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Posts tagged: John Tortorella

Shortening the bench

The Rangers play their biggest game of the season and perhaps biggest game since the lockout on Thursday night. A win over the Senators and progress to the next round could be the springboard to a successful post season. Or Friday morning could be the start of golf season.

With that said, should John Tortorella shorten his bench in the series finale? Given his tendencies to do so during his tenure with the Rangers will we see the Rangers coach double shift the top lines? This comes back in part, once again, to the potential part Chris Kreider may have to play in this game.

Despite scoring a huge goal in game six, being praised by the coaching staff after the game and generally, playing his best game as a pro Kreider still only played just over ten minutes. With a do-or-die game on Thursday any mistake, any slip in defensive assignments could mean the end of the Rangers season.

This morning Dave discussed Stu Bickel’s declining role and the potential introduction of Steve Eminger. Bickel is another example of Tortorella not wanting certain players in certain situations. The fact that he’s playing 5 blueliners right now is another example of shortening the bench. Given how tightly this series has been played a blow-out victory for either side is unlikely. In part because of the closeness of each game Bickel is routinely playing absoltely minimal ice time right now.

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Zuccarello’s injury doesn’t mean the end

Despite an unclear timetable for his return we know Mats Zuccarello’s wrist break has ruled him out of the regular season and probably most of the first round of the playoffs. Depending on the severity he could miss more. That doesn’t mean we’ve seen the last of him in Ranger blue however.

The little Norwegian could be the beneficiary of ineptitude. Of the Rangers powerplay that is. If there is one specific concern this season it is that the Rangers powerplay cannot (consistently) take advantage of the hard work the team is putting in.

The Rangers have thrown away a few points this season because they couldn’t cash in with the extra man. In his limited return to the club, Zuccarello may not have been the all-in-one remedy but he certainly helped the unit look more dangerous and move the puck more efficiently.

Tortorella isn’t renowned for carrying a powerplay specialist on his rosters but then again, how often has he been responsible for the 29th ranked powerplay? Not often. Maybe it’s time Tortorella looked for a different solution. Zuccarello had finally begun to prove he can be more than a special teams guy with an improved level of play along the boards, impressing on the forecheck all the while still bringing his play making skills to the party.

It doesn’t matter that Chris Kreider is the projected knight in shining armour next season. Even anticipating a tremendous rookie year it would be unfair to expect a kid with no pro experience to turn around the PP unit. That’s another reason why bringing Zuccarello back makes sense, even at his qualifying offer of 945k. It lessens the burden on the likes of Kreider, it adds depth to the roster and skill to the line up and there will be money to spend given the likes of Fedotenko are possibly headed for the door.

It seems like we’ve repeated the Zuccarello situation here a few times and we have. However it’s different this time. Zuccarello is on the outside looking in thanks to injury but even with a small sample size has shown he can be a contributor. He’s improved his game and a combination of his play and the Rangers lack of a solution on the PP should lead to a reunion.

If it’s truly about improving the overall quality of the club and giving it the best chance to succeed Zuccarello should be offered a chance to return. Imagine how many points this Rangers club would have this year if the powerplay was ‘only’ a middle of the pack club? We wouldn’t be sweating on first overall that’s for sure.

Rest the Rangers?

At what stage – if any – should John Tortorella consider resting Rangers for a game or two with the playoffs approaching? It’s a key consideration for the coach as particularly in the recent stretch of games some players have started to evidence wear and tear from the long season, probably because of the way this blue collar Rangers team play the game.

The issue of rest is a tricky one because of the hard charging and getting healthy Penguins (winners of seven straight), the benefits securing home ice advantage throughout the playoffs would provide and, don’t discount organisational pressure/desire toward securing home ice and the associated financial advantages an extra game or two would mean. Points mean prizes folks.

Dan Girardi has looked mortal over the last few games. His turnover that led to Jordan Caron’s goal in the Boston game was very un-Dan Girardi and it may have been the result of mental fatigue. Girardi almost always makes the right decision, the sensible decision. In that instance he misread the play and tossed it through center ice – we saw the result.

