The Same Old Rangers

When I started the tradition and made the promise to analyze every John Tortorella postgame press conference following a loss, I didn’t think the Rangers would lose every game, but that’s basically what’s happened. Since the first of these after losing to the Devils, the Rangers have lost to the Canadiens and lost to the Senators and lost to the Canadiens again. (They also lost to the Islanders, but that was on Valentine’s Day and I have already given my excuse for missing that game and the postgame press conference.) Starting with that loss to the Devils, the Rangers are 4-3-2, which isn’t even that bad since I was starting to think that maybe the start of these was the problem with the team. And then I remembered that when Rick Nash doesn’t play and Marian Gaborik gets benched, it’s hard for a team without secondary scoring to score and when you don’t score it’s hard to win.

The Rangers aren’t scoring or winning right now and John Tortorella is getting testier with each loss. With three straight losses in five days, Tortorella started his postgame press conference in Montreal by asking the media a question rather than the traditional way a press conference is held.

“How high did Pacioretty jump on his hit? Anybody give me an answer? I’m asking you guys. Over/under? No one can give me an answer? Figures, Zip, you’re wrong. No, I’m just asking.”

Tortorella has a point here that Max Pacioretty did leave his feet on the hit on Ryan McDonagh. The refs thought he left his feet on the hit and gave him two minutes for boarding, which was the correct call. Neither the MSG broadcast nor the Canadian broadcast of the game really took exception to the hit (OK, obviously the Canadian broadcast wasn’t going to) and the NHL Department of Player Safety determined that the hit wasn’t worthy of a suspension. So maybe it wasn’t that bad?

The Rangers got their two-minute power play for the hit, which was viewed by both broadcasts as payback for McDonagh hitting Pacioretty earlier in the game, but the Rangers failed to score a power-play goal (surprise, surprise) and wasted the opportunity and also lost McDonagh for the rest of the game.

On what happened in the second period when the game got away.

“We don’t generate enough consistently and they score a goal. Again we’re just not consistently having the puck … offensively. They score a power-play goal, ours doesn’t work. I think our game just fell off. I thought we had a really good first period, but it fell off from there.”

Tortorella almost made the right point here except he said “enough consistently.” What he should have said was, “We don’t generate anything.” “Consistently” would indicate that the Rangers score goals at times and at other times they don’t score any goals. But in reality, they don’t ever score goals.

Marian Gaborik has the most goals on the team. Marian Gaborik was benched for the entire third period on Saturday with the Rangers needing to score goals because of a penalty he took in the second period. Brian Boyle doesn’t score goals. Brian Boyle took a penalty that cost the Rangers a win and a second point in Ottawa on Thursday late in the third period. Nothing happened to Brian Boyle. You should always bench your leading goal scorer when trailing in a game in a shortened season. It’s just common sense.

Last week the Rangers played four games. They scored four goals in those four games and came away with just three of a possible eight points. And in the “really good” first period, the Rangers had six shots and no goals. (The Canadiens only had three shots in that period, but they would at least go on to score three goals in the second and third period.) The Rangers finished with 17 shots.

To say the power play doesn’t work is an understatement. The Rangers went 0-for-2 in the game and are 8-for-71 on the year. That’s 11.3 percent. That’s good enough for the 29th-best power play in the league. (Thankfully they aren’t 30th like the Sabres at 11.3 percent. Losers!) The personnel on the power play has to change. It has to. Brad Richards might have a Conn Smythe and a worthy reputation as a “playmaker,” but he has done nothing on the first unit this season. Whether it’s his constant overthinking, making one too many passes or shooting pucks into shin pads, Richards has been detrimental to the power play when he’s supposed to be the leader of it. I think making wholesale changes to a power play that is second worst in the entire league and sitting some of the expensive cap hits for less experienced players is necessary at this point. If the younger and supposedly less offensive guys don’t get the job done, what will have changed? The worst that can happen is the Rangers will regain their spot at the bottom from the Sabres, which they are one more unsuccessful power play from taking back anyway. The best that could happen is that they actually score with a man advantage.

On so many players getting injured.

