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Five Questions: Tortorella on Johansen, his image

by Dan Rosen's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.

The latest edition features Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella:

He's been on the job almost six weeks, but Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella hasn't had much time to pick up his head and look around to take in his new surroundings.

Tortorella is so immersed in the job he took over on Oct. 21, after the Blue Jackets' 0-7-0 start, that his daily routine when at home is to make the short walk from his apartment to the rink so he can work for hours before going back home. That's it.

"I'm in this little apartment almost connected to the arena," he said. "We're diving in."

Tortorella's life in Columbus will change slightly next week, when his wife, Christine, arrives in town with the couple's four dogs. She is closing up their home in Stamford, Conn., to come live in Ohio for the rest of the season.

"Then we'll look to get out," Tortorella said.

Probably not too much, though. Tortorella feels he has enough work to do at the rink with the Blue Jackets to keep him occupied for more hours than there are in a day.

Columbus is 10-8-0 since Tortorella took over for Todd Richards. There have been signs of improvement, but it was so bad through seven games in Columbus that the Blue Jackets were bound to at least get a little better.

They're allowing 2.39 goals per game under Tortorella (43 in 18 games) after giving up 4.86 under Richards (34 in seven games). Their penalty kill is 86.6 percent under Tortorella (58-for-67); it was 66.7 percent under Richards (14-for-21).

All of that traces back to goalie Sergei Bobrovsky's massive month-to-month turnaround. He was 8-2-0 with a .940 save percentage in November after going 2-8-0 with a .865 save percentage in October.

"It started with the two games against New York, right at the beginning of the year, when he let a couple bad goals in and the Rangers stormed back to win the first game," Tortorella said. "That's where I think the team got a little fragile as far as not being able to handle that momentum swing in a game. Then it went from game to game where they just couldn't find themselves, including Bob. But you know as well as I do, you're not winning games in this league if your goaltender isn't your best player. He has certainly stepped up."

Bobrovsky has been without question the biggest reason for Columbus' winning record under Tortorella. His improvement is also why Tortorella won't let his global view of the Blue Jackets be skewed by the occasional 2-1 or 3-2 victory.

Tortorella's view of the Blue Jackets and the challenge he feels he has in front of him became apparent in a phone interview with on Monday for the following Q&A.

Here are Five (actually six) Questions with…John Tortorella:

Eighteen games in with you as the coach, the Blue Jackets are 10-8-0. Has it been good, OK, not as good as you thought it would be? How would you describe the first 18 games?

"I would describe it as a process moving in the right direction. I think it's a team with a number of different mental and physical bad habits that we're trying to turn into good habits to where it becomes an instinct, but we're a ways away.

"These are mental habits that have nothing to do with X's and O's. It's a pretty young team, and quite honestly it's about what it is to be a pro and doing the little things. Before you even step on the ice, I think you have to go through a process of how you prepare, how you handle everything off the ice, how you get ready to play a game, how you practice -- all the things leading up to a game before we even start thinking about how good we're going to be in the game.

"To me, this is very similar to when I coached in Tampa, when I first started in Tampa. It's not about winning, it's about what you need to do to get a foundation of how to win. You're hoping you get to a situation where you walk into the rink and you know you're going to win, you just feel that good about it."

OK, but this was a team heading into the season that everybody thought would be on the rise, especially with how they finished last season. Why were people so wrong about the Blue Jackets?

"It's an easy thing to do, to play games at the end of the year when you're not really in the fight, when there is not much pressure on you, where you're really not a team that people think is going to make the playoffs. I wasn't here, so it's hard for me to explain, but I know it was a team that was banged up, had all these injuries, everybody just counted them out, and they went on this run at the end of the year. That's easy because there is no pressure on you. But there were expectations this year because of how they ended last year. When you have people, and hey, I was one of them [while working for NHL Network], from the outside looking in, saying they're going to do some damage this year, it's a whole different situation; it's a whole different situation when there are expectations put on you. We have a lot of things to work on as far as understanding just where to get to, to try to win. I think if you get the mental part of the game down, when it turns into an instinct for how you think and how you go about your business before stepping onto the ice, then it becomes easier and the process speeds along. But we're taking that part first."

What is your feeling on Ryan Johansen?

Ryan Johansen
Center - CBJ
GOALS: 6 | ASST: 12 | PTS: 18
SOG: 56 | +/-: -3
"It's going to be a process. Joey wants to learn, and he does have a lot to learn. It's great, the points, and I don't want to begrudge him that. In St. Louis the other night, he made some really good plays. We didn't score a lot, but he was close. But it's the other part. The other part is how you handle yourself in practice and how you prepare yourself for the practice. Your preparation for games. It's the little things you do as you're trying to become a pro, because Joey has a lot to learn as far as what it is to be a pro. I say that and that shouldn't surprise anybody because he's still a fairly young man in this game. The points are great. That's great. But I don't judge him on the points. I watch his game and we're going through a teaching process. We're trying to get the right type of foundation on what it is to be a pro and what's the definition of competing, what's the definition of hardness, what is the definition of engagement. It's all those things. He's right in the middle of it with us."

Is Johansen, at this stage of his career and what you're trying to do with him, similar to anybody that you have had in your past?

"Well, Joey is a little older right now and has been in the League a little longer, but I went through a process with Vinny Lecavalier out in Tampa. I think it's very similar, although Joey is a little bit older. It's my job to make sure that not only him, but everybody is accountable in all these different areas. We use that word 'accountable' in the summertime, and it's a great word in the summer, sounds really good, but it's hard to do. It takes awhile for these guys to understand what accountability is in all facets of the game. We're in the process not only with Joey, but a number of other young guys, really basically our whole team."

Have you even brought up the Stanley Cup Playoffs with this team?

"I've put it in the conversation of, like the St. Louis game the other night, we're 1-1 and in the second game of a back-to-back. I thought we played hard, but we're going into the third period and those are the games that you have to at least get a point out of. You can't come away empty or you won't be there come April and May. So I bring it up in that facet of these games early, they're going to come back and bite you if we don't find a way. These three-point games, they're so important in our league now to get into the playoffs. So I've brought it up in that type of fashion, but also in what teams that consistently in this league do. We can learn from other teams and other players."

The final question is a perception-vs.-reality question. Are you actually actively trying to change the perception of yourself that the public or the media may have, or are you just being you? How do you approach it when you know what people were saying about you?

"I have certainly made adjustments as far as how you handle these certain situations that come up. I certainly want more communication. Let me put it this way: I'm not going to chase what people think of me and what they think I am, because really you don't know; you don't know how I handle myself in the locker room, you don't know when I'm listening to the players. Everybody just thinks I'm this raging bull and it's my way or the highway, which is so, so wrong. I can't change the thinking on that, so there's no sense in chasing that. But whenever you get into a situation and things didn't work out right, you self-evaluate because you have to. Have I made adjustments? Yes, I have certainly made adjustments. I'm trying to be a better coach, but I am not going to be someone I'm not. I feel very comfortable in my values as a coach and how I think the game should be played. But there are situations that come up that I'm going to handle differently. There already have been. You have to admit you're wrong sometimes. I self-evaluate all the time, and I know I've made some mistakes, some big mistakes, and those are what I'm trying to correct, but also keep my convictions as a coach and person.


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