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The Full Mettle Jackets

February 19, 2020, 9:26 AM ET [1 Comments]
Jay Greenberg
Blogger •NHL Hall of Fame writer • RSSArchiveCONTACT
The Blue Jackets should be in strait jackets by now, their ultra-intense coach bouncing off the walls of a rubber room from losses of free agency, injury and uh. . . well, actually that’s all the losses Columbus has suffered. Despite it all, the Jackets don’t actually lose many games.

With a missing list that has swollen to as many as 12 and still counts up to nine, the incredible shrinking hockey team has suffered just five regulation losses in its last 32 games. This includes the one by 5-1 Tuesday night in Philadelphia, which was almost as weird as the Jackets’ plight. The Flyers, enjoying uncanny puck luck, won decisively in putting up just 15 shots, after which the Jackets beat themselves up for not following that lead.

“It seems like we pass up on the really easy play,” said Captain Nick Foligno. “They go in against us; we have to find a way to do that to teams.”

He left out the part about scoring usually requiring scorers, But heading into the rematch with Philadelphia Thursday in Columbus without a regulation win in their last six–and having fallen into a three-way tie for one of two wild card berths–the Blue Jackets wisely don’t think in those terms. Otherwise they would start to cry.

They are the knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, being severed from one arm, then the other, one leg then the other until he is just an angry head on the ground challenging the guy dismembering him with epithet after epithet.

That’s all you got for us, you lousy, stinking, scheming, hockey gods? Ha! Bring more!

First Sergei Bobrovsky, Artemi Panarin and rental Matt Duchene leave for sexier places than Columbus, Ohio. Then Cam Atkinson, Josh Anderson, Brandon Dubinsky and Alexander Wennberg get hurt, not to mention Zach Werenski, who was missed earlier in the season. Just when it can’t get any worse, the Jackets lose the guy they have been the least able to lose all the while–Seth Jones–for 8-10 weeks of a season that only has eight of them remaining.

Espen Knutsen, wherever he is, is down for the count with sympathy pains, too, out until 2025 at least. Holy Vyborny! It’s carnage in The Buckeye State. Soon, it will be John Tortorella out there, just Tortorella, playing all positions without arms or legs, spitting and yelling at the Bruins, Penguins and Leafs while the Jackets at least get the game to overtime to hold onto a wildcard spot.

This is what they do, see. Not only do the Jackets not give into reality, apparently they don’t even talk about it, lest give the situation any credence.

Of course, it’s not all being done just on faith, but goaltending. Because Elvis Merzlikins has left neither the building nor a rebound, the Jackets haven’t had to pretend not to miss Sergei Bobrovsky. Quite the opposite, it’s Bobrovsky who has to pretend he doesn’t miss all that Tortorella structure. Bob’s .913 save percentage in his final year with the Jackets has morphed into a .897 for a Panthers team trailing the Jackets by four points.

Of course Panarin, who scored 87 points last year for the 11th-best offense in the NHL that has now become the 27th, is a greatly-felt absence. But because a goal saved is as good as a goal scored, the Jackets can at least pretend that Panarin was dispensable.

Cam Atkinson, who has played only 44 of their 61 games? Just another 41-goal scorer. Josh Anderson? We may see Glenn Anderson before we again see Josh Anderson and, according to Tortorella, Pierre-Luc Dubois has been missing lately too. Hold the hankies, though. Oliver Bjorkstrand and now Kevin Stenlund have been looking pretty good and Nick Foligno, Gustav Nyquist, Boone Jenner, and Sonny Milano continue to hold Fort Stay Within Yourself.

“Nobody tries to do too much,” says Werenski, who ironically now is charged with doing a lot more in the absence of Jones, an all-purpose, all-situation, all-star defenseman. This is the straw that can break this two-humped camel’s back, although we really shouldn’t use expression like that around an advocate for animals like Torts. He rescues pit bulls, horses, and hockey teams. No jonesing allowed, even for Jones.

“Jonsey, that’s not easy,” the coach acknowledged for a millisecond. “But we can’t think of it that way.

“We have very capable people. When a guy like Jones goes out, it just speaks to being that much better as a team.”

Actually, when a guy like Jones goes out, it just speaks to Tortorella being that much better as a coach. And then it’s left for us here at Hockeybuzzcom to state there hasn’t been anybody better at in the NHL for almost two decades, one lousy year’s experience in Vancouver notwithstanding.

When Bobrovsky and Panarin refused to re-up before their final contract year, it was all over for the Jackets but the wasted speculation about keeping them. Tortorella’s team ran up 98 points, which could have made him Coach of the Year a third time and still not be representative of the job that this year’s team has required of him.

You can buy a Bobrovsky or even a Panarin. But you can’t buy the kind of buy-in being exhibited by this team. That is coaching.

“We knew at the start of the year we had to change,” said Tortorella. “We have to play well in front of our goalies because I was concerned about them and a team that had some departures.

“So we would have to change our style and our concentration for where we are when we don’t have the puck. We have to remember who we are and play to that. Add up the amount of injuries we have had and that has bonded us even more.

“We gotta take it a game at a time. That’s all that we can do. If we lose that belief, we’re screwed. That’s what I have respected and, honestly, learned from this team, what athletes can do with belief.

“We have a good group. The last little while, with overtime losses and stuff like that, the games are there for us and we haven’t found our way. I think we have beaten ourselves a little bit in certain situations. But we really have not done much talking about how we (must) come in the next day.

“As I have told my guys the last couple of weeks, it’s a great learning experience for me to see what a team can do playing as a team. Free agents, star players, attitude. Entitlement and all that bleep that comes with it? We are who we are and I give our guys a lot of credit for understanding that. Who know where it goes from here, but I know we’ll have the right attitude approaching these games.”

The Flyers said they are going to have to be a lot better in Columbus against a team, not quite against a wall but, with just three points out of its last sis games and 21 to go, able to see itself up against it, probably a good thing. The weaker the Jackets get, the more determined.

“I'm not worried about that at all,” said Tortorella. “I think we have the proper mindset of how we're trying to approach this and we'll get ready to play the next game.”

They are nuts to think they can stay in this with what they have left. But tough nuts to crack.
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