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Jackets find delicate balance between the short and long view

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

John Tortorella is fully aware of the difficult spot he’s in.

On one hand, he is in the business of winning hockey games, so his job entails icing the lineup he believes will give his team the best chance.

On the other, he is concerned about the long-term view, or the “big picture” as he often refers to. The Blue Jackets are a team that has underachieved this season, there’s no disputing that, but they are also one of the league’s youngest teams.

And with so many young players, a big part of Tortorella’s job is making sure that they grow and continue growing while earning the responsibility bestowed upon them.

Sounds easy, right? That’s sarcasm. Sorry.

Exhibit A would be the team’s current goaltending situation, which could be described as “less than ideal” in one context and “a terrific opportunity” in another.

With Sergei Bobrovsky still on the mend and Curtis McElhinney two days removed from being cleared to return from an ankle injury, Tortorella has leaned heavily on 21-year-old Joonas Korpisalo (in his first full season in North America) and, before McElhinney’s return, 23-year-old Anton Forsberg. Before being recalled out of pure necessity, Forsberg was beginning to cement himself as one of the AHL’s top goalies.

In the midst of a trying season, the organization’s young goaltenders have been sprung up the ladder, trying to help a struggling team get back on track and hold the fort until the regulars return.

Reverting back to the second paragraph, Tortorella has Objective A, which is to win games. And then there’s Objective B, which is to bring these young players along and put them in positions to succeed. With respect to the latter, there’s really no choice; the two young goaltenders are thrown right into the fire and they’ve performed admirably, with Korpisalo taking the reins as the No. 1 guy for the time being.

As that situation developed, Forsberg had seen his regular playing time come to a halt. He hasn’t played an NHL game since Jan. 12 in Brooklyn, and during the NHL All-Star break, he was assigned to Lake Erie on a conditioning loan so he could get some playing time – but he came down with an illness and had to sit out his first scheduled start.

Give the kid a break, hockey gods.

In balancing the two components – winning and development – Tortorella said he must default to the former for time being when it comes to his goalies. When putting the best lineup together each night, the goaltender is part of that, and part of proper development is rewarding the players who are playing well.

Korpisalo has earned the starts he’s getting and he has done nothing to play his way out of the net. So, at least in the interim, that makes the decision-making process pretty cut and dry for Tortorella.

“Korpi’s played so well,” Tortorella said last weekend, before Korpisalo was scheduled to make his ninth consecutive start against Ottawa. “I can’t get too caught up in that Anton isn’t playing – he’s going to have an opportunity to play. He’s still very early in his career. We’re trying to win every game, and Korpi is rested, he’s a young kid, we have enough days off. We’re going to field the best team we can, so I have to look by that.”

So, when considering the big picture married with the here-and-now, Tortorella is comfortable with how the situation has played out, because it satisfies both Objective A and Objective B.

“I think about development every day with all players here, because I think that’s the situation we’re in as a club,” he said. “With the goaltending situation, we want to win, and we’re going to win if we have our best goalie in there.”


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