I like a lot of what John Tortorella has done as coach of the New York Rangers. I like his commitment to youth. What I do have an issue with however is something that I have also read from other Rangers bloggers in recent days –something that Tortorella is guilty of. An elite, finesse player is an elite, finesse player. To get the best out of players such as Marian Gaborik you have to put them in the position to succeed. Not expect them to block every shot, dump and chase or play the boards with enthusiasm. You play them to their strengths. How can Gaborik use his shot when he’s thrown the puck in the corner or is in the corner himself? Far too often we have seen the Rangers few skill players tow the company line and play the grinding game. Wrong move.
A few bloggers around Ranger Land have recently been wondering why Gaborik isn’t blocking shots with reckless abandon, why a Jagr or (insert skilled free agent acquisition here) wouldn’t play ala Ryan Callahan. Well I’ll tell you this; personally I’d sure as hell be annoyed if Gaborik and Jagr threw themselves in front of shots, risking injury. What Ryan Callahan does (including his shot blocking) is what makes him a special player but even he has proven to be far from invincible. I guarantee most Rangers fans would rather he blocked a shot or two less and play 82 games a season. Goals and saves win games not blocked shots. Look at the stats and not many of the league’s leading shot blocking teams made the playoffs. Yes, this Rangers team is a blue collar bunch but it needs an infusion of skill not necessarily more work ethic.
The point here is this: the Rangers will very likely upgrade their skill level this offseason whether it’s by bringing in Brad Richards, a (short term) reunion with a guy like Jaromir Jagr or a trade to bring in another skilled veteran. When they do, they better play them as their skill sets suggest and not play them like the ‘foot soldiers’. The Rangers lost in the playoffs for a few reasons; they couldn’t win face offs, they couldn’t score on the power play and they lacked skill in comparison to the Capitals – they were often a step behind. So many of those reasons for the five game defeat come back to skill and not playing a grinding game. The Rangers have laid a great foundation for future success. There is a core in place that plays with passion, plays a strong grinding game and is a core that has some skill. This core is predominantly home grown and will be the basis of any Rangers success in the future. Now they need help. If and when the cavalry (aka the skill) gets here let’s let them do their thing shall we?