The Columbus Blue Jackets surprisingly strong season put them in the rare position of deadline buyer earlier this month as the team added forward Lauri Korpikoski and blue liner Kyle Quincey, shoring up the club’s depth down the stretch. This newfound depth, while a good thing, has nonetheless forced head coach John Tortorella into making some tough lineup decisions now that the Jackets are again healthy, writes Aaron Portzline of The Columbus Dispatch. Korpikoski, acquired from Dallas for young defenseman Dillon Heatherington, was a recent casualty of that depth, as he was made a healthy scratch for the team’s 2 – 1 win over Florida Thursday night.
“I’ll continue to make my call during the game as far as who’s going and who’s not,” Tortorella said. “That will determine ice time. And then from game to game we will make a determination as to who will play. I don’t know what else to say about it, except it’s a good problem to have when you starting getting your players back healthy.”
Given the situation, it might make sense for Tortorella to take the opportunity to rest some of his veterans down the stretch but according to Portzline, that isn’t something the veteran bench boss has “even considered.” Instead, Torts will let it ride with 14 healthy forwards and use individual player performances dictate who plays and who doesn’t.
Elsewhere in the Metro Division:
- Five teams – Boston, Montreal, Florida, the New York Islanders and St. Louis – have made changes behind the bench at some point during the 2016-17 season and several Penguins players feel it’s in direct correlation to the success Pittsburgh experienced last year after replacing Mike Johnston with Mike Sullivan. But as Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes, in-season coaching changes are nothing new in the NHL. As Mackey adds, there have been 39 bench bosses replaced during the season since the 2006-07 campaign; a figure which is tops among the four major North American sports. While firing the head coach is not a recent trend in the league, it should be noted that four of the five clubs who have done so in 2016-17 are currently in contention for a playoff spot, suggesting the changes have in fact benefited the teams that made them.
- In a separate piece for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mackey writes about how the Penguins depth has helped the team survive a bevy of injuries to key regulars. At some point this season, Pittsburgh has been without the services of Kris Letang, Trevor Daley, Evgeni Malkin, Patric Hornqvist and Carl Hagelin, among others for significant stretches but the Penguins have kept right on rolling. But GM Jim Rutherford, never one to shy away from making a deal to help his club, added blue liners Ron Hainsey and Mark Streit to bolster the defense corps while the club has relied primarily on AHL call-ups to fortify the forward ranks. One veteran minor leaguer, 27-year-old Carter Rowney, has filled in admirably when called upon this season. He tallied his first NHL goal and multi-point game in Pittsburgh’s victory over New Jersey last night. Last season, the Penguins received strong efforts from Tom Kuhnhackl, Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary, all of whom began the year in the minors, on their way to a Stanley Cup championship. It’s questionable whether Rowney will have that same level of impact on Pittsburgh’s fortunes this postseason but in a short sample he has proven he can at least serve as much needed depth.