John Tortorella

John Tortorella says Caps should stop “whining” about getting hit

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If there’s anything you can count on in the NHL its for Rangers coach John Tortorella to not hide his feelings. Whether he’s being animated on the bench or in a press conference with a writer that won’t stop pestering him he doesn’t hide his feelings very well and that’s why we love the guy.

This week when Caps coach Bruce Boudreau took time out to sound off about Madison Square Garden and to campaign for a few more calls, especially in regard to recently returned from a concussion defenseman Mike Green. With so much talk floating around lately, it would be tough for Tortorella to stay silent in regards to all the chatter.

Thankfully for us he didn’t stay quiet for long as Katie Carrera of The Washington Post found out today. Tortorella apparently isn’t such a big fan of the kind of verbal campaigning we’ve seen out of Boudreau.

“Our mindset is just focusing on what we need to do, how we play – play the right way and get ready for Game 4,” Tortorella told reporters after the Rangers’ practice in Greenburgh, N.Y. “We have confidence in the league, we have confidence in the officials that they won’t be influenced by all the whining going on here right now.

“We’re staying away from it, and we’re focused on what we need to do,” Tortorella said. “And like I said, we have confidence in the league that this doesn’t affect the series. It’s a pretty good series. Two pretty good teams, going at it pretty hard.”

Whining is one way to put it that’s for sure. “Gamesmanship” might be the word used more by Caps fans or neutral observers as well but for now, we’ll take it from Tortorella’s perspective on this and run with it. You see this sort of thing happen all the time through the playoffs. Get a writer’s ear, say a few outlandish-seeming things, let it run like wildfire through the media.

This time around, Tortorella fired back with some shots of his own and why not. After all, in Game 3 his team got the benefit of the officiating considering how many power plays they got in comparison to Washington (seven for New York compared to three for Washington). From his perspective everything is OK. It’s all the more reason why Boudreau has been such a darling the last few days with his own words.

It’s not quite a game of chess between these two but it is far more entertaining and quotable. Here’s to hoping it lasts a little bit longer.

John Tortorella on Ryan Callahan: Injury is non-surgical, but long term

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On the heels of speculation from earlier today, the New York Rangers confirmed their fans’ worst fears that heart-and-soul forward Ryan Callahan suffered a serious injury. It appears that Callahan did indeed break his ankle blocking a Zdeno Chara slap shot, although the team is officially calling the injury a fracture in his right leg.

John Tortorella spoke with media members (including Andrew Gross) about Callahan’s injury, noting that the injury won’t require surgery but will keep him out “long term.”

Obviously, that’s a pretty vague time table, but maybe the Rangers are awaiting more information like the rest of us. As we discussed in the previous post, it’s actually easier to recover from a broken ankle instead of a more nagging injury like a high ankle sprain, so it’s not all bad news for the Rangers. Relatively speaking, of course.

Still, losing Callahan is undoubtedly troubling, especially considering how much he clicked with Brandon Dubinsky. New York played reasonably well in the 19 games he missed earlier this season, though, so it’s not as if they cannot function without Callahan.

That being said, can they make a big impact in the playoffs without him?

In case you’re wondering how the Rangers will cope without Callahan, the short-term solution will be to play Matt Gilroy at right wing on Wednesday to give the team a full set of forwards. The team is also waiting on the return of highly paid captain Chris Drury, who doesn’t match Callahan’s grit but might be able to replace some of his leadership and a little bit of offense.

As always, we’ll let you know if anything chances with Callahan and Drury as the Rangers hope to secure a playoff spot and make some noise if they get there.

John Tortorella says instigator penalty encourages dirty hits

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For better or worse, the controversial decision not to even give Zdeno Chara a slap on the wrist is prompting another bout of discussion regarding hits in the NHL. Such a discussion surely resounds in league circles, judging by criticisms levied from stars such as Joe Thornton and recent statements by New York Rangers coach John Tortorella.

Despite the fact that he (somehow … supposedly) admitted he hasn’t seen footage of Chara’s hit on Max Pacioretty – seriously, does he list his address as Under a Rock? – Tortorella told Larry Brooks that rule changes encourage dirty hits.

Some might assume that Rule 48 (the most recent change, which provided clarification that blindside hits to the head are illegal) might be the source of derision, but Tortorella instead thinks the instigator penalty instigated it most of all.

“No one wants to see players hurt,” he said. “There needs to be some sort of honor and honesty in our game and I think we’ve lost that with the rules changes.”

The coach made it clear that while he thinks other rules changes such as eliminating benign obstruction have contributed to the problem, the instigator rule is the root cause. Tortorella is not alone among the hockey community in that belief, but the instigator rule that mandates a two-minute minor plus a 10-minute misconduct penalty for those who start a fight in defense of a teammate, is hardly a recent change, having been adopted in 1992-93.

“It’s not just that, but I think it’s a lousy rule,” Tortorella said. “I think the game has gotten [this] way because we have not allowed the players to police themselves. To me, that’s the bottom line.

“Players need to police themselves on the ice, not the rules, not supplementary discipline and all that,” he said. “That’s where I think we’ve lost honesty. Call me [old school], if you want. It’s wrong. “The instigator creates a mindset for players for players who you wouldn’t even see them if the instigator was not there.”

