For better or worse, John Tortorella is committed to his vision of what works in hockey.
Specifically: when in doubt, Tortorella goes for grit over skill. That’s not to say that he’s dismissing talent altogether when making moves for Team USA … but his fixation on Justin Abdelkader fits nicely into that narrative.
While he’s stated that line combinations aren’t set in stone, it’s still resounding to see Abdelkader line up with Patrick Kane. At least during a best-on-best tournament.
“There isn’t anything thinking,” Tortorella said when asked to justify the combo. “You’re over-thinking it.”
Sheesh, Tortorella is practically writing the jokes for us, isn’t he?
Analytics-friendly thinking would dictate that Team USA would want to put a greater emphasis on skill after being shut out by Team Europe, especially as they anticipate a Canada team that’s willing to blend talent with effort.
The argument that Tortorella is set in his ways, likely to his roster’s detriment, is fair.
On the other hand, there are certain factors that justify this allegedly non-thinking way of thinking.
For one thing, Abdelkader himself explained to the AP’s Stephen Whyno and others that he’s had plenty of experience playing with high-end skaters such as Henrik Zetterberg in Detroit. These aren’t exactly uncharted waters for the hard-driving forward.
It’s easy to see why his forechecking ways appeal to Torts, but consider this: Abdelkader actually did play pretty well in America’s opener.
According to Natural Stat Trick’s numbers, Abdelkader was one of America’s best forwards from a possession standpoint. He also managed three shots on goal with modest ice time of almost 12 minutes.
If you take name recognition and previous experience out of the equation, Tortorella is rewarding someone who did some nice things in a very specific example.
Look, the giggles make sense. It’s pretty odd to react to being shut out by putting a limited (if hard-working) forward with one of your few game-breakers in Kane.
There really is a thought process to this non-thinking, though.
The U.S. likely knew what it was getting into in choosing Tortorella. It probably won’t be pretty, yet that’s sort of how Torts likes it.