John Tortorella conducted his first practice as Ranger head coach this morning and then stepped out for his first press conference. Well, he mostly watched as Jim Schoenfeld ran practice, trying to learn what he can about his players in time to get them ready to play three games in four nights starting tomorrow night in Toronto. But he came out on his own to face the media for the first time and aced it. Here are a few quick hits to mull over while we transcribe the interview:
The practice was uptempo, focusing on skating and puck skills rather than X's and O's. Schoeny used some of his favorite drills, starting off with a two-man criss-cross with pucks and drop passes that was handled best by young players like Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky who did those drills for him in Hartford. Players later said that he did start giving them a few ideas of specific things he wanted them to do, but the coach himself said that he doesn't want to confuse the players by giving them too much too soon, that his immediate focus is to get then to believe in themselves again and get them back to their winning ways.
One of the areas he will immediately try to improve is, of course, the power play, recognizing that it has been an albatross and can have a big impact if successful. He said that he himself will take control of the power play while Schoeny takes on the penalty killers. He also reiterated what Glen Sather said last night, and that is that he wants to use an attacking style of play. But he did say that he will adjust if necessary -- he said he was too late in realizing last year in Tampa that his defense could not handle their end of the load and pulled back somewhat to help them. That of course is exactly what Tom Renney tried to do this season, so we'll have to wait and see how Torts handles it.
Tortorella is a coach who likes to ride his best players. He said flat out that he is not a four line coach. We'll have to wait and see how that plays out here too -- there is no Lecavalier or St. Louis in this line-up, and Renney didn't fare too well increasing the ice time of his top veterans when they started to slump. And the question of whose ice time is cut will come up too, as fans were none to happy to see some young players take a back seat to the likes of Redden and Drury these past couple of weeks. Getting more ice time for Nikolai Zherdev might get him as well as the power play going, but how long until the enigmatic winger tries the mercurial coach's patience and takes his place in the dog house? As for Petr Prucha, for at least one day, he was on a regular line while Aaron Voros skated as the spare forward -- one decision down.
The Tampa compensation issue that slowed things down yesterday was not about Torts himself, the Lightning happy to get his salary off their books. It was rather about trying to get his assistant coach Mike Sullivan to New York. When that proved impossible, Torts asked Schoeny to help him out at least through the end of the season -- Schoeny did not volunteer for the job nor was he ever interested in the head job himself. Mike Pelino will take on a much reduced role away from the bench and off the practice ice -- he was kept on, it seems, because Sather likes him. But Torts said he will rely solely on Schoeny and Benoit Allaire. More later as I transcribe the long and lively press conference.
Here are a lot more links on the coaching to change mull over in the meantime: Newsday here, here, here, and here; Daily News here, here, and here; Post here, here, and here; Record, Journal News, NY Sports Day, AP, PA Sports Ticker, and NHL.com here and here. Updates today from the reporters' blogs: Ranger Rants here and here, Rangers Report, Blue Notes, Blueshirts Blog, and Game On!. The national media are nearly unanimous in saying the wrong man was fired -- see SI, ESPN here and here, CBS, Sporting News, USA Today, Toronto Sun, SportsNet, CBC, THN, TSN, National Post. The Tampa press chimes in here, here, here, here, and here. Prospect Park weighs in on Sather. In a change of pace, the Times covers the Potvin chant.