Quick Update: Avery going on re-entry waivers according to Sportsnet
2 games. 2 goals scored. And another 2 losses. Anybody expecting the firing of Tom Renney and the addition of John Tortorella to have an immediate impact is sure disappointed. By no means did he do a bad job during his first two games as head coach of the New York Rangers, it is just that drastic change takes time. There were a few noticeable changes, such as a more aggressive offensive scheme that outshot Florida and Toronto by a combined 73-46. There was also some intensity from the coach on the bench and it was refreshing to have a head man who looked like he actually cared about the result. And of course there was more time allotted to the alleged stars of the team. All of this to no avail.
Don't get me wrong, I think that the Rangers are going to get better primarily because of the changes that Tortorella is making. But currently the Rangers, 3-8-3 since the break and under .500 since October, are in a free fall that has them hanging on to a 1 point lead over ninth place Carolina. They will need around 95 points to guarantee a playoffs spot, and with 70 points and 19 contests remaining, it will take a 12-6-1 record to accomplish that. Not going to happen.
What we are looking for here is exactly how effectively the new coach can maximize the players' output. Nobody thinks the Rangers are a contender, this year or the next, but with the right gameplan and motivation nothing can be ruled out. The changes that we have witnessed in the past two games did not result in victories but it adumbrated how Tortorella plans to go about leading this team. In that respect, I have loved what I have seen.
The Rangers went 10-2-1 in October. Besides for getting our hopes up, they also proved that they can be successful when they forecheck aggressively and control the puck deep in the offensive zone for long periods of time. They are not going to score much on run of the mill plays (see 1 goal on 41 shots vs Florida), but if they create turnovers and odd-man-rushes, or tire out the opposition, they will be moderately successful. When you have a goaltender like Lundqvist and you're record when scoring 3 or more goals is around 120-20-15 since the lockout, you don't need the Wings' offense. But you need to be middle of the pack. That's the goal, and the plan to achieve that looks pretty sound. But again, don't expect immediate results, but things should improve in the long term.
There is also the issue of fire (no pun intended). When the players look to their coach after a tough stretch on the ice and they see an indifferent man, it is tough to suck it up and play strong on the next shift. If he doesn't care, why should they. But when their coach is climbing up the Plexiglas to watch a shorthanded chance in overtime, when their coach storms off of the bench after losing his first game, when their coach honestly wants to win, they cannot help but try harder. They see their leader getting into the game and they follow suit. A coach can lead in many ways, whether it be in practice, in the locker room on on the bench, but his most underrated leadership role is the example he sets. He sets the tone for a team, and John Tortorella knows just the tone that this vanilla Rangers team needs.
Finally, Tortorella understands how to utilize his personnel properly. there is nobody who doesn't appreciate the roles that Blair Betts and Fredrick Sjostrom play, but when a team can't plain score, they can't eat up so much ice time. The players who are most capable of leading the offense need to get as many opportunities to score as they possible can. There is no need to mention the horrendous misuse (or abuse) of Petr "formerly The Great" Prucha. But the former 30 goal scorer got the 7th most ice time among forwards under Tortorella, as he should. This is another way that the new coach may be able to get more out his decent group of players.
If Tortorella manages to lead this tanking team to the playoffs then we should crown him the next Messiah of the NYR. But even if he fails to do so, he has planted the seeds of hope for future seasons of Rangers hockey. And if the Rangers manage to get rid of some huge, burdensome contracts (or at least not hand out any more big ones) then we may see another Stanley Cup in the next few years. After all, who is more similar to Mike Kennan than Coach Tortorella?