GREENBURGH, NY – In one day, John Tortorella had his presence felt at the MSG Training Center.
Gone are the stats and schedule, Tom Renney had hanging up in the locker room.
Gone are the easy going rules, such as allowing the media step on the logo in the middle of the floor.
And gone was Mike Pelino – Renney’s only remaining assistant – who was reassigned to scouting and video.
“It’s good for them mentally to wipe the slate clean,” Tortorella said in a lively press conference after practice. “I had the trainers take down the standings in the locker room and the stats and all that.”
Admittedly, Tortorella used his first day on the job to observe the team, since he really didn’t know all the players. He has a history with Paul Mara, who played for the new coach in Tampa and Brandon Dubinsky last year in the World Championships, but the rest of the roster comes from reputation and the limited amount of play they had against the Lightning.
So Tortorella allowed Jim Schoenfeld run the practice, while he took in what he had to work with.
“I’m not going to sit here and lie to you and tell you I know what they’re about – I don’t,” he said. “I know how I want them to play. I need to be cognizant of what you have as personnel, can they play your style. After one practice, I don’t have a clue. We have three games in four nights and that’s where we’ll see what they’re about and how they grasp some of the little things we’re going to change.”
For the first day, at least, Tortorella rearranged the lines with Scott Gomez centering Markus Naslund and Nikolai Zherdev, while Brandon Dubinsky moved to left wing to play with Chris Drury and Ryan Callahan. On the third line, Petr Prucha was taken out of moth balls to be with Nigel Dawes and Lauri Korpikoski. And the fourth line of Blair Betts, Fredrik Sjostrom, and Colton Orr remained in same.
By the looks of it, Aaron Voros will be the odd man out in this scheme, but Tortorella also feels he wants to ride his best horses, giving them the most ice time.
“I’m not a four line guy. Your best players need to be your decision makers,” he said. “They’re going to get every opportunity to win hockey games for us, they’re going to be put in those situations. As long as they show me that they’re going to can compete hard, I’m going to give them every opportunity.
“There may be some tough times, but if they’re playing hard, I’m going to get them right back out there to allow them to work through it. If a player can’t control his work habits, if there’s a problem there, that’s when it gets dicey. We got to start getting up the hill, not keep going down the hill.”
Tortorella is in a tricky situation here. With a limited time left in the season, he said he didn’t want to “overload” the team, but at the same time, he wants to introduce his system to the Rangers, which is based on offensive attacking, as opposed to Renney’s defensive trapping system. This means, the adjustment period will have to be short if the team is going to make a successful run.
“I’m going to do it slowly but surely, sometimes on the ice, sometimes on the plane, when I think it needs to be done,” he said. “I want them to be themselves. I talked to a couple of players today just in a more casual way. They’re willing to talk to you better that way. Put a player in an office and he tends to clam up. So it’s going to be a two-way street. You know I’m going to be speaking to them and I’m going to push along the way. I want them to feel comfortable to talk to me.”
There will be some conflict, as the new coach is known to call out a player or two in the media. But he also seemed to learn from his experience with the Lightning, since he wants to step back and get used to his new team.
He said he will be running the offense and the power play on the team, while Schoenfeld will take care of the defense and penalty kill. He also said Benoit Allaire will be the other coach on the staff, which will keep his most important player happy.
“I think [Henrik] Lundqvist is the best goalie in the league,” Tortorella thought. “When you have a goalie that can cover up some of those mistakes and not everything ends up in your net, it’s a huge for developing your team. The situation in goal here is going to help us. They make a mistake and you still get a save from — what do you call him here, Hank? We can talk about all sorts of things, but goaltending is the most important in winning and losing.”
As is a good first day, which Tortorella had at the MSG Training Center.