Mike Halford

during the NHL game at Gila River Arena on December 17, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona.
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Torts calls Jackets ’embarrassing’ and ‘weak mentally,’ blasts veteran leaders

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Looks like John Tortorella’s found a new target in Columbus.

After the club’s third straight loss on Sunday — a 3-2 defeat in Florida — Tortorella called the team “embarrassing” before laying into his veterans for a perceived lack of leadership.

“I’m not getting squat from the top players as far as that stuff,” he said, per the Columbus Dispatch. “I see weakness. I think we’re weak mentally, and it’s not the kids.

“I worry about the kids getting into bad habits by watching other people.”

Presumably, Tortorella was referring to — at least in part — the penalties taken in Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the Lightning, a game that Columbus actually led 2-1 before Tampa ripped off three unanswered goals, all on the power play, in just over eight minutes in the second period.

Things weren’t much better on Sunday, as the Jackets sent the Panthers to the power play six times (which included three minor penalties in the final eight minutes of the first period).

As it stands, Columbus now leads the NHL in minor penalties (157) and total penalty minutes (518).

Scott Hartnell, one of the oldest and most experienced guys on the team, is a prime culprit here. He’s of the NHL most frequent sin bin visitors (sitting seventh with 69 PIM), and was tossed from Saturday’s game for charging Bolts goalie Ben Bishop.

More: Torts explains why Hartnell was a healthy scratch

While these latest quotes might be harsh, they aren’t super surprising, as Tortorella hasn’t been shy in challenging veterans this season.

In addition to Hartnell, the likes of Fedor Tyutin, Cam Atkinson and Dalton Prout have all been healthy scratched this season. He’s also done the same with “young veterans” Ryan Murray and, most notably, Ryan Johansen.

These aren’t the only problems Columbus has had in terms of leadership, though. Team captain Nick Foligno has been out of the lineup since Dec. 19 with an injury.

That’s only further exacerbated CBJ’s lack of veteran authority, at least according to Tortorella, who finished his rant by saying Columbus is getting “nothing” in the leadership department right now.

Pittsburgh gets Crosby, Letang back tonight

Marc-Andre Fleury; Joffrey Lupul
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The Penguins are getting a pair of key reinforcements back for Saturday’s tilt in Minnesota.

Sidney Crosby, who missed the final game prior to the break, and Kris Letang — out since Dec. 9 with an upper-body ailment — will draw back in, per head coach Mike Sullivan.

Crosby took this morning’s skate centering David Perron and Chris Kunitz, while Letang was in a defensive pairing alongside Olli Maatta.

“I feel good,” Crosby said, per the Pens website. “To get basically a week (off) has been good. I’m happy with the way I felt this morning.

“It’s just a matter of trusting that you can go out there and take hits. It’s different from a morning skate, but you have to be confident about it. I felt good today. That’s a good thing.”

White, Werenski, Matthews push U.S. past Canada in World Juniors opener

during the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 26, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.

Prior to the start of the 2016 World Junior Hockey Championships, USA Hockey named Columbus prospect Zach Weresnki team captain, with Louie Belpedio (Minnesota), Colin White (Ottawa, pictured) and Auston Matthews (’16 Draft) as the alternates.

And on day one of the tournament, those all proved to be wise choices.

Belpedio scored the winner while White — named player of the game — Werenski and Matthews each finished with a goal and assist to give the U.S. a 4-2 win over Canada in Helsinki.

Things couldn’t have started much better for the U.S.

But, in saying that, they also couldn’t have started much worse.

In the opening period, forward Alex DeBrincat was ejected for spearing Team Canada forward Travis Konecny. A highly-talented offensive player — DeBrincat leads the OHL in scoring — it was unclear how the U.S. would react to losing him for the remainder of the contest.

Just fine, apparently.

After Matthew Barzal gave Canada a 1-0 lead, White responded on assists from Sonny Milano and Christian Dvorak, which set the stage for an eventful third period.

Werenski opened the scoring on the power play to make it 2-1 for the Americans, only for Dylan Strome — the third overall pick in 2015 (Arizona) — to reply for the Canadians midway through the frame.

Strome’s marker wouldn’t stand for long.

Belpedio scored roughly six minutes later, aided by a deflection from Canada’s Joe Hicketts. Matthews then scored the insurance marker with less than three minutes remaining, to put the game to bed.

Goalie nods: Pens stick with AHL standout Murray in Minnesota

Carolina Hurricanes' Eric Staal (12) collides with Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray (30) during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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After strong efforts in his first two NHL contests, Matt Murray is headed back in for a third.

Murray will start ahead of Jeff Zatkoff in goal when the Penguins take on the Wild in Minnesota. Murray, the AHL’s reigning rookie and goalie of the year, was recalled to Pittsburgh after Marc-Andre Fleury was diagnosed with a concussion, and has fared well — in two games, Murray’s posted a .920 save percentage and 2.00 GAA.

On Monday, he recorded his first-ever NHL win in a 5-2 victory over Columbus.

Devan Dubnyk will be in goal for the Wild.

Elsewhere…

Chad Johnson goes for the Sabres in Buffalo. No confirmation from Boston yet, but Jonas Gustavsson looks to be the starter.

— Joonas Korpisalo will get the nod ahead of Curtis McElhinney for Columbus (Sergei Bobrovsky is still not ready to return from injury). No word yet on who the Bolts will start, but Ben Bishop would seem the choice.

— The Habs will go back to Mike Condon over Dustin Tokarski in the hopes of finding some consistency in goal. Braden Holtby, my pick for the Vezina, is in goal for the Caps, as per usual.

— Devils workhorse Cory Schneider gets the call out of the break, as New Jersey plays in Carolina. Cam Ward appears likely for the ‘Canes.

— Big Central Division clash in St. Louis tonight as the Blues host the Stars. Dallas appears ready to go with Antti Niemi, while Jake Allen (Brough’s Vezina pick) is in for the Blues.

Petr Mrazek‘s in net for Detroit as the Wings play in Nashville. Preds will go with Pekka Rinne.

— Arizona will stick with in-form rookie Louis Domingue ahead of struggling veteran Anders Lindback. The visiting Kings appear ready to start Jonathan Quick.

— No Ryan Miller again for the Canucks, so it’s Jacob Markstrom in goal against the Oilers. No word yet on who goes for Edmonton.

USA’s DeBrincat tossed from World Juniors opener for spearing

DeBrincat3
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Pretty eventful opening day of the 2016 World Junior Hockey Championships.

Not long after Team Sweden and Leafs prospect William Nylander was knocked out of action by a huge hit versus Switzerland, Alex DeBrincat — the American forward considered by many to be a first-round pick at next year’s draft — was tossed for spearing Canadian forward and Flyers prospect Travis Konecny.

DeBrincat, 18, currently leads the Ontario Hockey League in scoring, having piled up 33 goals and 56 points — in just 30 games — for OHL Erie.

Konecny, also 18, was taken 24th overall by Philly at the ’15 draft, and impressed the team at training camp before being returned to OHL Ottawa.

The two teams went into the first intermission tied 0-0.