GREENBURGH, N.Y. – John Tortorella brought bluster and a new set of rules during his first day as coach of the New York Rangers.
The man with the booming voice and the rugged reputation got right to work Tuesday morning as he presided over practice and tried to turn around a slumping team that has lost its way.
And no one had to look further than the dressing room to see where Tortorella has already left his mark. No longer will anyone – player, coach, trainer, or media member – step foot on the big Rangers logo in the centre of the carpet. Respect starts there way before it ever shows up on the ice.
“There is not much room on the two sides there, so we’re going to have to figure that out,” Tortorella said less than 24 hours after replacing fired coach Tom Renney. “I just don’t think you should do that.
“I don’t think you walk on a logo anywhere. So, yeah, that’s the way it’s going to be.”
While Renney preferred a defensive-oriented system that featured four lines and often produced low-scoring games decided after regulation, Tortorella favours an up-tempo, aggressive mentality that pressures the opposition.
He admitted that he stuck too long to that style last season in Tampa Bay when his defencemen couldn’t handle it. Tortorella wants to try it again, and feels confident that if opponents get good scoring chances, Henrik Lundqvist – whom he called the NHL’s best goalie – will bail out the Rangers.
Tortorella took time during practice to talk one-on-one with Wade Redden along the boards. The defenceman, who signed a lucrative six-year deal in the summer, hasn’t lived up to expectations and has heard constant boos from the home crowd.
“He definitely has different philosophies than Tom brought, but we’ve got to feed off of it,” Redden said. “It’s a change and something to shake everybody up and get them going.
“I like what I see. I heard lots about him and played against him for a long time so I know the fire he brings and the intensity. It was evident in the first practice, for sure.”
Not that it was so unusual, but many players were on the ice several minutes before the scheduled start time for practice. Tortorella’s history of ruling with a strong hand is well-known throughout the league, and no one dared press his buttons yet.
“I’m always here early. I’m too scared to be late,” forward Scott Gomez said.
The mood was businesslike Tuesday as the large media throng tiptoed its way through the tight dressing room. There was some laughter and excited expectation as the cloud of Renney’s tenuous job status was suddenly gone.
The Rangers (31-23-7) are still in position to make the playoffs, but their performance over the final 21 games will determine if they grab one of the eight spots in the Eastern Conference.
The stretch drive begins Wednesday at Toronto against the Maple Leafs, the team that helped seal Renney’s fate with a 3-2 overtime win Sunday night at Madison Square Garden.
“Everyone knows that their personalities are probably different, but the one thing in common with Tom, Torts and all of us is we want to win,” captain Chris Drury said. “Whatever that takes in the next 21 games, we’ve got to try to find a way to do it.”
Tortorella doesn’t have much time to completely change the culture from the laid-back Renney, but will start Wednesday when the Rangers begin a run of three games in four nights.
“Tough is the wrong word,” Tortorella said of his sometimes grating style. “Just being honest is what I try to be.
“I’m not going to stand behind the bench and calmly go about it. I’m just not built that way. They are going to get pushed. They’re going to be held accountable, and there may be some bumps in the road.”
Renney was dismissed in the midst of the Rangers’ free fall that has seen the team drop 10-of-12 (2-7-3) games and slide into a fifth-place tie in the Eastern Conference.
General manager Glen Sather, who let Tortorella go after a four-game stint as interim head coach in 2000, quickly made a deal Monday to bring back the leader of the 2004 Stanley Cup-champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
No one took shots at Renney and his cordial nature, but most agreed a change to a tougher style was necessary to rescue the club.
“This reputation that I just kick the hell out of people, it takes on a life of its own,” Tortorella said. “As a coach you’d better understand what your team is right now as far as how they feel.
“They need to get a little self confidence. We’re going to allow them to try to work on that and try to find a way to get a win.”