COLUMBUS, Ohio — He still speaks bluntly, in an almost apologetically direct way. John Tortorella hasn’t changed who he is now that he’s coaching his third NHL team in the last three-plus seasons and that is a main reason why Blue Jackets president John Davidson brought Tortorella here to try and force this team into maturity.
The Islanders were here on Oct. 20 and handed Columbus a 4-0 defeat. On Oct. 21, Tortorella replaced Todd Richards to run the 0-7-0 Blue Jackets. They were 11-10-2 since, coming into Saturday night’s game, and many of the players had already had the full Torts experience.
“He brought a lot of good qualities like making everybody accountable, holding guys responsible, things like that,” said defenseman Fedor Tyutin, who Saturday tied for the most games played by a Columbus defenseman at 515 but was a healthy scratch for two games soon after Tortorella arrived.
Scott Hartnell, the Jackets’ leading goal scorer, sat a game. Ryan Johansen, the team’s bona fide star at age 23, has been a focus of Tortorella’s desire to make the Blue Jackets a team that’s more reliable night after night -- Tortorella reportedly told Johansen he was out of shape and has stressed that the young center, who will be a restricted free agent after next season, still needs to learn how to be a pro.
“It’s a young team and I still think the team needs to go through the process of how to win,” Tortorella said. “Then you get to the next step, where you think you’re going to win. I still think we’re knee-deep in the process of learning how to win. And you’re also trying to keep your head above of water. The short term is to try and win tonight but also the long term to get to your goal. It’s interesting.”
Columbus still sits last in the Eastern Conference and its climb to respectability took a big hit when goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky suffered a groin injury earlier this week. He’s out for the next three weeks, leaving Tortorella with veteran backup Curtis McElhinney and rookie call-up Joonas Korpisalo.
“Bob is a better goalie than Mac. That’s not a negative. Bob’s our No. 1,” Tortorella said. “We’re wounded, no question, with Bob. That’s a huge injury. Teams don’t win consistently if your goaltender isn’t your best player every night. We have to find a way.”
It’s a team that many thought would shake off last season’s injury-marred drop to the draft lottery and return to the squad that made the playoffs in 2013-14 and gave the Penguins all they could handle in the postseason.
But eight straight losses to open this season has Tortorella, now at age 57 having been fired by the Rangers after 4 1/2 mostly successful seasons and one mess of a season in Vancouver, building a team from the bottom up in midseason.
And, as always, being brutally honest. “We have a lot to learn about just being competitive,” he said. “Forget the results. We just need to learn how to compete in this league every night.”