NEW YORK RANGERS: The Situation in Washington proves the Blueshirts are on the Right Path. A Win Tuesday Night Against the First Place Penguins Would Confirm it.
Ranger players have gotten head coaches fired before. It's usually one of their own being pushed through the MSG office doors. They've been asked to leave for many reasons; not all of them sound. But in the Rangers' case, all warranted. Then again, some of the hires were never that sound to begin with. Minus one or two coaches, that was the problem around 33rd Street for many decades. Heck, even Mark Messier got one fired all by himself once.
But this time we have a coach who actually adheres to building from within and patiently fosters growth. More importantly, he possesses a more dominant personality than that of his biggest stars or most troublesome malcontent. And although it sounds strange to put these two together in the same sentence, I also think Coach Torts has been a good teacher as well; a stern one; but a good one. Then again, it's easier to be an Alpha-Coach when you have a roster filled with young, knowledge thirsty skaters who came up together and buy into what the Coach is preaching; especially on defense. Then there's always the ring. Coach has one, and his young boys seem eager to listen and learn from him regarding how to get one of their own.
Now allied with Coach in this endeavour is an old skater of his; Brad Richards; who went through that process with him once before. And with Richards, Coach has someone on the ice who can execute Coach's plan based on muscle memory alone, rather than the group grasping his plan a little better with every game. If at the end of the season Brad Richard's point totals aren't up to our expectations, he's still quite helpful to us on the ice in that regard. But I sense Richards will be just fine and turn out to be a pleasant import for a change.
But even Coach's reliance on an old friend palls in comparison to the relationship Torts has with the son of his Blueshirt genesis project. His Team Captain was raised..., groomed by... No - his Captain was molded.... No - Coach Tortorella's Team Captain was created by; built; assembled limb by limb into someone we call Ryan Callahan. And the Rangers' Captain is to the monster, what John Tortorella is to Doctor Frankenstein himself in all aspects from mentoring his team leader to having him menace the League through honest hard work and grit. And for his Doctor, the Captain will do anything. For to do things the right way requires hard work. To just skate your way through a season is easy. And that's not the way Coach built Callahan.
And unlike, ...say, ...our last head coach, who spoke defense but was too over matched by his super star to demand it or hold his team accountable for it as a result, this Head Coach defied the Grand Wizard Glen Sather, and kept a young core together which grew into a team he now commands and controls with an iron stick. And in the Coach's words, - they still have a way to go. But there's no doubt the Rangers are making strides. And there is even less doubt he has the team's full attention.
I think the many different systems a given coach might, can, and do employ, can win; and win championships. It's all in the execution. Without proper execution, what good is a plan? Since the day Torts and his bad temper signed on, I have been behind Coach Torts' plan. And even though you've red me endlessly defend and promote Sean Avery in these blogs and about my want for Torts' to use him more, that's never taken away from my support of Torts.
There's a point to this ode to Tortorella. But first, chalk one up for the Broadway Blueshirts. They pretty much punctuated Coach Bruce Boudreau's walking papers with last Friday's 6-3 drubbing of the Capitals on their ice. Washington fired their Head Coach this Monday afternoon and replaced him with an old Rangers' nemesis from back in the day - antagonist, Dale Hunter.
Boudreau got fired for spending the last two seasons trying to do the right thing. And that was trying to teach his team how to play defense even if it came at the expense of a little scoring. Convinced it was the only way Washington would finally break through and advance to a Stanley Cup Final, he's been quite vocal over the last two seasons about the team's need for a defensive commitment. But the whole time, he had the damnedest time trying to get his superstar to comply. It turns out Coach Boudreau didn't have a more dominant personality than Alex Ovechkin, who incidentally was his coach's troublesome malcontent. But following up the Rangers game with another 5-1 loss to Buffalo sealed his fate.
Washington is a case of a talented team with a failed system, and a failed attempt to correct a flawed strategy by subscribing to the superstar method; evidence Boudreau's pink slip. As stated, apparently the head coach didn't project well as the team's alpha-coach, as clearly the player won out. And now the situation in Washington is without command and control.
To me, this all means the Rangers are doing the right things.. And they are doing things the right way. We are a good team on the rise. How high we go and how quickly we get there are yet to be determined. But the Rangers have a large collection of young and pretty damn capable hockey players who thankfully have been protected from Grand Wizard Glen Sather's disappearing wand, and allowed to grow into a team we can be proud of - One held together, led by, and held accountable by, John Tortorella and his ready, willing, and able on-ice Captain.
Victories against the Capitals in Washington and against Philly at MSG on consecutive nights were something I sensed coming. If you don't remember, then let me refresh your memory.
In my last post, I gave the team a pass and blamed two lack-luster performances on a rubber-necking schedule. There were just too many days off in between games following the first game of this most recent road trip started in Long Island. What seemed like lethargic efforts against the Canadiens and Florida in their respective rinks, to me was merely being a game-step behind due to lack of regular work, while our opponents schedules have pretty much remained status quo. And of course, the blame falls on MSG's on-going renovations and the schedule maker's task of working around it.
During that last seven game winning streak, the schedule was a lot more compact and the results spoke for themselves. When the schedule became sporadic, so did the Rangers' defense; skating, and scoring levels. And I said it was my feeling, the schedule would compress again just in time to face Philly at the Garden; especially with Sidney Crosby and the Penguins invading the Garden Tuesday night.
I'm not predicting victory in Tuesday night's game But I am expecting an intensely fought affair with nowhere near the effort displayed in Montreal and Florida. Instead, the Washington/Philly efforts are more in order.
Sid the Kid is back. Booooo! I'll be at the game making my displeasure with him known with a little help from my son and 18,000 other friends of mine. I'm glad Sid is back if for that reason alone. But I'm the type of fan who likes to beat you at your best. I want a team with all their weapons at their disposal, and then we'll just see who's better.
Seven wins followed by two losses followed by two more wins.... Do I hear three? Washington clearly has problems right now, and maybe we caught them at a good time for us and a bad time for them? Philadelphia is a vastly different team than last year's version who partially detonated their team and jettisoned some of their star players. Therefore, I'm looking to grade the Rangers tomorrow against the Penguins who've remained intact more-so than Philly, and keeping a reeling Caps team out of this for now.
The Atlantic Division's first place Penguins are second in the Eastern Conference with seventy-seven goals scored. At twenty-one goals scored behind the Pens, that's where the Rangers' defense and goal tending come in. Henrik is coming off his second shut-out of the season against Philly, and the Rangers have allowed the least goals-against in the Eastern Conference; sixteen less than Pittsburgh.
NEW YORK RANGERS
Thirty-Third Street and Seventh Avenue