“Yeah, it’s part of the game though. You have injuries. You gotta keep on playing. I mean what can you do, Sam? Some kids got a chance to play tonight, but again we’re not playing enough minutes, so we gotta figure it out and just try to find ourselves, keep our wits about ourselves and keep on playing here.”

Wait a minute. Just wait a minute. Who was that guy standing in front of the Rangers/Chase backdrop in a suit with a goatee talking about not having the full lineup and complaining about injuries after blowing a late lead in Ottawa on Thursday night? Whoever that guy was, he looks strikingly similar to the guy who stood in front of the Rangers/Chase backdrop after the Montreal loss on Saturday night and gave us that quote about injuries not being an excuse. Very, very strange.

If the team isn’t playing “enough minutes,” who’s fault is that? No, John Tortorella doesn’t play in the games, but it’s his job to decide who does and when and it’s his job to get the most out of his players. If his players aren’t “playing” for the entire 60 minutes of the game that falls directly under his job description as head coach.

On Michael Del Zotto not being able to play in the game.

“Well, it hurts. He’s a very good player for us. It hurts. He takes some big minutes.”

Michael Del Zotto missing time does hurt because Del Zotto is basically a somewhat fifth starting pitcher. He’s going to eat minutes and have his good games with his bad games and you just hope he doesn’t screw up too badly and cost your team a game, which he tends to do. The problem is that while Del Zotto hasn’t had a good season, the options below him on the depth chart aren’t as good, which is very scary. So when you’re worried about Del Zotto not being able to play despite him thinking he is Bobby Orr and Ray Bourque and thinking the power play runs through him, it’s never a good thing. Hurry back, Michael Del Zotto? (Yes, a question mark is the correct punctuation there.)

On severity of injuries to Girardi and McDonagh.

“No, I don’t know, and I’m not going to talk about it anyway.”

John Tortorella has the right to not talk about injuries, but choosing not to seems to be making his job harder. I’m not sure what talking about injuries will really do since if Player X has a concussion and Team Y finds out about it, I don’t think Team Y is going to purposely target Player X’s head in the 2012-13 NHL where contact to the head is finally being taken seriously. And I don’t think players are going to willingly put their own jobs and other players’ careers in jeopardy or forfeit their source of income to hit someone in the head.

Tortorella has started to get agitated and angry when asked about injuries and it really upsets him that media members want to find out why players are missing time and games so they can report it. As a fan, it would be nice to know why Rick Nash hasn’t played in the last three games since the team has scored three goals combined in the games he has missed. It would help to know if there’s a chance he might play on Tuesday against Winnipeg or on Thursday against Tampa Bay or if he will play again in March or April or at all again this season. (Sure, it’s extreme to wonder if he will be out for months, but how am I supposed to know if I don’t even know why he is out in the first place?) Fans deserve to know why their team’s most important offensive player isn’t playing and when he might play again. You know fans, the people who happen to be the reason that someone like John Tortorella is able to coach professional hockey for a job and afford to be fined $30,000 like he was after the Winter Classic or $20,000 like he was after ripping the Penguins last April.

On how to get more from his team.

“We’ve gotta try to gain some confidence. We’ve gotta try to just stabilize ourselves when we lose a couple. Coming into these last three games here we were playing pretty well. We find a way to get a point in Ottawa. We can’t get into a panic mode. We just need to get more minutes consistently out of our players and I mean it’s a hard question to answer, Sam. It’s just a matter of trying to find yourself and hope some good things happen and you gain some confidence.”

Before the season, Tortorella told Mike Francesa that in a shortened season you can’t afford to get into a jam because you might not be able to get out of it. The Rangers are in a jam sitting in 10th place in the East with the season 35 percent over and injuries mounting. They haven’t looked like a playoff team since their win in Boston seven games and 13 days ago and no one is talking about what the Rangers can do this spring, they’re talking about whether or not they will be playing after Game 48 and if Brad Richards will be amnestied by the team.

The 2012-13 Rangers were a team that was looking to build off a season in which they finished first in the conference and reached the Eastern Conference Finals. Instead they look like the pre-2011-12, post-lockout Rangers, who played by the strategy of “score the first goal and hope Henrik Lundqvist makes it stand.” Those Rangers team either didn’t make the playoffs or lost in the first round and never once made it out of the second round. This team is becoming those teams.