New York Rangers: Playoff Hopes Grow Dim as Coaching Once Again Fails Team

S BCorrespondent IApril 7, 2010

The Rangers' season has been defined by one sad but simple fact: The winning streaks have quickly been followed by losing streaks.

Going into Tuesday night's game against the Buffalo Sabres, the Rangers were 6-3-1 in their last 10, and 5-0-1 in their last six games.

Rangers winning streaks have been built upon smart, strong defensive play which gradually dissipates as the streak continues.

And that recurring failure is on Rangers coach John Tortorella, who seems either unable or unwilling to coach defensively for extended periods of time.

It's almost as if as the wins pile up, Tortorella gets greedy and wants to win by greater margins by putting an emphasis on offense.

Either that, or Tortorella lets the Rangers get sloppy and allows them to forget the style of play that brought them the wins.

Tortorella's coaching can often seem based more on emotion than on logic or strategy.

You can look at huge things, like Tortorella's freak out during last year's playoffs, where he wound up suspended a game for throwing a water bottle at a Washington fan.

But you can look at smaller events, too, like Tortorella's pulling goalie Henrik Lundqvist after giving up three goals on 16 shots in Tuesday night's loss to the Buffalo Sabres.

Lundqvist didn't look horribly sharp but he didn't look awful, either. And while Lundqvist faced a game the night after getting pulled in Buffalo, the workload didn't seem to present a problem before the Buffalo game started.

And let's not forget the Rangers are fighting to make it into the playoffs and Lundqvist is the team's best player.

Tortorella probably pulled Lundqvist to send a message to the rest of the Rangers, but he doesn't seem to have realized that he also sent a message to Lundqvist: that he didn't think the goalie was good enough to win the game.

Who knows what that message will do to Lundqvist's confidence? Or if that message will create a rift between the goalie and the coach at the most important point of the season?

Also, you cannot forget about goalie Alex Auld, who was thrown into the game when Lundqvist was suddenly pulled.

Auld didn't have a strong game, partially because of the quality of play in front of him, but also, because he was entering an important game cold. That can't be good for the backup goalie.

Again and again we've seen Tortorella make questionable coaching choices. From his refusal to consistently preach defense, even as his team succeeds with a defensive posture, to pulling his team's best player to make a point to the rest of the team, Tortorella has often seemed to allow his emotions to dictate the direction of the New York Rangers.

The Rangers spent the past six games making a valiant attempt to burst into the playoff picture. The team seemed poised to succeed until their coach acted like he was unable to get out of his own way.

Tuesday night's game against Buffalo—a must-win game—saw the Rangers go down early, with Tortorella responding by reverting to coaching tactics that have been unsuccessful all season: high-risk offensive schemes coupled with randomly-generated line combinations, punctuated with a pulled Lundqvist.

As one might imagine, Tortorella's strategy failed once again and ended the Rangers' winning streak, and perhaps their playoff chances.

It's not fair to blame all of a team's failings on its coach but Tortorella sure is making it difficult not to make that accusation.


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