That said Girardi isn’t the only one who has begun to look jaded. The team generally has been scrambling a lot, has been handsomely outshot in their recent 1-1-1 streak and look perhaps a step off the pace. This team gets away with it and continues to rack up results because they never give in and the effort level is always high. However, once a tank is running on empty there is only so long even the hardest working team can go on.

Players like Dan Girardi and Brandon Prust don’t voluntarily take a seat. They play through pain so a ‘rest break’ would be foreign to them. If anyone takes a seat it will be because the coach has told them to. Not an easy situation to negotiate.

There could be benefits from any rest, aside from the health factor. If a few Rangers sat for a game or two it might allow the team to give more NHL experience to the likes of Tim Erixon at the back or a final gauge of whether Zuccarello can cut it with the Rangers up front; with injuries in deep playoff runs so frequent having potential call ups recently involved in the NHL could be beneficial; plenty to think about for the coaching staff.

Fantasy hockey fanatics out there will worry about Henrik Lundqvist too. Probably the easiest and most likely position to justify an extended break would be in goal. If the Rangers can maintain a healthy lead in the division heading in to the last week or two there’s a good chance Biron sees a few games more than he normally would – a refreshing change to when the Rangers have had to rely on Lundqvist just to get in to the playoffs. A well rested King come playoff time? Sign me up.

Rangers/Bolts recap

The Rangers lost a tough one tonight, 4-3 to the Lightning in overtime.  The Blueshirts looked tired and we generally outplayed by Tampa for the better part of the game.  Henrik Lundqvist played very well and Brandon Dubinsky made a return to the score sheet.  No one likes to lose but there were definitely some positive takeaways from this one.  To the bullets…

  • 1st Period
  • Tampa came out strong in the 1st, outshooting the Rangers 13-3 at one point.  Henrik Lundqvist was very sharp early, weathering the storm until the Rangers could put one on the scoreboard.
  • Artem Anisimov did just that with a nice quick shot past Garon’s stick side. 1-0 Rangers.
  • Dubinsky didn’t play a whole lot in the first period, paired on a line with Rupp and Scott.  I do remember noticing how hard he was working along the walls creating pressure from the big 4th line.
  • McDonagh took another penalty that the MSG cameras didn’t have a camera on.
  • 2nd Period
  • The Rangers started the 2nd killing McDonagh’s penalty but soon found themselves with a 5-on-3 advantage.  Torts used his time out, and the Rangers made the move work out.  Brad Richards set a nice pick on Adam Hall, which allowed a lane for Gaborik to develop.  He launched an absolute missile into the top corner.  PP goal, 2-0 Rangers.
  • At this point, the Rangers were in good position despite being pretty severely outplayed by Tampa.  You just had that feeling that the Bolts would start chipping away.
  • Tampa’s first goal came from a scramble in the crease, in which Tom Pyatt beat Ryan McDonagh to the spot in front of the net.  2-1 Rangers.
  • It was about this time Sam and Joe told us that Toronto had fired Ron Wilson.  Never thought Burke would pull the trigger on that one.
  • This was a game where the Rangers definitely missed Ryan Callahan.  When the Rangers get sluggish, Cally leads by example.  He would have been a huge spark tonight.
  • Dubinsky continued to play well in 4th line duties.
  • 3rd Period
  • The Rangers began the third with a strong forecheck.  Their momentum wouldn’t last as a miscue on a defensive zone draw ended with Girardi kicking the puck to a driving St. Louis who fed the puck right on the door step to Teddy Purcell.  2-2.
  • After Tampa tied the game, the Rangers responded well.  They began to control the play and a funny thing happened; Brandon Dubinsky started getting top 6 minutes.
  • Tampa would again squash the Rangers momentum as Steven Stamkos sent a rocket to the top corner past Lundqvist about halfway through the 3rd.  3-2 Tampa.
  • Carl Hagelin would end up taking a high sticking double minor about 15 seconds after Stamkos’ goal.  It would take the clock down to about 6 minutes for the Rangers to tie the game.  The penalty kill was phenomenal and actually gave the Rangers some momentum heading into the final minutes.  Hank made an enormous glove save on the penalty kill to keep the deficit to one.
  • Brandon Dubinsky would get that tying goal after he moved into prime scoring position after Martin St. Louis lost his edge in the high slot.  Dubi ripped one over the blocker of Garon and gave the Rangers new life.  3-3.
  • OT
  • Brad Richards almost set Dan Girardi up perfectly a couple minutes into overtime.  He made a nifty move in the slot and send a perfect pass toward the Ranger d-man, but Steven Stamkos made a terrific defensive play to keep Girardi from getting the shot off.
  • Ryan Malone would win it for the Bolts on a well-placed screen shot that beat Henrik Lundqvist at 1:58 of the OT period. 4-3 Tampa.

