Welcome to the John Tortorella era, which begins here tonight in Toronto. Aaron Voros is the healthy scratch but Tortorella said not to read too much into that because he's still trying to figure out who everybody is. He joked that the game will be easier than yesterday's practice (no numbers on either jersey or helmet) or this morning's skate (numbers on helmet) because there are names on the back of the jerseys. Don't let Tortorella fool you, though, he's a smart cookie and knows more than he's letting on.
Tortorella was asked about Brandon Dubinsky playing left wing on Chris Drury's line and Tortorella said he wanted to get his top six forwards on the top two lines. However, Torts then said he could see Dubinsky playing center tomorrow night. I then asked Torts the same thing about Lauri Korpikoski, playing center tonight on the third line though he's played wing aplenty this season. Torts replied, "I don't even know who the hell he is."
A couple of notes that didn't make my early notebook for the paper because of space considerations:
- Henrik Lundqvist started his season-high ninth straight game Wednesday but said new coach John Tortorella has not discussed any kind of schedule with him.
“The last couple of weeks we haven’t had any kind of schedule,” Lundqvist said. “Every game is important so you can’t focus on what’s going to happen in a couple of days. I want to play. I want to help the team. So far, I feel pretty good.”
- Tortorella stated he wasn’t a “four-line guy” on his first day on the job. Naturally, fourth-line center Blair Betts, also a key component on the NHL’s second-ranked penalty-kill unit, wonders what that means for him.
“We’re changing some things up on the penalty kill so I hope I get an opportunity to continue to do that,” said Betts, who came into Wednesday with five goals, three assists and averaging 11:21 per game. “How much ice time I get five-on-five, we’ll see.”
Check previous post for the lines. I probably won't be checking in as often tonight as I usually do because I'm going to try my darndest to chart the combinations Torts uses even strength and PP and PK. Unfortunately, I find sometimes when I blog constantly, I'm not paying as much attention to the game as I should. So forgive me for this evening. I will be checking in though, so please keep those comments coming. Let us know what you think of the new-look Rangers.
AFTER FIRST PERIOD: So what's different 20 minutes into the Tortorella era? Well, apparently Markus Naslund is now the team's enforcer. Seriously, the Rangers were more aggressive toward the net and outshot the Maple Leafs, 10-3. Yet Toronto had the best scoring opportunity as Jason Blake's backhander squirted through Henrik Lundqvist's pads at the right post and across the goal line before Chris Drury cleared the puck. On the PK, Chris Drury was playing more with the first unit with Blair Betts playing on the second unit.
AFTER SECOND PERIOD: Well, if Tortorella can get production out of Wade Redden/Rangers PP, he is a heck of a coach. PP units: Drury with Zherdev and Naslund and Gomez with Prucha and Dubinsky. Have to check on Fredrik Sjostrom after the game after Alexei Ponikarovsky drew blood by running him into the boards. Tortorella said the new system would call on Lundqvist to make big saves and he did so twice in one sequence on Dominic Moore, the second time stretching with his left pad to cover the post. One moment which I think I saw. Blair Betts jumps on the ice, then falls and he's tries to spin after quickly being recalled. Tortorella pounded on his chest as in, 'My bad.'
FINAL: MAPLE LEAFS 2, RANGERS 1 (SO): So John Tortorella opens up his first post-game press conference by questioning his team's conditioning. And we're off, it's going to be a fun ride with this guy. Fair point, though. Tortorella has taken great pains over the past two days to praise Tom Renney and put his players on notice that no basing of the previous staff would be allowed.
Am I missing something here? Questioning the players' conditioning, even if it came in the context of the conditioning needs to play Tortorella's up-tempo attack style, has to be taken as at least a slight knock on the work of the previous staff.
And while not trying to sprinkle on any parades but for all the Rangers' motion and attack the first two periods, I didn't see a huge change. Henrik Lundqvist still had to pull a game out of his you know what and he almost did. Still, this is the Rangers' third shootout loss in their last four shootout tries. This has to get old for Lundqvist, who was much more upbeat after this game than in the past couple of weeks.
So, despite Tortorella's presence and system, there's still one fundamental flaw with this team - it can't score. Oh, the Rangers got to the net all right, but even with Vesa Toskala out of position, even with the puck on the doorstep, the Rangers couldn't convert. Yes, the PP did look better because the players looked to shoot and the puck got moved more quickly. But the Rangers, once again, couldn't expand on a one-goal lead, meaning it just took the Maple Leafs one goal to get the game to overtime.
And if the Rangers' legs were tired today, how are they going to be tomorrow night against the Panthers, another hard-skating team? Yes, there's a new attitude in Ranger-land. But the team is even more desperate for points right now than it is for a new attitude.
UPDATE (actually just forgot to mention): Fredrik Sjostrom was sporting what appeared to be 10 stitches over two spots on his face (left forehead and right cheek - both spots were swollen as was the spot just over his right eye) after Alexei Ponikarovsky ran him into the boards at 15:05 of the second period. Sjostrom said it was a clean hit, he was just in a bad position. He added he hopes to play against the Panthers Thursday night but didn't sound 100 percent convinced he'd be ready to go.