Friday, April 21, 2017

Tortorella's No-Nonsense Take on Blue Jackets Series Loss to Pens

Watching hockey games is fun, but can anything be more entertaining than a John Tortorella presser? The Blue Jackets' bench boss brought some grit to the podium as he tried to break down his team's 4-1 series loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night at PPG Paints Arena.

After a prickly start to the presser ("You guys watch the game you don't need my help with that..." (awkward pause)... "We played our ass off. Played our ass off. That's not a 4-1 series..." "Did you watch the series? You'll have the answer?" "I am not talking about the play. Stop baiting me into it please. There's no sense of me having a viewpoint on it. It happened."). Torts showed some serious pride in his team.

"I like our group," he said. "I'll tell you right now I like our group. Do we have some things to work on and get better at? You're goddam right we do but I like our group."

The Blue Jackets had their most successful regular season in franchise history that featured 50 wins and 108 points, but they were unable to challenge the Penguins and gave up 21 goals in five games, including five power play goals.

While the Jackets remain a team that has never won a playoff series, there is a sense that they are on the right track personnel-wise. Rookie defenseman Zach Werenski paired with Seth Jones to form one of the best top pairings in the NHL this season. Cam Atkinson hit his stride and pumped in a career-best 35 goals. Boone Jenner and Josh Anderson came into their own on a checking line trio, and Oliver Bjorkstrand got the late season call-up and showed that he can be a consistent threat to score in the NHL.

There's a lot to like about the Blue Jackets going forward, and one can make the argument that they were shafted by the NHL's playoff format, which paired them with the defending Stanley Cup champions as the road team. If the league still did Conference playoffs in a 1-8 format the Blue Jackets would have hosted the Senators as the home team in the first round -- a much more favorable matchup.

That said, it is disappointing that this team peaked in November, and really was never as lethal once they had their 16-game winning streak snapped in early Januaury. Sergei Bobrovsky is a Vezina candidate, but he struggled in the playoffs after carrying the heaviest workload of his career. A lot of that likely has to do with the fact that Werenski was out for the final week of the regular season and the final two-plus games of the playoffs. Oh, and there's the fact that the Penguins remain a playoff juggernaut with two of the most prolific playoff scorers in today's game leading the way.

All in all it's no shame that they fell to the Penguins, and Tortorella should most certainly be proud of his team for a season well done, but there is still plenty of work to do for Columbus if they intend to get over the hump next season and finally win the franchise's first playoff series.

In 17 seasons in the NHL, they only have three playoff series losses to show for it -- the time is ripe for them to break through.