Obligatory Goaltending Analysis

  • Mathieu Garon played well tonight.  None of the goals the Rangers scored were soft and came up with several nice saves on Carl Hagelin and Brad Richards.  It was a little disappointing to see the offense stymied by Garon to this extent, since he’s, you know…not very good.
  • Hank ended up with 27 saves in this one, but the stats don’t do his performance justice.  He weathered enormous pressure in the 1st period and made several more difficult saves as the game went on.  This one could have easily been 3-0 Tampa in the first 10 minutes or so.
  • This game was a prime example of why save percentage is a faulty stat.  Both Garon and Lundqvist played very well.  Their save percentages?  .842 and .871, respectively.

Random Thoughts

  • I thought Richards played a strong game tonight.  He had a team high in shots and was generally more involved on both sides of the puck.
  • I decided tonight that Mitchell irritates me on top-6 duty simply because he is too much Swedish and not nearly enough Finnish. (If ya know what I mean.)
  • Stepan was a beast on the forecheck tonight.  He had his stick in every passing lane and played well in both ends of the ice.
  • Carl Hagelin “just missed” about 5 plays tonight where his speed could have send him in all alone.  He played well, but that timing was just a little off.
  • Marian Gaborik now has 23 points in his past 21 games.
  • Steven Stamkos isn’t fair.
  • I thought Torts handled Dubi perfectly.  He started him with the fourth line and Dubinsky played well enough the coach couldn’t ignore him anymore.  He had a jump and an edge to his game and never stopped working.  Torts rewarded him with well deserved top 6 minutes and Dubinsky came through.  Hopefully this is just what he needs to get going a little bit.

Off tomorrow and then a matinee with Boston at home on Sunday afternoon.  That one will be a 12:30pm start on NBC.

Game Day Musings

It’s another edition of Musings on a game day. How convenient. It’s also the first since the deadline came and went and the deadline day inactivity was a blessing or curse; depending on your point of view of course.

The biggest winner of the deadline day for me: Buffalo. I think Cody Hodgson should be a quality center for a long time to come and any team that can get a 1st AND a 4th for a guy that has never scored more than 12 goals in a season has done well. Paul Gaustad; good foot soldier, nothing more.

I wonder when Rangers fans will get to watch John Scott in red, white and blue for the first time, against Boston?

The Rangers had a little pre-deadline day wobble but anyone that saw the Devils game has to be impressed. The whole shenanigans didn’t make them deviate from their game and they stuck with what got them this far. This team is in sync, it’s hungry and maybe some people are right, they deserved a chance to go deep as the unit that they already are. Hey, they’re well ahead of their development curve anyway, right?

Ryan Callahan is having a monster year. That is all.

It isn’t Rick Nash or another marquee player that’s put Dubinsky’s Rangers career on shaky ground. It’s himself, but also Carl Hagelin. The young Swede is as dynamic a rookie as there’s been in a long time and he’s out hustling, out skating and out producing Dubinsky at the wing spot. Consider the kid a future star: 43 games, 27 points, 40 point season approaching. Nice.

