The Columbus Blue Jackets have been in the NHL news a lot in the first few weeks this season, but for all the wrong reasons. They dropped their first eight games, and after the seventh loss it cost coach (good cop) Todd Richards his job. Enter (bad cop) John Tortorella who is bringing his swagger and confidence while trying to help the Blue Jackets, a team picked by many as a playoff contender/dark horse, find their mojo again.
One of Columbus’ weaknesses is their blue line, but they do have 28-year-old Jack Johnson who is a very solid first-pair defender of the blue line who contributes at both ends of the ice and is the leader of the defense corps. Also as one of the veteran leaders on the team he will have to be part of the solution to the Jackets’ early season woes as they attempt to make the postseason for only the third time in franchise history. In their most recent playoff appearance (2013-14) Johnson was the team’s leading scorer with three goals and seven points in a six-game loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins and he may have to produce like that again if they have any hope of leapfrogging over so many teams in the East standings.
Following the Blue Jackets second road win in a row, a 3-1 triumph over the New Jersey Devils, The Hockey Writers got the low down from Jack Johnson on what kind of impact coach Tortorella has had on the team in his first week, physically and mentally, as well as if he believes they still have a chance to make a run at the Stanley Cup, among other topics.
The Hockey Writers: Your team didn’t get a lot of shots on goal tonight, but you were able to pull out a second win under your new coach; how important was this win after the previous one?
Jack Johnson: Yeah; we just need wins at this point. It doesn’t really matter how they come, we just need results. Obviously we’d like to be in control from the first minute to the last-minute, but that’s not always going to be the case. One thing coach Tortorella has brought to us is a lot more confidence and what he describes as having more arrogance to our game — which, you have to have. When things weren’t going well at the start (of the game), we were a confident group knowing that we had been through it. I think that was a really huge thing (that he has brought), changing the mental aspect of the team.
THW: It wasn’t pretty, but a solid road game overall for you guys; would you agree?
JJ: Yeah (smiles), going into the third period tied on the road — that’s a great situation. You give yourself a chance to win the game, you just have to win one period; you can’t ask for much more. We have a great goaltender down there (in Sergei Bobrovsky) so going in tied we feel pretty good about that.
A game-saving save from the Columbus net minder turned the tide in win no. 2 of the season:
THW: He definitely kept you in the game tonight, as your best player and penalty killer; is he starting to play like the Bob you all know?
JJ: I say all the time ‘your goaltender has to be your best penalty killer’, and he was tonight. He was our best penalty killer and he bailed us out when we needed it; we couldn’t have asked for anything more from him (tonight). That’s what he does best.
THW: Has coach Tortorella changed much here, in regards to the structure of your game or things you weren’t doing?
JJ: He hasn’t changed a ton, maybe the biggest thing he’s changing is our mental approach to the game. I don’t think it’s any secret that maybe we were fragile there for a little bit. He’s come in and instilled some confidence and swagger back into our team, knowing that we are a good team. His presence back there on the bench just trickles down to all the players. So we’re excited and thrilled to have him here.
THW: When you go through a bad streak like that is it hard to not look at the standings?
JJ: I wouldn’t say its hard to not look at them; you know where you are, if you haven’t won a game…you’re at the bottom (grins); so it wasn’t hard for me. We just have to keep chipping away at it, fortunately we do believe that we have plenty of time to get back to where we want to be; and have a chance to play for our ultimate goal.
THW: Does the run that this team went on last season make you believe that ‘hey we can do this, we’ve done it before’, the guys in here know what it takes?
JJ: Absolutely; we’ve gone on a run like that, the past two-three years. We know it can be done. The probability of that happening is really hard because as the season goes along the games get harder. But right now, we just need to string some wins together here to get back to a good spot so we are not put in a position where we have to win eight, nine, ten games in a row at the end of the year. You’d like to be in a good spot towards the end of the year.
THW: We know you are good buddies with James Wisniewski, who was your teammate in Columbus, and you still keep in touch, but have you spoken to him since his recent injury in the opening game of the season?
JJ: Yeah I texted him. I gave him some time after he got hurt because I know everybody was reaching out to him. I told him he’s gotten through this before and I’m sure he will get through this again.
Dan Rice can be reached via Twitter: @DRdiabloTHW or via Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.