John Tortorella should consider himself lucky. In his first game as Ranger coach, he got to see who his Rangers really are, not an illusion of the type that sometimes accompanies a coaching change. Now he knows what he's up against -- a team that can skate circles around the opposition, but not for sixty minutes, and with paltry results. He got to see the team we've seen all season, one that can go one period without many meaningful scoring chances, a second period without being able to finish enough of their many meaningful scoring chances, and a third period in which they apparently are so full of themselves after two good periods that they sit back and blow the lead.
It would have been nice had the Rangers carried over their two-period effort into the third period and won by at least the 1-0 margin they took into that period. It would have been even nicer had they built a larger margin through the first two periods, when they outshot the Leafs by 24-12 (attempting 55 shots to the Leafs' 31). It would have been acceptable had they managed to pull out the win in the shootout, as they did most of the season, though they have been unable to do so during this swoon that now stands at 2-7-4, with that last column made up of three shootout losses and one OT loss. Instead, they finished the season series against the Leafs with just five goals in four games versus a team that allows a league-worst three and a half goals per game, giving up all nine goals against in the third period or overtime of the three losses.
"We're just not able to make that next play to score a goal," Tortorella said after the game in noting how pleased he was that his players got at least as far as being in position to score their first time playing his style of pressure hockey. "We just get stifled. You can see that they're just gripping their sticks. I look at us three on two, a drop pass to Chris Drury, hops over his stick," he lamented, although he will learn that is not unusual, with Drury extending his career-worst goal drought to 16 games. "There's a couple of pucks in the crease, we fan on one with an open net," Tortorella went on. "It's just the way it's going right now. We had some good offensive zone pressure, but we just can't make that next play to score a goal. We have a chance to shoot, we wait a second, bang, it's blocked."
Tortorella also got to hear his players make post-game comments that are all too familiar to those of us who have followed this team all season. "Most nights we'll get more than one goal playing this way," Markus Naslund said, even though that has rarely been true. "If we can keep being aggressive like this, we'll get more goals than one," he went on to say, even though this is the 17th time in 62 games they have been unable to get more than one goal. "We'll be in good shape if we keep playing like this. Every game will get better. It's frustrating when we can't win, but we have to stay energized. We wanted to win a game for John -- we'll have to wait until tomorrow night."
"It's a good sign of things to come," Scott Gomez said of a game that was a replica of the past dozen in too many ways. "We had more go. If we play like that night in and night out, it'll be tough to beat us." Except for one thing -- that pesky little third period letdown. "We sat back a bit in the third," Gomez noted. "John warned us that was the last thing we wanted to do." But they did it anyway -- that's another thing Tortorella will have to find a solution for. "We could have pushed a little bit more," Naslund said of the team's effort in the third period. Except that they didn't.
The new coach thought the third period letdown was fatigue, but the Rangers are a well-conditioned team and they just had two full days between games. It was mental fatigue, not physical. Or more to the point, as Tortorella will learn (and will have to correct), just the typical way this team responds to the praise and encouragement he no doubt had for them during the second intermission when things looked pretty good -- one good period, one goal, and they think that's all they need to do (wait until he gets a load of how they react when they go down by that one goal!).
"I have some concerns about a few guys," Tortorella said. "You can see that they struggled in the third period. We were a tired hockey team in the third period." But he said explicitly that he didn't think the fatigue factor, even if true, was the reason why they couldn't score. "We still get it to overtime," he said. "We still get it to a shootout -- we need to score a goal! We have a pretty good goalie there -- we need to try to score a goal there. We have to finish. I'm not upset with the team -- I just saw us sink in the third period, the play got taken to us in the third period, and we want to finish games like that." One game, and Tortorella already has to make sure people understand that he is not upset with the team -- that will come later.
There was one difference in this game, and that came thanks to the new coach paying the necessary attention to the area that needed him the most -- the power play. Without a power play goal, they'd have no goals at all. And it came as a result of the very adjustments he made during the morning skate. "We had some good movement," he said of the passing and positional rotation that will drive the Garden fans who yell "Shoot!" bonkers -- this is how you score power play goals against NHL goalies, by moving and passing the puck, not by standing around waiting for point shots that never get through. "We won some battles to keep the puck, a very important thing we have to improve on, retrieving pucks when you have to dump it in."
And wonder of wonders, it was Wade Redden who scored the goal -- his first goal since the Garden opener back in early October after going 57 games without one. "It's good getting Redden to score a goal," said Tortorella, who took Redden aside on the ice at his first practice and told him he had to play his best to undo the reputation he has crafted for himself in his first season in New York. "Maybe that will relieve some pressure." But Drury's woes continued, and not just on the score sheet, but in the face-off circle too -- he failed to win more than 50% of his draws for the ninth time in the last ten games, going in the neighborhood of 30% for the third time in those ten games and tenth time this season.
Local area game reports mostly focus on the conditioning issue brought up by Tortorella as well as the familiar result for the new coach -- Newsday, Record, Daily News, Post, Times, NYR.com, and NHL.com. More from Blue Notes, Blueshirts Blog, Ranger Rants, and Rangers Report. Toronto-area game reports: Sun, Star, Globe & Mail, National Post, ESPN, and AP/CP. More on Tortorella taking over Glen Sather's mess of a team: Sun, Star, Globe & Mail, National Post here and here, NHL.com, Inside Shots, and Game On!. Markus Naslund got into a fight of sorts, obviously a rare occurrence for him -- see the video and read about it at Puck Daddy, TSN, and Hockey Fights. For more on the acquisition of Mark Bell from Toronto on waivers: Blue Notes, Ranger Rants, Sun, Star, Globe & Mail, and NYR.com.
Tom Renney gave his first interview yesterday with various reporters listening in and talked about what went wrong. Like Tortorella and Glen Sather, he insisted that he was not pointing fingers at anyone, but his comments nevertheless added up to an inescapable conclusion -- turning the team over from the strong personalities who led it the past three years to the group of veteran underachievers currently in free fall was at the root of the problem. Gomez and Drury are just not $7 million players, he said, and do not give the team enough size up the middle. His biggest regret was not benching players and the biggest culprit was the power play, which he called "ghastly" -- that is of course ultimately why he was fired, for not taking the necessary steps to make the obvious corrections, often pretending at least in public that those steps were not even necessary (Tortorella has already done something with the power play and has a reputation for benching anyone). For more: Newsday, Post, Record.
How bizarre is it that the NHL scheduled a visit from Florida right on the 30th anniversary of the event that spawned the Potvin chant? Read more at SI.com and the Miami Herald. Oh, and there is an actual game tonight at the Garden, a huge playoff positioner against the Panthers, who come off a blow-out in Boston. Game prevewis: NYR.com, NHL.com, Sun-Sentinel, and Game On!. The Wolf Pack won their fourth straight since Sean Avery's debut there, with Avery chipping in a goal -- see Howlings, WP.com, Beyond the Blueshirts, Hartford Courant, and Wilkes-Barre Times-Tribune (who have more on Avery here). Other prospect news at Prospect Park.