NEW YORK – Maybe it was the Christmas spirit coming through, but more than likely, it the four-game winning streak which put John Tortorella in such a jovial mood.
Whatever it is, though, this is a different man than the one who lashed into his team last week for lack of hustle against the New York Islanders.
“I didn’t say too much to the team about it,” the coach said. “They are professional athletes and they know what went on here prior. We haven’t won consistently here. You want to win on the road, but you are not going to get anywhere if you don’t establish yourself at home.”
And tonight the Rangers finally won at home with a very good 4-1 win over the Florida Panthers.
“I am thinking I am playing really well, but the guys in front of me are playing really, really well,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who had 33 saves. “They are really making a difference.”
Actually what worked was the fear of Torts. After lashing out at his team last week and then benching Ales Kotalik and Wade Redden for two games, the Rangers responded with impressive wins on the Island, Philadelphia, and in Carolina. They are hustling, playing strong off the puck, and taking chance.
More importantly, they are winning games they would have lost two weeks ago.
“I think it comes from being embarrassed from that night against the Islanders,” said Vinny Prospal, who scored two goals in tonight’s match. “We had a team meeting and there were things that were said, that needs to be changed or there may be changes in the locker room.
“We have been playing more disciplined hockey and we have been scoring a little more.”
Now, the benchings and rippings are classic Tortorella tactics. Prospal knows that, as he has seen it in Tampa when “The Paper Italian” ran that club.
“I have seen it a few years ago in some other players,” Prospal said. “Torts, you always know him very well. He always tells the players to step up and play better. It’s all business and he doesn’t mean it in a personal way. It’s all hockey to him.”
And since last Wednesday, the Rangers have been playing nothing but sharp, crisp, games with many of the players stepping up in key spots.
Chris Drury has three goals in the last four – including the game tier in the first period – after Tortorella moved him down in the lineup. The coach said he feels the pressure is off his captain, which allows No. 23 to play “within himself.”
And Kotalik seems to be playing sharper hockey after getting two games rest. Yet, that’s the response Tortorella wanted from his players when he challenged them last week.
“I think we get strong play, strong goaltending, and big goals at key times,” said Marian Gaborik, who scored a beauty breakaway from a sharp angle in the third period off Tomas Vokoun for his lead leading 26th goal of the season. “I think we’re playing defensively better and we come away with a key offensive or defensive play at key times.”
And that’s what Tortorella was looking for. Look, the Rangers will not be this good every night and there will be some stink bombs out there, but there’s still time for the team to turn the season around. If the Blueshirts can continue with the effort, then they should be fine going into 2010.
And Tortorella should keep his happy disposition up.