Preview: Wild vs. Blue Jackets
John Tortorella hoisted a Stanley Cup in Tampa Bay and led the New York Rangers to the verge of a championship berth.
At woebegone Columbus, the Blue Jackets have a more modest goal for the veteran coach: Win a game.
Tortorella is back coaching in the NHL after the Blue Jackets fired Todd Richards on Wednesday with the team off to a franchise-worst 0-7-0 start. He’ll make his debut when Columbus visits the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night.
"He’s proven he’s a good coach," said center Brandon Dubinsky, who played for Tortorella with the Rangers from 2008-12. "He’s going to help our group."
Tortorella, who won the Stanley Cup with the Lightning in 2004, has been out of hockey since Vancouver fired him in May 2014 after one season. He takes over for Richards, who had been with the Blue Jackets since 2012 and led them to their second playoff appearance in team history in 2013-14, when they lost to Pittsburgh in the opening round.
"One of the problems right now is expectations," said Tortorella, who signed a three-year contract. "Expectations that weren’t there last year with this club."
Columbus is the first team to start with seven straight defeats since Chicago in 1997-98 after a 4-0 loss to the New York Islanders on Tuesday. That’s not the type of start that was expected from a team that restocked its roster this summer after closing last season on a 16-2-1 run.
"It was a tough start," right wing Jared Boll said. "Everything kept snowballing and losses kept piling up. It’s still only seven games. We’ve got a lot of hockey. We can’t hang our heads and feel sorry for ourselves and make excuses."
The Blue Jackets play seven of their next eight games on the road. Tortorella said he wanted to learn as much as he could about his struggling team.
"I need to listen," he said. "I want the players to speak to the staff just to find out where they’re at."
Dubinsky, who butted heads with Tortorella at times in New York, said he now appreciates how the coach elevated his game.
"He got things out of me I didn’t know I had," Dubinsky said. "He’s helped my career and I anticipate he’s going to help a lot of guys here, especially with the amount of young guys we have here."
For his part, Tortorella said Dubinsky was the first player he talked to when he arrived at Nationwide Arena on Wednesday.
"I need to lean on him," Tortorella said. "He’s part of that heartbeat of the club. He needs to be a conduit between the players and the coaching staff until I get to know the other guys."
One positive he can relay to his new club is that the Blue Jackets have outscored Minnesota 13-5 while winning the last five meetings. The Wild (3-1-1) are coming off a 4-1 loss to previously winless Anaheim on Sunday, their second straight defeat after winning their first three.
"We haven’t been really at the level we need to be, so there are things that we have to fix and be better at, and that will help us," forward Zach Parise told the Wild’s official website. "There are a lot of things that go into a team looking fast, and playing fast. Our play with the puck has got to be a lot better."
Devan Dubnyk is 4-1-1 with a 1.65 goals-against average in his last six starts against the Blue Jackets and could be in net for this game. Sergei Bobrovsky, who has a 5.07 GAA in five starts, could go for Columbus.
Bobrovsky is 5-1-0 with a 1.46 GAA in his career against the Wild.