Is there any way Mats Zuccarello even contemplates re-signing with the Rangers? And, is there any way the club even contemplate offering him a new deal? Answer: no. He’ll want an NHL opportunity that is not coming any time soon in New York.

Anyone else really, truly thought of the absurdity of Henrik Lundqvist’s save percentage this season?

Playoff potential: right now the Rangers are looking at a showdown with the Capitals which is as tough as a 1st round could be. 1 point behind is the Jets which would be a great match up.  It seems, at this stage, to be one of Jersey, the Caps, Jets or least likely the Leafs. It could be a lot easier folks.

Five, FIVE (!) teams have losing records this season. Gary Bettman, thank you for your diluted product, where parity is the beige of sports. To make matters worse two of those teams are a two game winning streak from a .500 record which would leave a mere 10% of the league with losing records.

Following a little fit of production, Artem Anisimov has gone back to being a passenger. At what point do you believe he’s hit his ceiling? At what point do you believe he’ll never fulfil his potential? If Chris Kreider does make the roster sooner rather than later Anisimov has no chance of establishing himself as a top six player on this club.

Chances Ruslan Fedotenko gets another year with the Rangers next year? If Dubinsky or A.N. Other leaves and prospects aren’t considered ready; don’t rule out one of Tortorella’s favourite troopers coming back.

Question Time:

  • John Tortorella; does he win the Jack Adams this season?
  • Does Ryan Callahan break the top five in Selke vote getters?
  • John Scott – fights as a Ranger: over or under 5?
  • First to 20 points; Prust or Boyle?
  • Rangers have 21 games remaining; Does Lundqvist reach 40 wins?

Tortorella Must Focus On Richards

The Rangers played two abysmal periods against the Devils Tuesday night and despite a better third (and a shocking refereeing decision in waiving off a late tying goal), they deserved to lose. That said, this is a tight-knit bunch who know how they need to play and (usually) play their style of game well.

The Rangers listen to their coach. Now that Tortorella has his team singing from the same hymn page, he needs to be spending a lot more of his time and energy on re-focussing his biggest issue right now, and that’s Brad Richards.

Richards’ sub-par play is a bigger issue than the power play. He should have been a huge upgrade on the regular line-up and should have been the biggest difference maker on the power play this season. Thus far, this has not been the case. The powerplay if anything has regressed.

We have seen Richards score clutch goals and we have seen the player he can be. However, we have not seen it nearly enough. The longer his sub-par play continues, the bigger a story it will become and a bigger distraction to all the good going on at the MSG.

Against the Devils, Richards looked lost. He looked devoid of confidence and most alarmingly, he made numerous bad decisions with the puck. It’s normally his confidence and decision making ability that sets him apart. One shift in the third period aside, Richards brought almost zero to the Rangers last night. That cannot continue.

Tortorella and Richards have a long standing relationship and if anyone knows what is going wrong with Richards it is Tortorella.  The coach needs to spend as much time as needed focussing in on the skilled center to find his spark. Given how the Rangers have managed to get to first place overall (despite an inept powerplay) Tortorella should realise, if he can get Richards firing on all cylinders then this could truly be a special season.

It doesn’t stop there though. Essentially, this was still a developmental year for the Rangers, so any significant success would be gravy. That said, Richards is going nowhere for a long time and we’ve seen how underperforming big-tickets get treated by the media and fans when they underperform. It’s crucial Tortorella gets Richards going, as much for the long term as it is for this season.

Tortorella has faced several challenges as Rangers coach. He has helped oversee a huge change in organisational concept and approach and has helped usher in a bright future with his emphasis on youth. Getting Brad Richards to be front and center of that future (where he needs to be) may be his biggest – and most critical – challenge to date.

Does Dolan Appearance Hint At Rangers Intentions?

James Dolan has been a rare visitor to the Rangers, at least publicly. After the Nashville victory he spoke to the Rangers media for the first time in almost seven years. The owner of the team spoke openly and enthusiastically about Glen Sather (who has done a tremendous job since the lockout on the whole) and the fact that he saw the Rangers close to a Stanley Cup.

