Wednesday, December 2, 2009

We were all thinking it - But Torts Finally Said It

It was subtle. I had to read it twice before I noticed it.

But see for yourself. Here was a quote from John Tortorella after Monday night's loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins:

"I thought we played better defensively, first of all. I thought we had the puck more. We generated some offense. It is discouraging. I thought there were a lot of good things for a lot of minutes of that game. Right now we are just not figuring out how to win it at key times. We need another big play, another big defensive play, another big offensive play, another big save. That is the fine line between winning and losing in this league and right now we are not getting it done.”

Okay - before I explain what I'm talking about - let me say that one thing I like about John Tortorella is that he doesn't use Coach-Speak. He may get annoyed with the press - but he does talk to them.

And he's right about what he's saying. I agree with the entire statement. The team really did play well and hung in there a long time with the NHL champions.

But when I read the quote a second time - one part jumped out at me: Here, read that part again:

"We need another big play, another big defensive play, another big offensive play, ANOTHER BIG SAVE"

And there it is.

That little phrase is nothing less than the very first public criticism of Henrik Lundqvist by a New York Rangers employee that I have ever heard in my life.

Now John is certainly not singling out Hank. But on the other hand Torts is being pretty clear about this. Because he also said that we played better defensively. John is saying that we needed one more save to win the game - and if John had made that big save with about 10 minutes left in the third period - the Rangers might well have won on Monday.

For a few years now the Rangers have ridden their star goaltender as far as Hank could take them. But last year in the playoffs, Lundqvist was outplayed by Varlamov - something I don't think I ever saw before in a playoff series. And in game seven Hank let up the big goal late. And ever since - he's been good - but not Hank-like.

Word has gotten around the league to test Lundqvist high on the glove side. And unfortunately - this is a test that Hank seems to be failing. I mean - Hank is still very good - but he used to be the best.

And now it seems like Tortorella and his Franchise Goaltender may be having some problems with each other. John pulled Hank from the Tampa Bay Lightning game - one that must have meant something to Torts who was returning to the city where he won the Stanley Cup. Hank did not like the public humiliation and skated right to the locker room - not the bench as he was supposed to. That can't have sat well with Tortorella.

And a few weeks ago - when the Rangers won a low scoring game - Hank said to the press that he likes that type of defensive battle - which was kind of a veiled indictment of Tortorella's attacking style. That probably didn't sit so well either.

Put all that together with the first ever criticism of Lundqvist and we have, apparently, an issue between Stanley Cup winning coach and award winning Goaltender.

And I can't say I blame Tortorella. It was not so long ago when three goals meant a Ranger win. But this year? It's just not true anymore.

Maybe more rest will help. Maybe a different defensive scheme. Maybe more defensemen in their prime and less rookies or fading elders. But there's no ignoring it any longer. Hank's numbers are dropping. And Torts knows it. And so all is not well between the feisty coach and the proud Net-Minder. Let's see what happens next. A shutout win in Buffalo Saturday would go a long way in smoothing things over. Let's hope it happens.
Where We Stand: Same as yesterday - still in 10th place - below the Line-of-Death - and still tied in points with the hated Flyers and the more-hated Islanders.

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