COLUMBUS, Ohio — Since he first arrived in Columbus, Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella has tried to convince his players to shoot the puck more. For a team averaging 2.5 goals per game, the message still has not gotten through.
“It’s something we have to get better at, and that’s shot first, not looking to pass,” Tortorella said after tonight’s 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers — a team the Blue Jackets lost all four season matchups to this season. “Even before losing the puck, we have chances to shoot the puck and we just do not think shot first. I don’t know…that’s a very frustrating part of the game for me. That’s how you create offense is throwing the puck at the net. We try to make too many passes.”
Tortorella said that when players do go to shoot the puck, they are looking too hard at scoring a goal instead of what a shot could lead to from a rebound, a barely-wide miss or another scoring play.
“Our guys think they have to score a goal when they shoot the puck so they look to get the perfect shot to score a goal,” Tortorella said. “But shooting the puck is not trying to score a goal. It’s about breaking down the defense, retrieving the puck and maybe keeping it for another 20 seconds, and you maybe score a goal there. You break down the defense if you get pucks down to the net. For the life of me, we are just so stubborn that way.”
Tortorella said the pass-first mentality does not mean that the team is not trying — they just are not trying in the right way, which starts with changing their mindset.
“They’re trying; they’re trying hard, but we have to change their mentality,” Tortorella said. “That’s how you score goals in this league is thinking shot first. We try to make too many plays. It’s a point of contention for me. I’m not sure how we’re going to cure that next year, but we’re going to have to. If we want to get over this averaging two goals a game, we have to shoot the puck more.”
The Blue Jackets started to shoot the puck more after the Rangers took a 2-0 lead. Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno, who had not scored since his hat trick performance against the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 25, finally broke through for his 10th goal of the season when he tipped a David Savard shot in front of Lundqvist.
After the game, Foligno said scoring was a “relief.”
“It’s always good to help your team on the scoreboard, but for me it was playing with a free mind from the start of the game,” Foligno said. “It was about playing simple and things were starting to work for me.”
Teammate Brandon Dubinsky was happy for Foligno and said his goal gave them a chance to win the game.
“He really got us going,” Dubinsky said. “He played strong all night and had the puck a lot. He looked like the Nick of old. He’s taken a lot of this [season’s record] on his shoulders. Tonight, it looked like he played free — just without thinking too much or trying to play with such a burden on himself. Hopefully he can finish that way and feel good about himself after that.”
Even Blue Jackets rookie goaltender said Foligno’s second period goal was a game-changer.
“Oh, that was big,” Korpisalo said. “It got us back in the game. After that goal, we were a whole different team. That was huge.”
Foligno did not stop there. After the Rangers took a 3-1 lead minutes after he first scored, Foligno tallied a second goal — a sneaky tight-angle shot on Lunqvist — to bring the Blue Jackets back within a goal at the halfway point of the third period. However, it was not enough to earn a win.
Foligno said that the inconsistent play tonight has been the story of the Blue Jackets’ entire season.
“Consistency is something we have to find,” Foligno said. “We have struggled with that all year. It’s that’s something we are really going to have to work on. Each player is going to have to find a way to come in next season and make sure he is part of that, helping the team through the full 60 minutes. When we do that, we are a really good team. We have done that in spurts and teams have fits with us. We have to find a way to do that through all 82 games.”
The Blue Jackets will look for more consistency (and shots) when they face the Toronto Maple Leafs on the road on Wednesday.