Glen and I made a pact, I actually gave him something which I won’t reveal what it is. I said you can’t give it back to me until we win the Stanley Cup. And I think I’m pretty close to getting that thing back.

Dolan appeared to speak quite openly about the emphasis on development, youth and the turnaround in the organisational approach over the past seven years. It may have surprised many how much Dolan may seem to know about his team.

Dolan’s comment about the Cup will likely spark rumours of how aggressive the Rangers will be in positioning themselves for a cup run so assume any significant player coming on the market will be linked with the Rangers. Don’t forget, for all his shortfalls Dolan has always been willing to spend money on the team when Sather identified a need. Obviously that hasn’t always been a good thing as, for all the Gaborik’s and Biron’s there has been the Redden’s and Brashear’s.

Dolan is very much a Knicks fan first and foremost. Anyone watching the Knicks over the years has seen Dolan get actively involved, too much so in fact. Rangers fans haven’t had that aspect of his ownership to deal with. Truth is, his daily involvement probably won’t change but for the first time in well over a decade Dolan sees a possible championship team in New York and that may mean he puts pressure on Sather and co. to go out and acquire pieces for a run.

Coach Tortorella was (as usual) disapproving of championship talk straight after Dolan’s surprise flirt with the media. However it will be interesting to see if there is any change in how the Rangers go about their business over the next few weeks leading up to the deadline. Could the Dolan conference appearance be a watershed moment in the season?

Lundqvist, Gaborik, Girardi Join Tortorella In All Star Game

The NHL announced the rest of the rosters for the 2012 All Star Game, and joining John Tortorella for the festivities over the January 28-29 weekend will be Henrik Lundqvist, Marian Gaborik, and Dan Girardi. Lundqvist and Gaborik were the shoe-ins, with Gaborik among the league leaders in scoring (23-11-34 in 40 GP) and Lundqvist leading the Vezina race (1.85 GAA, .940 SV%, 3 SO).

That  brings us to Girardi, who garnered a lot of attention when Tortorella ripped the fan ballot, as Girardi’s name was not on the ballot initially. The fan write-in campaign fell short, but never fear, the selection process was fair and Girardi was elected to the All Star Game, and deservedly so. Girardi does not have the flashy numbers, nor does he have the big game physical presence that others bring.

No, instead Girardi led the young Rangers blue line that was without Marc Staal and Mike Sauer for extended periods. Girardi became the rock on the blue line that the Rangers needed during that time period, and helped lead them to an NHL best 27-9-4 record through the first half of the season.

Girardi’s selection means that Michael Del Zotto, having an All Star caliber season himself, was left off the roster. It’s tough to call Del Zotto’s omission a snub, considering the rest of the All Star’s selected.

Overall, the selection process was pretty fair when looking at the rosters, but there will always be people that have issues with it.

Mid-Season Report Card: John Tortorella

What more can I say about John Tortorella that I haven’t already said? I’ve covered his forechecking system, how players earn icetime within his team concept, and I gave you all insights into his line juggling strategy when many wanted to brand him a fool.

At this point I don’t want to beat a dead horse. I will say this; back in late October/early November we put up poll asking our readers if they thought Torts was the right man for the job and a little more than 50% said no. We are running a new poll (to your right) asking our readers their opinions of Tortorella post-24/7 and the results are staggering. Less than 5% think he’s a bad coach. Fifty percent to five percent. Wow.

The Good:

It’s not unique, but I am a proponent of Tortorella’s system. The 2-1-2 forechecking, the commitment to back pressure, dump & chase when a play isn’t there, getting defensemen involved in the OZ…it’s all part of his team concept and it is the right template given the makeup of this roster. A lot of other coaches use these strategies, but revert to trapping when they have the lead. Torts tells his guys to “not to let up” and “we’re going to keep coming at them.” It makes for exciting hockey and so far it is producing offense and wins.