It’s tough to fault the spirit of the instigator rule, in theory at least. The league created that penalty in part to discourage teams from bullying others by having goons force players to get in fights they have no intention of engaging in.

Yet just about any hockey fan, writer or “expert” probably agrees that the good-natured idea falls flat in practice. There are many seemingly mutual fights that end up with instigator penalties and Tortorella might have a point that the Matt Cookes of the world probably bask in the security provided by the rule.

With the NHL’s latest batch of GM meeting scheduled for early next week, one wonders if the group might discuss changes to the instigator rule and other alterations that might curb some of these hits. After all, we don’t want too many more moments in which a “hockey play” instigates police intervention.

Marc Crawford, John Tortorella should be in mid-season Jack Adams discussion

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While mid-season awards won’t hold much weight if things change drastically over the next 40-or-so games for each NHL team, it is an interesting pathway into the general hockey consensus. Both Joe and I provided our picks for the league’s trophies if the season ended this weekend, with two Southeast surprise smash success stories (Guy Boucher in Tampa Bay, Craig Ramsay in Atlanta) earning our imaginary Jack Adams trophies for coach of the (half) year.

Much like perennial “who was snubbed from the all-star team?” columns, sometimes it’s more interesting to see who didn’t make lists than it is to discuss who did. Considering the expansive nature of hockey discussion on the Internet, we cannot say that we read every mid-season awards article. That being said, beyond our choices, names such as Vancouver’s Allain Vigneault, Pittsburgh’s Dan Bylsma and Detroit’s Mike Babcock surfaced often along with Boucher and Ramsay.

There are two other coaches who haven’t gotten enough credit for their work through the halfway point of the 2010-11 season, though: Marc Crawford in Dallas and John Tortorella with the New York Rangers. We’ve heard a little more buzz for the former than the latter, but let’s briefly discuss why each coach would be worthy of some votes if they kept up the great work.

The case for Crawford

One thing Crawford and Tortorella have in common (beyond a Stanley Cup on their resumes, of course) is that I absolutely didn’t see either one’s success coming. Most of the hockey world viewed the Stars as a talented but flawed team that was strong on offense, awful on defense and fragile in net.

Maybe Crawford has gotten a little lucky with an unusually healthy Kari Lehtonen, but the former Avalanche coach is maximizing the potential of stud talents like Brad Richards to surprising success. The best part is that the Stars aren’t coasting on winnable games and coughing up tough ones either; they are currently on a seven game road winning streak.

Anyone who picked the Stars to lead the Pacific Division who isn’t a blind pom-pom waver can pat themselves on the back today, because few saw their impressive start coming.

Touting Tortorella

For everything Crawford accomplished, Tortorella’s work has been just as impressive (even if his results are more subtle). If there’s one word that jumps out regarding the Rangers’ solid start it’s “resiliency.”

Adding Saturday’s win against the St. Louis Blues to an observation made by Lou Korac, the Rangers are a stunning 10-1 in the second installment of back-to-back games this season. Furthermore, the Blueshirts are boisterous outside of Broadway, with a staggering 15-7-1 record on the road.

The best example of resiliency comes from looking at their roster, though. When you look at the club, there aren’t many players you’d point to as stars beyond great goalie Henrik Lundqvist and injury-prone stud Marian Gaborik. Don’t get me wrong, most NHL teams would love to have guys such as Brandon Dubinsky, Marc Staal and Ryan Callahan. They just don’t jump out as stars.

Yet Tortorella is making it work, as Dubinsky is the only Rangers player vaguely approaching a point per game pace (36 points in 43 games). Coming in third in the Atlantic and sixth in the East might not seem that impressive, but they’re 10 games over .500 with a shaky but spirited group of hockey players. That, to me, speaks to Tortorella’s motivational and teaching abilities.

***

Again, it’s too early to talk about Jack Adams (and other trophy) possibilities for anything more than fun. Still, voters and fans shouldn’t forget the impressive work by Crawford and Tortorella so far this season.

John Tortorella thinks Marian Gaborik will be back by Monday

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Last night, we discussed the dreaded return of Marian Gaborik’s boogeyman (not to be confused with the possibly soon-to-be-returning Derek Boogaard), aka his recurring groin problems. Considering how much trouble he’s had for many years, it was natural for Rangers fans to get a little worried.

(Even if Gaborik’s loss means the gain of Mats Zuccarello, a guy whose nickname is “The Norwegian Hobbit Wizard.”)

Well, if you trust John Tortorella, it sounds like Gaborik’s groin problems are minor. In fact, the Rangers coach believes that he could be back in the team’s lineup as soon as Monday’s game against the New York Islanders. Andrew Gross of Ranger Rants has the story.

Gross also writes that enforcer Derek Boogaard is making good progress in his recovery from concussion issues, although he won’t be cleared to play any time sooner than his upcoming neurologist visit on Tuesday.

Gaborik has been undergoing treatment on his sore groin – it was starting to nag him prior to Monday’s intensive practice and he came in Wednesday saying he couldn’t skate – and also underwent acupuncture today. Tortorella said because of the spread-out schedule with two days off after tonight for Christmas, Gaborik should be ready to return when the team resumes practicing (on Sunday) and playing. Tortorella also shot down the idea that Gaborik, with just one goal in his past eight games, has been playing through an injury.

“He’s trying to get it taken care of,” Tortorella said. “I don’t think it’s been a long-term thing.”