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Tortorella pushing Rangers on the bubble

by Dan Rosen /

PRAGUE -- John Tortorella's booming voice echoed from the ice through the stands at Tesla Arena. He yelled with purpose.

Tortorella first barked at rookie defenseman Dylan McIlrath for not being crisp enough with his passes during a 2-on-0 drill. Roughly 60 seconds later, he stopped practice so he could scold his entire club. He emphatically told the players they better start concentrating and focusing on everything they're doing, because the real stuff is coming soon and they're not good enough to coast once the regular season begins.

Before letting the players head to the showers, Tortorella gave one more impassioned speech about the need to be better, and about how being a good team stuck in seventh, eighth or ninth place in the Eastern Conference all season is not nearly good enough.

If there was any Ranger on the overnight cross-continental flight that thought training camp would be different in Europe than it was in New York, then they clearly don't understand their coach.

Tortorella said on the eve of camp that the Rangers would not change once they got to Europe. Tuesday's practice showed he meant it.

"That was the message he wanted to send," Rangers forward Derek Stepan said. "As much as our legs, it takes a little bit to get going, we need to focus. We need to be sharp and concentrate on all our passes. We have guys fighting for spots. I'm one of them, and we want to continue to play hard, continue to concentrate. We had a good start to camp and we want to finish strong here in Europe."


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Part of Tortorella's message Tuesday was that jobs on this team are by no means secure. Players are in competition with each other for roster spots as well as positions within the team.

The Rangers have 32 players in Europe and 33 on the roster, with defenseman Marc Staal remaining in New York for now. Barring injury, Tortorella hopes to trim some players to get down to his final roster after Friday's game in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Scott Stajcer will stay as the third goalie for now, and there may be room for an extra forward and an extra defenseman, but a handful of players that are here now will be going home after Friday's game.

It's up to them to decide who goes and who stays.

If they continue to play the way they did Monday in Philadelphia, Tortorella won't have to think too hard. He was not happy with his team's effort in a 5-3 loss to the Flyers at Wells Fargo Center.

"If guys are trying to make the hockey club and displace someone else, it's not about just trying to find your way. It's about trying to make a difference, and I didn't see that (Monday)," Tortorella said. "(Monday) was disappointing. It was disappointing in that I just didn't see enough intensity or fire, especially from guys that are on the outside looking in. It's probably more disappointing in some guys that are probably on the team but kind of played it out. We're not in any position here to play out anything because we're getting closer and closer to opening night."

Stepan said he's one of the players fighting for a roster spot, but he had 21 goals last season and appears safe. The players who really are trying to avoid the early flight home are forwards Mats Zuccarello, Dale Weise, Ryan Bourque, Carl Hagelin, John Mitchell and Kris Newbury, and defensemen Tim Erixon, Blake Parlett, Stu Bickel, Brendan Bell, Michael Del Zotto and McIlrath.

They all won't be cut after Friday's game because the Rangers will need some of them. But all of them should get another chance, either Thursday here in Prague or Friday in Gothenburg, to show the coaching staff they shouldn't be considered for the chopping block.

"I remember when I was a rookie, your nerves in those preseason games, sometimes you don't perform the way you want to," Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said. "But they have more chances. There are more preseason games coming up. If (Tortorella) feels guys didn't play well or if guys feel they didn't play well, they'll have a chance to redeem themselves."

Tortorella expects them to be excellent if they want to make his club. He sent that message Tuesday.   

"I stress, it's not about just playing decently, especially in the forward position," Tortorella said. "There are four or five forwards that are continuing to fight for a position and it's got to be head and shoulders over. We'll see. That's why we play the (preseason) games. We'll see what happens."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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