COLUMBUS — The old John Tortorella mantra “Safe is death” has been resurrected.
The sign above a door in the Blue Jackets’ locker room, and the coach himself, confirms it.
“Yeah, I think we have tried to let our guys go,” Tortorella said as they prepped for the Rangers game Friday night at Nationwide Arena. “As a coach, I’ve tried to turn away from some things... With so many young players on our team that can skate and have brought more skill — I still think you always need the grind in your game, but I want to allow them to play. But it’s a deal. ‘Safe is death’ isn’t not caring about the other side of the puck. It’s not run-and-gun. It does not give you an excuse on play away from the puck. I think we’re caught in between sometimes . . . but I expect that to happen.”
Tortorella says he wants to develop a mindset for a team “trying to redefine its culture,” so shot-blocking remains part of the repertoire. “Sometimes I’m not sure what’s more important: Blocking the shot or the reaction on the bench, and us especially, with a young D, that’s so important,” Tortorella said. “I think we’re taking steps in the right direction . . . we have quite a bit of road to travel.”
The Blue Jackets rank first in the NHL on the power play (the Rangers have climbed to 8th on the penalty-kill), and have won their last six at Nationwide Arena, where the goal cannon has been busy.
One of the young players to watch: 19-year-old defenseman Zach Werenski, with five goals and 13 points in 14 games.
“At home they’ve found a way to score big,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “Good young team, they’ll be very competitive from start to finish.”
So the Rangers will have quite a challenge to finish this trek undefeated after wins in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. They will have power forward Chris Kreider back after medical testing in New York to assure his neck issues were not serious or indicative of post-concussion syndrome.
It’s the first of five games between these teams this season. The Rangers have won the last seven.
The Blueshirts are the only team in the Eastern Conference not to play a 3-on-3 overtime this season.
Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-Rick Nash
J.T. Miller-Mika Zibanejad- Mats Zuccarello
Jimmy Vesey-Kevin Hayes-Jesper Fast
Oscar Lindberg-Brandon Pirri-Michael Grabner
Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi
Marc Staal-Nick Holden
Brady Skjei-Kevin Klein
Brandon Saad-Alexander Wenneberg-Nick Foligno
Boone Jenner-Brandon Dubinsky-Cam Atkinson
Matt Calvert- William Karlsson-Josh Anderson
Scott Hartnell-Lukas Sedlak-Sam Gagner
Zack Werenski-David Savard
Ryan Murray-Jack Johnson
Markus Nutivaara -Scott Harrington