Fri 13 Mar 2009
Ranger fans had seen this movie before – any momentum their team built up gets washed away thanks to a parade to the penalty box, poor decisions and some untimely luck. The Rangers were set up for yet another sequel last night in Nashville after turning a 1-0 lead into a 2-1 first period deficit. In the past, it would have been time to switch channels or face 40 minutes of the same thing. However, in the past, John Tortorella was not their coach.
During the first intermission, Tortorella laced into his team like no coach has laced into a Rangers team in many years – possibly all the back to Mike Keenan in the 1993-1994 season.
“Once they took the lead, we kind of sagged our heads,” assistant captain Scott Gomez recounted to Steve Zipay of Newsday. “He came in and stopped it right there. He called us out. He let us know it. It’s been a long time since I heard a speech like that. He definitely woke a lot of guys up. If we don’t play every night like that, we’re just cheating ourselves.”
While Tom Renney tried, he was too much Dr, Jekyll while Tortorella is able to flash his My. Hyde self.
In addition to tapping into his “dark side”, Tortorella showed that he is going to hold his players accountable. While Renney did bench players at times, he didn’t garner as much attention as Tortorella did last night when he sat down Nikolai Zherdev. One gets the feeling that the new coach got his point across when he sat his enigmatic right winger at the end of the bench in the second period. It was as far as Tortorella could send him without leaving him in the locker room.
The coach’s point was made because the Rangers roared out with an intensity that has been seen few and far between this season. The Rangers went to the net with an abandon that has been missing for most nights.
“I thought we were hard on the puck the last 40 minutes of the game,” Tortorella told Zipay. “It’s something that has to be a standard for us. That shouldn’t be something special. That needs to be our game.”
One question is can the Rangers play with that intensity for 60 minutes and can they carry it over from game to game. They face a huge test this weekend with back-to-back matinee games against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Once again the Rangers find themselves in playoff move weeks prior to the start of the NHL playoffs. The Blueshirts need more and more of their second and third period production and less and less of their first period protection.
Another question is how will Zherdev respond to his benching. Tortorella did not go into details about why Zherdev was benched. Rather, he referred to it as an internal matter. Zipay believed that Tortorella “implied that Zherdev was not as engaged as the coach wanted.”
Whatever the motivation, whatever the words of motivation Tortorella uttered, for at least one night the Rangers seemed to get the message.
“There were intense words,” Paul Mara said to Zipay. “We’re playing for our lives. We can’t take a period off, we can’t take a five-minute segment off, we can’t take a shift off.”
Everyone seems to be on the same page and now the question left to answer is are the players reading the same book.
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