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Panthers at Blue Jackets: Three Questions with The Cannon

The Florida Panthers travel to Ohio’s capital city to take on the NHL team with perhaps the best goal celebration in the league: the firing of the civil war replica cannon. The Cats hope to contain said cannon, and assist the Blue Jackets in conserving ammunition.

To the game itself: the Blue Jackets had a widely publicized debacle of a start to this season, and they remain mired in last place in the Metropolitan Division, with only 10 wins in 26 games played. Over their last 10 games the Jackets are 6-4-0, with losses in the last two. With that said, Columbus will be looking to play hard in front of the home crowd to snap what could potentially turn into another lengthy losing streak.

We turned to The Cannon’s managing editor Mike MacLean to answer three questions prior to tonight’s contest, and he was kind enough to oblige:

Many of the writers here at Litter Box Cats picked the Jackets to go far in the playoffs this season and have been very surprised by the start the team has had. With what was (hopefully) the worst of it now behind you, and a new, well known, demanding coach in place, what can you look back and say caused the poor start? Was it simply poor defense and goaltending, or was it a team-wide collapse? How much was prior coaching to blame?

Now that we’ve been through the coaching change and can look back on the start of the season, I think it’s safe to say that Sergei Bobrovsky‘s poor play was the biggest factor, followed closely by an overall lack of team play. Litter Box Cats was not alone in predicting the Jackets to go far in the playoffs: a vast majority of mainstream media had the CBJ as their darling team. I think it’s fair to say that this praise in the summer, combined with the offensive tear the team went on in the preseason, led to some complacency in the dressing room. When the team lost a few games out of the gate, it was too late by the time the players realized what was happening. Todd Richards is an excellent coach, and his firing was not due to his performance as a coach.

John Tortorella is a coach who usually gets the absolute most out of a team… for a short span of time. Nonetheless, certain writers still believe that the Rangers success this season has much to do with the values he instilled during his time there. How has Torts settled in now, and what can you tell us about his relationship with his players?

There’s no grey area with Torts. You know exactly where he stands on any given topic, at any given time. He’s instilled a serious culture of accountability, benching players for lackadaisical play without the puck, taking bad penalties, or for not giving 100%. He benched the team’s top offensive threat for two of those transgressions in his first game with the Jackets, a game in which Torts also told Johansen he was out of shape. Strong play is rewarded in-game with minutes and plum assignments. If you’re a responsible CBJ player, you’ll get a ton of praise from Torts in his media scrums. The players know what he expects on a game-to-game basis. From a fan perspective, his honesty and openness is refreshing. No canned statements.

Columbus gets huge sympathy votes from the members and writers at Litter Box Cats. Many of us throw our support to the Jackets in the playoffs and in all regular season games NOT played against the Panthers. As a somewhat new, non-original six market that has taken more than its share of maligning and seen too many seasons of non-playoff hockey, Panthers fans sympathize. We also sympathize greatly with a sudden awful downturn following an inspiring playoff run, as we saw the same after 2011-12. That said, how is the fan base, and whats the attitude in the community and arena surrounding the team after the disappointing start?

The city of Columbus is used to winning, thanks to college sports. The Jackets got a free pass for most of their first decade in the league, but since the most recent trip to the playoffs against the Penguins, the fans are hungry. They had that taste, and fully expect the team to get back to the postseason on a regular basis. Earlier this season the Jackets were booed louder at home than every before, a sign that the fan base has run out of patience. This did not sit well with the players. The team has played better of late, mostly thanks to Bobrovsky returning to form, and the fans have responded with support. That said, the Jackets must get back to the playoffs sooner, rather than later to keep the fan base from souring.

We’d like to extend our thanks to Mike for his thoughtful responses and wish our friends in fellow non-traditional, small-market, much maligned Columbus all of our support, from our own non-traditional, much-maligned, small-market home town – whenever they are not playing the Cats. Stop by The Cannon for all your Columbus Blue Jackets news, and follow Mike on Twitter: @mejmaclean.