UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Vancouver Canucks coach John Tortorella barely had time to take a breath before he started getting peppered with questions about his former employer Tuesday.
Tortorella is back in the New York metropolitan area this week, although he won't be facing the New York Rangers. Vancouver takes on the New York Islanders at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Tuesday and will visit the New Jersey Devils on Thursday.
The showdown at Madison Square Garden won't take place until Nov. 30, but that didn't stop the questions from being asked. Tortorella was fired by the Rangers on May 29 despite leading them to the Eastern Conference Final in 2012 and the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season. He was replaced by former Canucks coach Alain Vigneault, who was fired by Vancouver on May 22.
"I'm here to win a hockey game. That's all I'm concerned about,” Tortorella said when asked about how it felt to be back in the New York area.
Vancouver is off to a decent start under Tortorella; the Canucks enter Tuesday 5-4-1, six points behind the San Jose Sharks in the revamped Pacific Division.
Tortorella's former club, though, is struggling. The Rangers are 2-5-0 with two games remaining on their season-opening nine-game road trip, and they've been outscored by a margin of 29-11. Tortorella, who guided the Rangers to four playoff appearances in his five seasons behind the bench, was asked if he's surprised by New York's poor start.
"That's not fair. Ask me about our team," he said. "I'm not getting involved in that. I'll tell you something … I loved working for the Rangers. I loved the area. We're going to come back here sometime … I loved everything about the area. I don't work here anymore and I'm certainly not going to criticize. I know nothing about what's going on with the club. That's not fair to everybody."
Tortorella's main focus is with his new team, trying to help a franchise that has had tremendous expectations basically since Daniel Sedin and twin brother Henrik Sedin were selected back-to-back by the Canucks in the first round of the 1999 NHL Draft. Vancouver made one trip to the Stanley Cup Final under Vigneault, losing to the Boston Bruins on home ice in Game 7 of the 2011 Final. Tortorella has spent the past month trying to implement his own systems while allowing the skill players to continue to produce offensively.
"It's a pretty good hockey club that's been successful," Tortorella said. "I'd like to see us play with more grind. We've got some talented people so we're trying to play both. I think to win consistently in this League you need that. You can skill your way through, but you also need some grind in your game. That's the consistency part that we're working on."
How long will it take before the Canucks fully grasp their new coach's system? Tortorella is hoping it won't be much longer. He likes what he's seen thus far.
"I'd like to see us play with more grind. We've got some talented people so we're trying to play both. I think to win consistently in this League you need that. You can skill your way through, but you also need some grind in your game. That's the consistency part that we're working on."
-- Vancouver Canucks coach John Tortorella
"It's tough to put a date, a time limit on it," he said. "I think we've made strides. When you get into that late November/December, the way you want to play should be instinctive. That's what we're trying to get to. We still need to win some games going through the process. We have done a lot of tape work, a lot of meetings of trying to do the things we want to do. Hopefully by early December we can start backing off and allow them to play."
Playing for Tortorella is something new to nearly every player on the Canucks roster. But forward Chris Higgins had the opportunity to play 55 games for him in New York during the 2009-10 season and said he is happy to have the chance again.
"It's been fun," Higgins told NHL.com. "Vigneault had been here for so long and with a new coach it's kind of a breath of fresh air. It's something new, something exciting. We're still learning how to play underneath him but we're taking some good strides.
"It's a completely different mindset, completely different in all three zones. We're only 10 games in and starting to get a firm grasp, watching a lot of video. It's becoming more and more instinctual."
Tortorella has had some run-ins with reporters during his time coaching the Rangers and the Tampa Bay Lightning (who he guided to a Stanley Cup in 2004), but he was cordial and smiling while speaking with the media Tuesday. Higgins said he believes that while Tortorella perhaps has lightened his approach with reporters, his desire and determination has never wavered.
"I think you pick up a lot of things over the years," Higgins said. "I think he's learned from some things. He's still passionate, still the same person at its core. I think maybe he's tweaked a couple of things, but he still wants to win more than anything. It's nice to see a coach like that."