Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski is used to playing in high-intensity situations, as he has done so at every level of hockey in which he has competed, and that list got a little longer on Wednesday night.
Injured late in his rookie season, Werenski made his debut in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in a 3-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, and by all accounts, made a positive impression on veteran head coach John Tortorella.
“Oh (shoot), what can you say about him?” Tortorella said. “He hasn’t played. A 19-year old kid, man. We lose the game, and I thought he put on a show. I thought his determination and the things he does, I hope it rubs off on other people on our team because that was inspiring to me to see what that kid can do.”
One of seven Blue Jackets to make his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut Wednesday, Werenski put six shots on goal and blocked a shot from the Penguins in 30 shifts, which equated to 25:19 of ice time. Despite being the youngest member of the Blue Jackets, Werenski took the second-most shifts and spent the third-most time on the ice in Pittsburgh.
“Everything counts,” captain Nick Foligno said. “That play on the wall to get the puck in or out makes such a big difference, and I think they learned a lot. I think they played well, did a lot of good things. Now, it’s one game under their belt and we all, I think, can play a little bit better in Game 2, and I think we will.
“(It’s) just handling momentum and knowing that we have to capitalize on our chances too. Our offensive guys in here need to step up and they will. I have no worries. It’s Game 1, and I’m not going to overreact in one game. There’s a lot of hockey left, and we know we can be better.”
In watching Werenski, a defenseman for the Lake Erie Monsters during their run to the Calder Cup last summer, Tortorella is confident the other young players on the Blue Jackets can learn from the Grosse Pointe, Michigan native.
“I don’t think we were nervous,” Tortorella said. “I thought we were pretty good in the first period. I thought we did a lot of good things there. I’m not worried about the team. This is why it’s a series. I thought we did have good minutes.
“Even in that second period, I thought we had some good minutes, so I’m not going to buy into this youth stuff. I think it’s to your advantage. I don’t think it should be an excuse. I’m encouraged. We lose the game. I think they surge on us, and we have to learn from that, but I thought we did some good things, so we’ll get ready for Game 2.”
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