Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella benched newly acquired winger Patrik Laine during Monday night’s game against Carolina, acknowledging afterward that although sitting a player is “the last thing I want to do,” it was something he felt was needed.
The Blue Jackets acquired Laine two weeks ago in a trade for center Pierre-Luc Dubois, whom Tortorella had also benched this season.
Laine didn’t see the ice again Monday after Hurricanes forward Brock McGinn scored with 6:19 remaining in the second period. Laine appeared to passively defend in his zone on the play, but Tortorella said that wasn’t the sole motivation for the benching.
“It wasn’t because of the missed assignment. There’s a number of things that come into play with that. That’ll stay in the locker room,” Tortorella said after the Blue Jackets’ 3-2 win improved them to 6-5-3 (.536 points percentage).
Laine entered the game with three goals in his first three games in Columbus, after being acquired along with winger Jack Roslovic from the Winnipeg Jets for Dubois on Jan. 23. Tortorella had benched Dubois twice for a lack of effort in the games leading up to the trade.
Along with Laine, Tortorella also benched defenseman Dean Kukan after McGinn’s goal.
“It’s what I feel I need to do,” Tortorella said. “The last thing I want to do is bench a player. But we’re just disjointed in all areas. Quite honestly, on and off the ice. It’s an easy thing to bench a player. It’s the last thing I want to do, but if I think I need to do it, then I need to do it.”
For Laine, this kind of tough love is new. But veteran Blue Jackets like winger Cam Atkinson — who has played all six seasons Tortorella has coached in Columbus — know the benchings could continue until effort and execution improve.
“Torts expects us to play as hard as we can. It doesn’t matter who you are, and I think everyone knows that. If you’re not giving 100 percent and looking like you’re trying, he’s going to sit you. It’s no secret. That goes for everybody, myself included. I’ve been that guy plenty of times. He just wants the guys that are gonna work,” said Atkinson, who scored on a penalty shot in Monday’s victory. “It’s not always going to be pretty. You might be playing with a lot of different [linemates]. But for the most part, if we play the right way and stick to our concepts of playing north and forechecking hard, it doesn’t matter who you play with.”
Atkinson said he spoke to Laine about the benching.
“I sit next to him in the locker room, so we’ve chatted,” Atkinson said. “We’re a pretty open group. He knows [what he did wrong]. He’ll be the first to admit it. He just has to be better, plain and simple, and he knows it. Expect him to have a big game next game. That’s what we have to. Whether you’re a new guy or an old guy, we have to hold each other accountable. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you play. We have to all buy in.”
Tortorella said that while veteran players like Atkinson can help communicate his message, he doesn’t believe he needs an intermediary with a player like Laine.
“I think it’s important that teammates help one another, but my feeling is with players we don’t need anyone in between us,” Tortorella said. “[Laine] and I will discuss it. I think it’s important that the players and coaches discuss situations.
“And I’ll listen to him also. It’s all process here. I’ve got to get this team to play as a team and to care as a team, or we’re going to continue to play the hockey that we’re playing right now. It’s my job.”
As it happened, on a night when the other high-profile player included in last month’s trade was benched, Roslovic scored the game-winning goal late in the third period with a singular offensive effort.