Speaking of offense, so far this season our team is scoring almost three goals a game. When Tom Renney was let go, we were scoring just 2.4 goals a game. Obviously having our talent perform up to expectations has helped, but Torts positions his players deeper in the zone than Renney did, he is also great at making in-game adjustments, and it is paying off without sacrificing defense.

Much of the criticism from his bashers pre-24/7 focused around unfair treatment of his players. However, this was defeated thanks to HBO. Throughout those four episodes we saw motivational criticism directed at our star players as much as our grinders. Most of the time the tough love worked. We also saw him praise our defensemen on multiple occasions.

Where He Can Improve:

One reason why some of the fans didn’t see his strengths had to do with slanted media coverage. Obviously NYR beat writers aren’t going to go out of their way to write positive stuff about the guy when he’s constantly short with them. However, now that public opinion is on his side, he needs to do a better job of handling the media. Ultimately it doesn’t change our record, but it may one day influence his job status if we start losing again.

I’m sure some will point to our power play as an area that needs improvement, it does, but the problem isn’t in the formation, it’s in the execution. Pretty much every good coach in the NHL has presided over an efficient power play and an inefficient one at some point or another. Unless you have the Sedin twins, or Mike Green patrolling your blueline, there isn’t much consistency around the league. As young guys like Michael Del Zotto, Ryan McDonagh, Artem Anisimov, & Derek Stepan mature offensively, I believe their power play IQ will only get better. But that’s a post for another time…

Grade: A- 

*In case you missed it. We also wrote report cards for our bottom six forwards, top six forwardsdefense, & goalies.

Credit To the All Star Coach

First of all, the news of John Tortorella coaching at the All Star game this season speaks volumes to what the Rangers coach has achieved this season. Several Rangers players have received media kudos and attention for the way they have worked their way to the top of the Eastern Conference this year and rightly so. However one person who has not received enough praise is the man that leads them, John Tortorella.

Perhaps overshadowed by the impressive play on the ice as well as the unnecessary, unfortunate handling of Sean Avery, Tortorella has proved this year that he is still an elite coach. The all star nod helps give the coach credit (for the record, the player voting by fans is a farce and totally de-values the event; however plenty of worth is still in the coaching choices).

Forget about being the winningest coach in US history, even though it’s a great accolade. Tort’s has stuck to his beliefs, gone with youth and transformed this club in to one with a huge future. Naturally there’s many elements of the Rangers return to prominence to tip your Broadway hat to; the great farm system, the great scouting, Sather’s ‘re-awakening’, player development etc, etc – they all deserve huge credit. However so does Tortorella.

The kind of guy Tortorella is, he’ll always have critics, people calling for his head and perhaps even after a Rangers Cup win might never be totally loved. He probably wouldn’t have it any other way. Indeed, here at the blog we’ve been critics of certain aspects of his time with the club, but he has always been the right guy for this team, water bottle tantrum or not.

During the Winter Classic (and well done to NBC for pointing it out – consider me shocked) Tortorella made subtle changes with the lines and tactics that tilted the game back towards the Rangers towards the end of the second period. His manoeuvring was integral to the Rangers comeback and it’s nice that it was acknowledged during the commentary.

Yes, it’s still the players that need to get it done on the ice but the coach remained focussed, calm and thoughtful throughout – even when the ever annoying Pierre McGuire was interviewing him. At the classic Tortorella out-duelled Peter Laviolette, another good coach by the way (when he’s not butting Dallas Stars players) and subsequently Torts sits proudly atop of the Eastern Conference with his team.

The Rangers are well on their way to cementing their place as a contender for this season and beyond. However despite the wonderful season the Rangers coach remains focused to the end, as evidenced by his refusal to acknowledge the team as a contender this season – just yet. It’s time to give a huge amount of credit to the guy that’s steering this team to unrivalled recent success. Tort’s has done well to earn 358 career victories and it’s a nice achievement. Maybe he’ll get to celebrate a second cup soon enough and really get the credit he deserves.