For better or worse, Blue Jackets GM gives Tortorella the ‘vote of confidence’

For better or worse, Blue Jackets GM gives Tortorella the 'vote of confidence'
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When someone gives a “vote of confidence” in sports — as Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen provided for embattled head coach John Tortorella — there are often several layers to peel away. That’s certainly the case with Kekalainen, Tortorella, and the Blue Jackets.

But there aren’t a ton of instances when a “vote of confidence” really instills much actual confidence in a situation working out, long-term.

With the Blue Jackets now amid a five-game losing streak, it was natural to wonder if Torts worried about his job security. Tortorella brushed off such concerns, stating that he’s focused on doing the best job he can, not if he’s on the hot seat.

Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen gives Tortorella the vote of confidence

So, on Tuesday, Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen threw his support behind Tortorella. You can watch his unusual press conference in the video below:

Explaining that he doesn’t believe in quick fixes, Kekalainen expects Tortorella and the Blue Jackets to work out of this bind. He’s seen Torts pull it off before.

For what it’s worth, Tortorella said he hates that Kekalainen had to give him that vote of confidence. (Though Torts appreciates it.)

This all circles back to some key questions.

Can Tortorella and the Blue Jackets actually dig out of this hole? With the 62-year-old Tortorella’s contract up after this season, is there much reason to believe that this partnership will extend past the 2020-21 NHL season? Should it?

Let’s ponder some short and longer-term questions for the Blue Jackets, and ponder if Torts fits into any meaningful plans.

The hole is already pretty deep for Columbus

Before Tuesday’s game against the Red Wings, the Blue Jackets sit at fifth place in the Central Division. At least, they do by standings points. The Blue Jackets boast an 8-10-5 record, good for 21 points in 23 games played. That leaves them one point behind the Predators team that just handed them consecutive losses, but Nashville holds two games in hand. The Stars also linger with 16 standings points and only 16 games played.

Even if you just look ahead, it’s not a pretty picture. The Blackhawks have 28 standings points in the same number (23) of games played.

With those factors (and points percentage considerations, in general) in mind, it’s not surprising that the Blue Jackets’ playoff odds look so shaky. By Dom Luszczyszyn ‘s model (sub required), the Blue Jackets have a four-percent chance to make the postseason cut (the top four in the Central).

Yes, it’s early in the season, but the Blue Jackets are already about 40-percent through their schedule. If there’s time, it’s running out.

(You know, unless they actually want to punt on the season, entirely.)

Telling quotes?

During the past few days, Kekalainen’s made some interesting comments about Blue Jackets players, and how they may or may not respond to Tortorella.

One interesting bit came via texts sent to Aaron Portzline of The Athletic (again, sub required).

“We are terrified of making mistakes and that reflects in our lack of puck possession and inability to make plays,” Kekalainen said Sunday via text. “We started well (on Sunday in Nashville), but after the first goal, panic set in.

“You can’t play at this level if you are afraid of making a mistake and don’t want the puck.”

Let’s be honest. You’d have to be pretty naive to assume that there’s no chance that players are so terrified of making mistakes because of Torts.

Just consider how publicly Tortorella’s unleashed his wrath lately. There were quieter benchings, like that of Max Domi earlier this season. Then there was a series of soap opera-level benchings for Pierre-Luc Dubois and Patrik Laine.

[Your 2020-21 NHL on NBC schedule]

If you’ve ever played on a sports team with a “fiery” coach, you might have gotten to the point where you were always worried if you were next. That can go for film sessions, press conferences, or benchings.

Logically, such an atmosphere of fear might inspire players to clamp up and play conservatively. Maybe the costs of losing offense are worth the defensive gains.

But it’s difficult to shake the notion that the balance is off. Cam Atkinson and others note that the Blue Jackets aren’t “tuning Tortorella out.” Maybe that’s a problem in itself, though. There’s no avoiding a reprimand if you mess up. And sometimes those reactions could be embarrassing, and public.

Actions will speak louder than words — even Torts’ very loud words

Whatever Kekalainen says, it’s crucial to make the right decisions over the long haul.

With Patrik Laine in a contract year, and players like Zach Werenski, and Seth Jones needing new contracts after 2021-22, Columbus needs a plan. How much confidence should we have that Tortorella will be a part of such long-term decisions. And if he is, how many other players will want out? (Even if they say all the right things on their way out the door?)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins set NHL record with 12 straight home wins to start season

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
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BOSTON — The Boston Bruins set the NHL record for most home victories to start a season with their 12th straight, topping the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 in overtime with a power-play goal from David Pastrnak.

The Bruins broke the mark of 11 that was set by the 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks and equaled by the Florida Panthers last season.

“That felt awesome,” Bruins first-year coach Jim Montgomery said. “We talked about it after the second (period) going into the third. There’s been a lot of great teams in this league and you’re able to set a precedent, break a record. It’s pretty special and it doesn’t happen if those guys don’t believe in themselves like they do.”

