Cody Eakin (centre) of the Dallas Stars skates the puck against the Columbus Blue Jackets during their NHL game in Dallas, Texas, on Tuesday. Blue Jackets lost 1-5. (AFP)
By Aaron Portzline/The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (TNS)
With their season at a crisis point -- or maybe now beyond it -- the Blue Jackets held a players-only meeting on Tuesday night after they were dusted by the Dallas Stars.
“We needed to address what’s going on,” team captain Nick Foligno said after the 5-1 loss. “We need to do some thinking, all of us.
“We need to do a lot of thinking and make sure we’re ready to come play in Arizona and try to turn this thing around.”
It’s not the first team meeting of the season, but it was easily the longest. The doors to the dressing room stayed closed at least 12 to 15 minutes after the NHL’s mandated five-minute “cooling off” period had expired.
For coach John Tortorella, it was a good sign. He wants the dressing room to become self-motivated and self-policing.
“I’m not sure what went on in there, and I won’t ask any questions, either,” Tortorella said. “It’s really none of my business. As I’ve tried to progress with them and the leadership group, we’re trying to push the room to them.
“I made it perfectly clear since I’ve been here: I think that’s one of our weaknesses. That room has to sustain itself a little bit through some of these things. It can’t be me going in there all the time in these type of circumstances.”
The Blue Jackets are 1-5-3 in December. If they had faint hopes of making a playoff push after a strong November, it’s now a pipe dream.
And to hear Tortorella talk, this club is still a long way from being consistently competitive.
A 15-1-1 finish to the 2014-15 season convinced team management that the Blue Jackets were in line for a strong 2015-16. Players spoke openly about not just making the playoffs, but advancing deep in the postseason.
All around the league, the Blue Jackets were a sexy pick to not just make the playoffs, but challenge to win the Metropolitan Division.
It all seems so ridiculous now.
“There were a lot of expectations put on this team at the beginning of the year, judged from last year’s run,” Tortorella said. “Last year means squat because you (were) out of it. It’s easy to play in those types of situations. It’s really interesting what happens when there are really high expectations.
“As a guy who has a fresh look to the team? We have work to do. That’s my point of view -- no one else’s in the organization, just speaking for myself. We have work to do from our back end right on through.”
Blue Jackets players are still hopeful of a second-half turnaround. They play at the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night.
“We have to dig deeper, somehow, and find something more within ourselves,” center Brandon Dubinsky said. “There’s a lot of hockey left in this season. We have to dig deep, and it starts with individuals and translates to the team.”
But Tortorella sees a lengthy process.
“I do think we’re going to get where we want to be, but this isn’t going to happen overnight, I’ll tell you that right now,” he said. “We have too many things to work on.
“I hope it was a productive (postgame meeting). If it’s productive, I love it. We’ll find out when we play Arizona.”