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Blue Jackets trying to get their top players going

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

PITTSBURGH – One of the glaring problems noticed by John Tortorella upon taking the job as head coach of the Blue Jackets was the number of goals the team had given up.

First period, second period, third period…it seemed to be a never-ending problem where every mistake was magnified and every turnover found its way into their net. The goaltender’s confidence was shaken, the forwards were gripping their sticks under a lot of pressure to keep up with the number of goals they were allowing, and from top to bottom, it wasn’t a good situation (never mind that they were 0-7).

In three weeks with Tortorella at the helm, the Blue Jackets have been noticeably better defensively. They cut down on their third-period goals against – the one blip being Tuesday’s loss to Vancouver, though that was largely self-inflicted – and have started to show signs of a team concept in their defensive zone.

Now, as they look to get back on track and climb the ladder, what they really need is for their top players to start producing.

Captain Nick Foligno has one goal, six points and a -11 rating. The frustration has been obvious for him as he tries to get his game turned around. Ryan Johansen is in the same boat, with only one goal in 14 games but his assist numbers have been good (10); Tortorella is keeping those two together for time being along with Boone Jenner, who’s been the team’s most consistent and productive forward.

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And, for now, the coaching staff wants to let those top players be themselves in the offensive zone as they try to work through this slump.

“One of the biggest things you do for your people offensively is just get out of their way, as a coach, and allow them to play,” Tortorella said. “You can go through things to manufacture goals, but we’re in a situation right now (where) we need to get out of the way. Meet us halfway – let’s do the things away from the puck as teams have to do to win, and do your thing offensively, not take the sticks out of their hands. I think that’s important for a couple guys right now.”

Other stuff from this morning:

- The Blue Jackets did not hold a formal morning skate today at CONSOL Energy Center. They gathered for a team meeting and video, and there was optional ice available afterward. The conversation of energy after back-to-back practices and a back-to-back this weekend is important.

- Ryan Murray will not play tonight, and Tortorella wants his promising young defenseman to take a breather, watch the game and try and reset. The coach felt Murray struggled in recent games and hopes this brief respite will do him good; Tortorella said they’d evaluate whether he gets back into the lineup tomorrow after tonight’s game.

- With Murray out, here are the defense pairs: Tyutin-Prout, Johnson-Savard, Connauton-Goloubef.

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