For the sake of himself, the Rangers, and their entire season, John Tortorella needs to do something that is almost foreign to him as a coach and stick to his line combinations for the rest of the season. The Rangers season, and indeed the coach’s own future, may depend on his willingness to do just that.
Against the Hurricanes Monday night Tortorella reverted to Marian Gaborik-Brad Richards-Rick Nash once again being on the same line. While the line didn’t score its reunion coincided with the most assertive game Richards had played in weeks (including some exceptional passes that led to scoring chances) and saw Gaborik look much more dynamic than he had done for the majority of the season. Rick Nash was simply Rick Nash; as the game developed the big winger was consistently dangerous. These lines were left the same for last night’s game, and it was one of the most complete efforts we’ve seen all year. Plus, this mega-line scored.
Tortorella needs to swallow his pride and keep the line together. He doesn’t have any excuses not to. With the Carl Hagelin–Derek Stepan–Ryan Callahan trio in impressive form and representing a high work ethic, intelligent, and offensively capable second line it’s not like putting the big three together represents a self forged lack of depth. Indeed, attempting to cure Gaborik and Richards’ offensive ills with Nash makes more sense than it ever has thanks to the second line.
Tortorella is a line juggler to a fault. While the coach is (still) the right man for the Rangers his changes are often unnecessary and his players almost reluctantly acknowledge the line changes are part of the Tortorella way.
Tortorella is a proud man and demands a lot from his players. He demands they buy into his system and at times it seems the offensive type players aren’t being utilized properly, but when everyone is on the same page we see what this team is capable of. Tortorella is probably too harsh at times and needs to let his skill guys just do their thing. He has the luxury of a line in the Callahan trio that will be accountable every time they step on to the ice so he does have some scope for offensive license.
If the Rangers miss the playoffs (unlikely) heads will roll. Whether it’s coaching changes, players being moved, or fans jumping off the Garden roof. John Tortorella’s long term future isn’t at all certain at this stage, but keeping together his talented, highly paid forward trio, sticking to lines and letting chemistry truly develop could go a long way in deciding the Rangers’ playoff fate and that of their coach. Tortorella needs to change, not for changes sake but for the better.