that they are locked in and ready to roll?
Tortorella: As we’ve gone on, we’ve gotten better. Better practice habits, better concentration. As all the teams here, they are just itching to play. We have gone about our business. We have gotten our tape work done. We finished it up today. We got a good, quick practice in today. Now it is time to play. Sooner or later, you’ve got to do something here where it counts. Now it falls to them. I just think they’re ready to go and play a game that means something.
Are you getting a better feel for how the lineup and the likes are going to look? Are they going to look like the practice lines?
Tortorella: I don’t know exactly what they are going to be. We may start that way. We will see how the game starts and how it proceeds. We will see where we go.
You have 10 or 11 guys who were a part of the series last year against Tampa. How much can they draw from that and do you expect them to draw from that? Is it a factor for you?
Tortorella: As you play more — we played two rounds last year — you get more and more playoff experience. It helps some guys. As I have already said, I am not so sure being involved in the playoffs and having a bunch of experience overrides youth and the ignorance of what’s going on around you. You just go out and play.
I don’t know. This is such a different situation. We are in the middle of the summer. It is so different. I am not sure you can count on anything. I know our team is ready to play. In this situation, we are ready to play Game 1. We are just looking forward to getting it started.
Sheldon Keefe said you sent him a nice note when he took over as Leafs coach. How do you feel when you start to see players or your assistants get jobs throughout the NHL?
Tortorella: Like I said, I am not going to talk about this stuff right now. I am just concentrating on our team and getting ready to play the game.
Seth Jones talked about getting touches and making reads after his long layoff. His layoff was longer than the other guys. He played 21 minutes in the exhibition game. Do you have any reservations to cranking him up to 30+ minutes as he has in playoff games past?
Tortorella: Nope. As I said, we are going to play the guys that we feel are going to give us that particular opportunity to win that game in all situations. You know how it goes with me. It is an open book when we start the game, and then I’ve got to make calls. [Brad Shaw] has to make calls where we think guys can help us win that particular game. That is the way we will go about it.
I think our guy is in shape. Jonesy can play forever. We will see how the game is laid out and how it is going.
With the way the season went with so many injuries, was it a rare opportunity for the coach to get to know better the organizational depth that you really have? There are 31 guys that you have here now. You probably know those guys pretty well compared to other years.
Tortorella: Any time you go through injuries, no matter what amount, it gives the managing, the coaching, and the whole organization a look at where we are for the whole future — not only now but for the future. As I said during the regular season, I think you have to give a tremendous amount of credit to our management staff and our scouting staff as far as some of the people we were able to plug in when we had those injuries.
There were some surprises as to where they were in their development. You are always looking for something positive coming out of injuries. We were injury-riddled. I think we got a really good look at some of what is in our organization as we move forward.
You have talked about needing to get to your identity pretty quickly here. On Thursday night, did you feel pretty good about the identity as far as being above the puck?
Tortorella: I thought our team played the game trying to get ready to play a real one coming up shortly, which is tomorrow. I don’t think anybody went through emotions. I think everybody played hard. There were situations where we did things on the bench as far as trying to get people into the right situations.
It was a good situation for us — not because you win the game as it really doesn’t matter there, but situations arose where we got to play some people in some spots and it just gave us a readiness as we play against Toronto coming up tomorrow night.
It looked like Pierre Luc Dubois was really explosive offensively in the exhibition game on Thursday night. How important is he for you with those great centers he is going to match up against?
Tortorella: He skated very well. He played mostly against Bergeron. He skated away from people. I thought he checked pretty well. That is encouraging as we get ready for the real stuff.
From a defensive standpoint, what did you like from your club in that game, and from Seth Jones specifically?
Tortorella: I don’t want to single any one guy out. Jonesy is an important cog to the team, but the thing I liked about our defensive game is not so much the defensive zone, it was being above the puck and just filling that neutral zone and trying to control their speed coming through. I thought we did a pretty good job of that. I think our concept was good.