Boston, which trailed 2-0 late in the second period, tied it with 9:33 left in regulation when David Krejci scored his second of the game on a shot from the right point.

“It’s never fun being down going into the third, you’re sitting in here (in the locker room) trying to figure it out,” Krejci said. “You want to come out and do the job, something special on the line. It’s hard to win in this league. To get 12 in a row at home is pretty special.”

In overtime, Carolina was playing shorthanded after being called for too many men on the ice when Pastrnak one-timed a pass from Brad Marchand inside the far post from above the left circle.

“It was a big win for us, obviously, coming from behind,” Pastrnak said.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Stefan Noesen each scored a power-play goal for Carolina, and Pyotr Kochetkov made 38 saves. The Hurricanes lost their fifth straight.

In a rematch of last spring’s opening-round playoff series that the Hurricanes won in seven games, Carolina shutout the NHL’s highest scoring team for nearly two periods and jumped ahead a pair of power-play goals in the opening period.

“We took too many penalties. That’s hurting us right now,” Kotaniemi said. “I think 5-on-5 we’re doing a really good job. We started good tonight and couldn’t keep that up.”

Boston’s tying goal was originally disallowed because of goaltender interference on Nick Foligno but overturned on a coach’s challenge after it was ruled that he was nudged into the crease by Carolina defenseman Brett Pesce.

Boston starting goaltender Linus Ullmark made 28 saves but had to leave with 13:03 left in the third period with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Teammate Connor Clifton had jumped on him to block a shot during a scramble. Jeremy Swayman made six stops in relief.

Carolina’s Noesen scored at 6:34 in to make it 1-0. And with five minutes left in the period, Kotkaniemi collected the puck near the side of the net after Seth Jarvis‘ shot bounced off the back glass and slipped it inside the post at 15:05.

Krejci scored for Boston with 31 seconds left in the second.

Boston came in with a league-high 82 goals in 20 games (4.10 per game), but it was held to relatively few chances despite getting a 5-on-3 power-play advantage early on.

TAKE NOTE

The Bruins honored captain Patrice Bergeron, who recorded his 1,000th career point when the team was on the road against Tampa Bay, with a message on the Jumbotron. The crowd gave him a standing ovation.

Bergeron became just the fourth Bruin to reach the mark, joining Hall of Famers Ray Bourque (1,506), Johnny Bucyk (1,339) and Phil Esposito (1,012).

UP NEXT

Hurricanes: Host the Calgary Flames.

Bruins: Host the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Predators postpone 2 games due to Nashville water main break

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. —  The Nashville Predators postponed two home games because of a water main break that soaked their downtown arena.

Hours after the Predators decided they couldn’t play against the Colorado Avalanche, the team announced it also postponed the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Makeup dates for the two games will be announced later.

The NHL said the water main break that occurred “significantly impacted the event level” of Bridgestone Arena. Team locker rooms and the ice surface are on the event level.

Predators President and CEO Sean Henry told reporters that the water in the event level ranged from 3 inches to 3 feet.

“We’re assessing it right now. We’re remediating it,” Henry said. “The good thing is, the water got shut off, the city responded in a pretty fast manner. I don’t think anyone is ready for things like this the Friday after Thanksgiving.”

Video posted by a WTVF-TV reporter shows the water puddled up on the main floor’s concourse area and the team store. The team was forced to close the store until further notice, pointing shoppers online for Black Friday specials.

The Predators’ next home game is now scheduled for Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks.

The water issue also resulted in a switch to a different venue for a college hockey game between Northeastern and Western Michigan. They also had been scheduled to play at Bridgestone Arena, a game that was moved to Ford Ice Center Bellevue.

Rangers trade Ryan Reaves to Wild for 5th-round pick in 2025

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — The New York Rangers traded enforcer Ryan Reaves to the Minnesota Wild for a 2025 fifth-round pick.

Reaves had been a healthy scratch for eight of the past 12 games for the Rangers. He gives struggling Minnesota some extra muscle and a veteran presence.

The 35-year-old is signed through only the rest of this season at a $1.75 million salary cap hit. He has no points and 12 penalty minutes in 12 games of his second season with New York.

Reaves has played in 869 NHL regular-season and playoff games for the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights and Rangers. He was with the Golden Knights during their inaugural season in 2017-18 when the reached the Stanley Cup Final.

Toronto’s Morgan Rielly placed on long-term injured reserve

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TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs placed defenseman Morgan Rielly on long-term injured reserve with a knee injury.

Rielly was hurt in a collision with with New York forward Kyle Palmieri early in the third period of Toronto’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Islanders at home.

Rielly has no goals and 16 assists in 20 games this season and is averaging 23 minutes of ice time.

Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said following practice that the 28-year-old Rielly doesn’t need surgery, adding there’s no firm timeline for his return beyond the minimum 24 days and 10 games required for going on long-term injured reserve.

Toronto’s defense is also missing Jake Muzzin with a neck injury and T.J. Brodie with an injured oblique.