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John Tortorella’s ‘Safe is death’ approach returns with Columbus Blue Jackets

Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella, center,

Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella, center, talks with linesman Brad Kovachik (71) with Scott Hartnell, left, listening during the first period of a preseason NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016. Credit: AP / Gene J. Puskar

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.




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