John Tortorella is known for being tough on his teams. The New York Rangers just got a serious dose of that.
Two days after Tortorella gave a stinging speech to spark his club to a comeback victory, the Rangers open a difficult home-and-home series against the Atlantic Division rival Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday.
The Rangers (35-25-8) hired Tortorella to replace the fired Tom Renney on Feb. 23, clearly looking for someone to motivate a listless team that was falling in the standings. Tortorella coached Tampa Bay to the 2004 Stanley Cup title, solidifying his reputation as an effective motivator in the locker room.
After watching New York fall behind with a poor first period Thursday, Tortorella ripped his team during the intermission and the Rangers went on to beat Nashville 4-2. The fiery coach also benched Nikolai Zherdev, the team’s co-leader with Scott Gomez at 51 points, after a turnover led to the Predators’ second goal in the opening period.
“He wasn’t happy after the first period,” said Gomez, who had a goal and two assists. “It has been a while since I’ve heard a speech like that. We were playing too timid. Nashville had the 2-1 lead and we thought it was over.
“He let us know what it is going to be like from now on. He lit into all of us. We were feeling sorry for ourselves and he spotted that right away. He called us out. I thought we responded well.”
The Rangers are 4-2-1 under Tortorella after going 2-7-3 in the previous 12, including a 5-2 home loss to Philadelphia on Feb. 15. They’re seventh in the Eastern Conference, one point behind sixth-place Pittsburgh and two back of fifth-place Montreal, which trails Philadelphia by two points for fourth.
Gomez appears to be responding to Tortorella’s coaching methods. The center has four goals and five assists in the last seven games. His 16 goals also match his total from all of last season - his first with the Rangers.
Gomez, though, has only one goal in his last 13 games versus the Flyers (36-20-10). He was held without a point and had a minus-2 rating in the Feb. 15 meeting in New York.
The Rangers have been dominant in Philadelphia, however, going 12-1-1 in their last 14 games there. They won 4-3 on Oct. 11 in their only visit this season.
Philadelphia is looking to close a five-game homestand above .500 after falling 2-1 to Washington on Thursday.
Richards has scored a goal in each of the last four games against New York, helping Philadelphia to victories in three of those contests.
The Flyers could use more scoring help from Jeff Carter, who has two goals and one assist in the last six games. The center, who failed to register a point against the Capitals, is third in the NHL with 38 goals.
Carter doesn’t have a point in the last four games against the Rangers, and has only four goals and four assists in 25 career matchups.