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Talkin' Torts: Defensive lineup still in flux to start season

Blue Jackets have options, but head coach has to make tough calls

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

The Columbus Blue Jackets have had a different defensive lineup for each game thus far, and that could continue on for the foreseeable future, head coach John Tortorella said Wednesday after practice. 

Four defensemen - Seth Jones, Zach Werenski, Ryan Murray and David Savard - have played in all three games thus far, but the bottom pair has rotated in each game. 

Tortorella said Scott Harrington earned the right to draw in for the opener along with Markus Nutivaara, and then the head coach rotated in Dean Kukan and Vladislav Gavrikov for those two in game two vs. Pittsburgh because in his mind everyone a chance to play in the first two games.

Video: Torts on the rookies and working in practice.

Monday vs. Buffalo, Kukan came out and Nutivaara re-entered the lineup, and his pairing with Gavrikov turned in an impressive showing that included a 10-3 edge for the CBJ in scoring chances at 5-on-5 when the two were on the ice according to Natural Stat Trick.  

There was a small change at Wednesday's practice, with the same six skating but on different pairs. Jones and Werenski skated together, as they did for the first time in Monday's win vs. Buffalo, while Nutivaara was paired with Murray and Gavrikov skated with Savard. 

"I need to rotate those guys a little bit," Tortorella said. "I'm not sure what it's going to be because really, out of all four (of Gavrikov, Harrington, Kukan and Nutivaara), none of them deserve to sit out, but there's only six spots. These are decisions I have to make. I'm not sure what the six will be when we play Anaheim (on Friday), but it's not set in stone for those five and six spots." 

Tortorella did add that he's liking what he's seeing out of Gavrikov when it comes to more decisive decision-making out of the Russian, who has extensive international experience and starred for power SKA St. Petersburg a year ago. 

♦ As for the team's goaltending situation, Tortorella said he hasn't formulated a plan on what's next. Joonas Korpisalo started the opener, then got his first win of the season Monday vs. Buffalo. Elvis Merzlikins made his first NHL start on Saturday in Pittsburgh and was on the wrong end of a 7-2 setback in his debut. 

The team has a back-to-back this weekend, with a game in Carolina following the home game vs. Anaheim on Friday, before taking three more days off. Then the team will have a set of three games in four days and four in six. 

It's a tough stretch in which to set a goalie schedule, but Tortorella said the team will take it as it comes.

"I haven't even thought about it," Tortorella said of any long-term plan when it comes to getting Korpisalo the chance to get into a rhythm vs. giving Merzlikins another chance. "That will play itself out. If (Merzlikins) sits, he sits. That's part of it. But I haven't thought too much about it. We're just going one game at a time." 

♦ The team's schedule is a bit of an odd one, with the team in the midst of a stretch of playing just twice in eight days before four games in the next six. The Blue Jackets also opened with a back-to-back and have two more the next two weekends.  

The time off, followed by short bursts, is what Tortorella expected, though, and the team has a plan formulated to make sure it's getting the most out of the time off. 

"The schedule at the beginning of the year is usually spread out that first six weeks or so, so we have our thoughts already before we get into the season," Tortorella said. "We look at it as far as where we can have mini-sessions as far as working on things. It's welcomed by us. Even if we were winning all the games, it would be welcome because you're still working on your concept.  

"I thought we had a real productive day today, and we have a good day to practice tomorrow." 

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