A coaching change may placate fans at Madison Square Garden temporarily, but that support won’t last long if John Tortorella can’t find a way to turn the struggling New York Rangers around.
After suffering a loss in Tortorella’s debut, the Rangers hope for a better effort in his first home game against the Florida Panthers on Thursday night.
New York (31-23-8), which fired Tom Renney on Monday one day after the team’s fourth loss in five games, fell 2-1 in a shootout to Toronto on Wednesday in the finale of a home-and-home series.
The Rangers outshot the Maple Leafs 24-12 over the first two periods with only Wade Redden scoring his first goal since Oct. 10. Henrik Lundqvist permitted a shootout goal on Toronto’s first attempt while New York’s failed on its three tries.
The Rangers are averaging 1.7 goals over a 2-7-4 stretch since Jan. 28.
“I don’t want to jump to conclusions, but I’m a little concerned about the conditioning of the club,” Tortorella said. “I thought we looked tired in the third period. We’re going to try and play an attacking style. We need to be in shape.”
General manager Glen Sather referred to the Rangers’ recent offensive woes as part of the reason for Renney’s dismissal, and Tortorella was blunt about what he saw as a reason for the slump.
“We’re 60-plus games in,” he said. “I expect the team to be tired, all teams are tired at this time of year. I wouldn’t say the whole team - I have some concerns about a few guys.”
Lundqvist—4-2-0 with a 1.61 goals-against average and three shutouts at home in career against Florida—was a little more positive.
“I think this was definitely a step in the right direction,” he said. “We looked faster and had more energy. He told us to go after them more, take more chances to get our offensive game going a little bit.”
New York had been hoping to put some more room between itself and the Panthers (30-22-8). The Rangers, who are in sixth place in the East, are only two points ahead of Florida and Buffalo, which are tied for seventh, and three points up on ninth-place Carolina.
“The Rangers game is going to be a real desperation game for both sides,” Panthers first-year coach Peter DeBoer told the team’s official Web site. “It’s a big four-point game.”
Florida comes into MSG after opening their third five-game road trip of the season with a 6-1 loss to the conference-leading Bruins on Tuesday.
Goaltender Tomas Vokoun missed the game because of the flu and backup Craig Anderson struggled, allowing the first goal just 48 seconds in. The Panthers had recorded three shutouts - all by Vokoun - in their previous six games.
“It was just ugly,” said DeBoer, whose team came in with nine wins in its previous 13 games. “I didn’t think it was as bad as the score indicated. … We’ll burn the tape and keep moving forward. We’ve played more good than bad lately. We’ve just got to keep moving forward.”
The Panthers hope to have Vokoun back in net after he practiced Wednesday and said he was feeling better. Vokoun, who has lost his last two starts at MSG after allowing five goals in each, is 5-2-0 with a 1.56 GAA since Feb. 10.
After dropping their first meeting with the Rangers this season, the Panthers have won the last two, including 4-0 on Nov. 30 at MSG behind 30 saves from Anderson and a goal and assist each from Stephen Weiss and Michael Frolik.