When it comes to publicly putting his team on blast and calling them out for their performance, Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella has kind of calmed down a little bit in recent years. It definitely still happens on occasion, just not as regularly as it once did and not always with the same ferocity that it had during his time with the New York Rangers.
On Thursday a little bit of that fire and brimstone approach made a return in advance of the Blue Jackets’ game against the Winnipeg Jets.
The frustration was a carryover from the Blue Jackets’ loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night when team came out of its bye week and the All-Star break with a sloppy performance in a 5-4 loss. Now they have to play one of the league’s best teams and Tortorella knows exactly what will happen if he gets a repeat performance.
“It’s a good team we’re playing,” said Tortorella of the Jets when asked about the challenge his team was playing. “It was a God-awful team that I coached the other night. Hopefully we’re answer the right way.”
When asked if the team felt the same, he simply responded with: “They better or they’ll get their ass kicked.”
Tuesday’s game was the Blue Jackets’ first in nine days and saw them give up three goals in the first 10 minutes. They rallied to tie the game late in the second period, but immediately fell back behind just two minutes into the third period. They never responded to tie the game and extended their current losing streak to three games.
“I expected sloppiness,” said Tortorella when asked if any of it caught him off guard. “Who knows what the hell they’re doing on this break. We can’t touch them, we can’t do anything with them during the break. But I think when you come back as a pro you have to give. We gave nothing. It’s not surprising, it’s just terribly disappointing in what I think this team is. I think we have good people. We were no-shows.”
It was not just any one area where they were no-shows, either. In Tortorella’s mind, it was everything and he didn’t really grasp just how bad it was until re-watching the film on Thursday.
“It was mental, it was physical, anything you want to name it was that,” he said. “It was a team that threw their uniforms out to play. I didn’t realize how poorly we thought the game, playing with just absolutely no balls at all in the game, until I really broke down the video. The team needs to be reset here pretty quickly. For us to be who we’re supposed to be we need to reset pretty quickly.”
When asked what the first step would be in that reset he simply doubled down on his point about the team no-showing and had no interest in using the time off as an excuse for the performance.
“It’s a loaded question right now with me, judging from last game, I’m not going to buy into the break and all this,” he said. “Buffalo actually had an extra day break than we did. We were absolute no shows in every facet of the game. We watched the tape this morning as a group, and I hope that resets them because it was embarrassing.”
This seems like it is a delicate time for the Blue Jackets and a potential turning point in their season.
On paper, this team is pretty good and could be even better if it had received even average goaltending so far this season. But they have lost three in a row and are now dealing with the sidebar story that is their best player, Artemi Panarin, potentially being on the trading block because he is not willing to discuss his future with the team until after the season. That development of course means that he is going to be looking at the unrestricted free agent market and likely moving on the first chance he gets this summer.
All of that currently leaves the Blue Jackets in the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference entering Thursday’s game with a three-point lead over the Sabres. A win against the Jets would jump them back up into second place in the Metropolitan Division and back to within two points of the first-place New York Islanders. So again, they are at a point right now where their season could go in any direction. How they respond on Thursday night against the Jets might give us a look as to which path it follows.
Related: Panarin will not discuss future with Blue Jackets until after the season
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.