John Tortorella's patience is beginning to wear thin.
The Blue Jackets (12-7-1) have reached the quarter pole in good shape, as far as the Metropolitan Division goes, but there are nagging issues the coach is growing weary of seeing.
Several top players are in prolonged slumps, the power play still isn't clicking with consistency and half of their wins were decided in overtime or shootouts (6-0-1). The first clue Tortorella was approaching a boiling point happened last week, when he scratched veteran defenseman David Savard in the Blue Jackets' 2-0 win Friday against the New York Rangers.
"That's the way you get on the right road," Tortorella said Sunday, after practice at Nationwide Arena. "We're trying to get on the right road. We're trying to nail down our identity. It's taken us long enough here."
Savard was back in his usual spot at practice, paired with fellow veteran Jack Johnson. He will get back into the lineup against the Buffalo Sabres on Monday at KeyBank Center (7 p.m., FS-O, Fox Sports Go, 97.1 FM).
"It's been a struggle in his game, the speed of his game," Tortorella said. "I think he's played slow. The prior game [against the Detroit Red Wings on Nov. 11], the one before the last game he played [against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday], he's on the ice for five primary scoring chances against. 'Savvy' has to be one of our top guys on the back end if we're going to get to where we want to be, but sometimes you need to sit and watch and re-evaluate, and let it sink in that, 'I have to be better.'"
Savard hadn't been a healthy scratch since Jan. 30, 2014 against the Washington Capitals. He's missed games since, but only because of injuries. The hint that he might not play against the Rangers happened Thursday, when Gabriel Carlsson worked with Johnson in practice.
Later that day Savard shaved off his bushy beard for charity. Wearing his new style, a mustache left behind, he watched from the locker room as Columbus defeated New York.
"I didn't expect it, to be honest," said Savard, who has six points (two goals, four assists) and a minus-1 plus/minus rating. "It's not fun. We all want to be on the ice and help the team win, and when you're in [the locker room] it's not the best feeling. But it is what it is. If [Tortorella] thought [Carlsson] could help the team, then that's the way it is. I'm just going to focus on myself and play the right way and play my game, try to help the team."
Savard isn't the only one in a rut.
Several forwards have also caught Tortorella's attention, including Cam Atkinson, Artemi Panarin and captain Nick Foligno - who doesn't have a point in 11 games.
"Right now, our forwards are pretty banged-up [with injuries], but if I had some other forwards there'd be other guys sitting out, and it wouldn't just be the young guys," Tortorella said. "That's just the way it has to happen."
Foligno's last point was Oct. 25 at Nationwide Arena, in the Jackets' first game against the Sabres. He centered the third line in practice, and continues to fight the puck offensively.
"And defensively, quite honestly," Tortorella said. "Everything. Nick and I have talked about that. He has not played good. I take [Savard] out … I'm not going to abstain from [scratching] anybody else. No one is going to hide from that, and Nick has to play better. For us to be better, he has to play better in all situations."
Foligno agrees, mostly.
He's frustrated by the scoring woes, but plans to utilize the sage hockey advice of his father, Mike Foligno, who played for the Sabres, Toronto Maple Leafs, Red Wings and Florida Panthers .
"I do like my defensive game," Foligno said. "I think it was advice from my dad, [that] you better make an impact in the game somehow. He always said, 'If you're not scoring, you better be hitting. If you're not hitting, you better be fighting. If you're not fighting, then get the hell off the ice.' So, you try to find a balance in between all those, and I think I've found it. But the level I need to be at is every single game, doing it all the time. I haven't done that enough, so that's on me and I have full confidence I can get back to that."
News & Notes
ROUNDTRIP FOR CARLSSON: The drive up I-71 to Cleveland should be getting familiar for Carlsson, who was assigned to the Cleveland Monsters on Friday, recalled on Sunday and then re-assigned to the Monsters after practice.
Carlsson, 20, was initially sent to Cleveland on Friday, along with rookie forward Sonny Milano and goalie Joonas Korpisalo. All three played for the Monsters on Saturday, helping them earn a 3-1 victory, but Carlsson was then sent back to the AHL after practice in Columbus on Sunday.
Since returning from an upper-body injury Nov. 6, he's played sparingly.
"We're not doing him any good here," Tortorella said. "Since his injury, the game has been faster around him. He's played slow. He's got to get some minutes. We can't keep him around here to play six or seven minutes. He's going to be a fixture of this organization, but we have to get him playing some minutes right now, and I'm not going to change the six [starters]."
'BOB' TO STAY BUSY: Tortorella didn't announce his starting goalie against Buffalo, but it looks like he might go with Bobrovsky for a fifth straight start, which would be a season-high stretch. Bobrovsky is 3-1-0 in his past four games, and has allowed just two combined goals in his last three outings.
"We knew on our schedule, with the games so spread out here, 'Bob's going to get the lion's share of them, but we also want [Korpisalo] playing," Tortorella said. "[We wanted him] to get some game action in a time where 'Bob's [going to] play. It's important to keep him sharp. It's great to have Cleveland up the street."
A ROAD MORE TRAVELED: Some American Hockey League affiliates are located far distances from the NHL team that stocks their roster. Cleveland, on the other hand, is located only two hours by vehicle from Columbus.
That came in handy this weekend, when the Blue Jackets sent Milano, Carlsson and Korpisalo to the Monsters. All three made it back to Columbus for practice Sunday, despite a delay.
"We need to use it to our benefit, to have our minor-league team right there," Tortorella said. "It was storming. They couldn't even get out of there [Saturday] night. They spent the night there, but they drive down and they don't miss a practice. It's so good to have it right there."