The hiring of John Tortorella was viewed as a step in the right direction. Tom Renney had worn out his welcome and whether it was his fault or not, he was going to take the blame and lose his job. But now, just three months into his tenure as full-time head coach of the New York Rangers, Tortorella has seemed to have lost touch with his players.
The man known as fiery, who magically calls timeouts at the perfect time only to incite his players into coming back and winning the game, has made decision after decision that has affected the team negatively. The first was starting backup goalie Steve Valiquette against the Western Conference powerhouse San Jose Sharks. The Rangers lost 7-3. Then, to see he did not learn from that mistake, he starts Valiquette again against the defending Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, who have one of the best offenses in the league. The result was nearly identical, this time an 8-3 loss.
Forwards Enver Lisin and Ales Kotalik now have found their way into Tortorella's dog house, as Lisin dressed but did not play one second of ice time against the Penguins Saturday night and Kotalik played around three minutes last night in the Rangers third loss in a row. The powerplay specialist was not even given a second of ice time with the man advantage.
The Rangers, who got off on a 7-1-0 start, now find themselves at an even .500 with a record of 13-13-1. Losses can be acceptable if the team at least shows an effort, but that can not even be said of the Blueshirts, who look absolutely listless and disinterested in their play. Tortorella can scream and yell all he wants, he can run the toughest practices these players have ever experienced, but that will no longer have an affect, because there are only so many temper tantrums one can throw before players starting tuning that person out.
It looks like that tune out has happened already. The Rangers are getting no offense from any player other than Gaborik and Prospal. It is argued that what Tortorella has to work with is not good enough, therefore it is not his fault. This is wrong. Granted, the team he has does not constitute an array of goal scorers, who he needs for his system to work, but Ryan Callahan, Chris Higgins, and Chris Drury are all capable of scoring more than twenty goals; Brandon Dubinsky can even be thrown into that list because he has the potential. But these players, through a combined total of 93 games have registered a mere 11 goals and 23 assists for 34 points.
Callahan, who could not hit the ocean from a pier, still continues to see powerplay time and has been beyond ineffective. Chris Higgins get somewhat of a pass because he has played very well on the penalty kill and his backchecking skills have been excellent. Drury seems to be on his way back after the concussion but still, he has not done anything to warrant being the captain anymore.
Perhaps the one thing that gets me most irate with how Tortorella has handled this team, has been the play of the defense. He has insisted on the mantra of "Safe is Death" and that the only way to win is to mindlessly pinch and join the rush, although none of the defensemen know how to execute that. Take last night's loss against the Penguins at Madison Square Garden for example. I could not even count the number of times I saw a forward coming back on defense to take the spot of one of the defensemen who had pinched. I honestly think that Prospal and Higgins played more on defense than Gilroy and Staal did.
It is becoming almost embarrassing to watch, especially with such a young defense that should not have to be subjected to this style of play that teaches them nothing except how to not play hockey. Most coaches around the league would recognize this, swallow their pride, and alter their system to try to change the way games are being played. Tortorella could very easily focus more on defense and teach his players how to be aware and not join the rush and pinch on every single play. But Tortorella is not the man for that; he is a "my way is the only way" coach. It is because of that, that will lead to his already beginning downfall.
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