‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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John Tortorella’s methods work. Love him, hate him, respect him or any combination thereof, Tortorella doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone. His distinguished track record speaks for itself.
Not every player can thrive in Tortorella’s system or handle his demanding persona. It requires a certain type – a worker, a scrapper, an intelligent and committed two-way player.
Marian Gaborik is a tremendously skilled player. No one has ever questioned his ability. Tortorella sees his players as chess pieces first and foremost. There wasn’t anything personal between Tortorella and Gaborik that paved the way for Gaborik joining the Columbus Blue Jackets. Yes, there was an incident last Friday in Ottawa when Tortorella announced during practice that Gaborik was demoted to the fourth line, sparking a 12-minute conversation between the pair. More that any friction – it was Gaborik’s disconnected attitude that forced him out of New York. He refused to conform – and that’s why he’s no longer a Ranger.
Enter a new group of players in power forward Ryane Clowe, two-way centerman Derick Brassard, smooth-skating defenseman John Moore and injured agitating forward Derek Dorsett. Their heads are clear, they are motivated by their new surroundings and are not jaded like Gaborik, who never saw eye-to-eye with Tortorella.
It was Clowe who took center stage in his Madison Square Garden debut as he played a pivotal role in the Rangers’ 6-1 walloping victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. On the opening shift of the game, Clowe bowled over 6-foot-2, 202-pound Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland – much to the delight of the Garden crowd.
“You could feel and see his presence right away,” Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh said of Clowe. “You can tell he’s a veteran player out there when he has the puck. It’s exciting to see. He’s an exciting a guy to have on our team right now.”
Clowe made a mark not only with his big hits, but also scored twice against the Penguins and added an assist in his three-point debut. His first goal came after Pittsburgh committed a giveaway near Marc-Andre Fleury’s net. Clowe took the puck strong to the net and scored a backhander past Fleury to increase the Rangers’ advantage to 3-0. He would later score a power play on Fleury’s doorstep.
Already forgotten is the player who couldn’t light the lamp in 28 games as a member of the San Jose Sharks before pulling on the Rangers’ ‘Original Six’ sweater. Brad Richards described Clowe as the kind of player who he could benefit from.
“He’s talented, he can score, he makes good plays, opens up some room for me,” Richards stated. “I’m excited. I like playing with guys like that, that are gonna go to the net and draw attention – and give you some room to move around out there.”
There’s more to Ryane Clowe that meets the eye. When you see him and his imposing 6-foot-2, 225 lb. frame, you immediately think of a banger and a brawler. Clowe made a crucial play in the third period when he lifted the stick of Evgeni Malkin, who had a clear shot on Henrik Lundqvist. It was a play that impressed Tortorella.
“It’s a great play he makes there, because that’s in our net,” Tortorella said. “Yeah, he’s a smart player. You can see what he does on the wall. He’s an experienced guy, he’s gonna bring everything to our team as far as his physical play. He’s a tough fighter if he needs to fight, he’s scored big goals, he’s playoff savvy.”
Tortorella also sees Clowe as a potential leader. In San Jose, Clowe wore the alternate captain’s badge on his jersey and has a reputation for being a vocal leader.
“From what I understand, I think he’s a guy that will speak up in locker room too,” Tortorella explained. “As he gets more comfortable with the guys, I think you have another leader coming in here. That’s a good thing for our team.”
Clowe, Brassard and Moore each scored on their Rangers debut. For Brassard, it was a four-point night. McDonagh sees Brassard as a dynamic player added to the mix.
“He’s got high-end skill for sure,” McDonagh said. “Everybody is kinda watching him on the power play, wondering what he’s doing. All of a sudden, he spin-o-rama passes and it’s a goal. That’s stuff you can’t teach. He’s a dynamic player, we’re excited to have him.”
Obviously, nobody could have foreseen the success of the new acquisitions paying off this quickly for the Rangers. No one is expecting these guys to light the lamp every night, but Wednesday served as a glimpse into what the now-deeper Rangers look like after general manager Glen Sather bold moves leading up to the trade deadline.
Tortorella now has the pieces he desires. He’s hoping the fresh optimism of the new players in the room will give the Rangers the push they need in final stretch of the season.
“I think our team knows we’re at our final push. You get new blood in. It allows us to have a little bit of depth in our lineup,” Tortorella explained. “We’re still fighting for our lives and we just gotta go about our business.”
Suddenly, the Rangers have jumped from ninth to seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings. The Blueshirts will finish their back-to-back with the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Friday. Should they take another win away from the conference-leading Penguins, the fresh optimism might produce a wave of confidence in their chase for a playoff place — and perhaps turn into something bigger.
Are the Rangers deeper — and more importantly, are they a better collective unit after Sather’s trade-deadline shakeup? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettHockey.