John Tortorella returns behind an NHL bench Wednesday when he leads the New York Rangers
into Air Canada Centre to face the Toronto Maple Leafs
in a matchup pitting two struggling clubs.
Tortorella coached the Tampa Bay Lightning
for seven years, leading the team to the 2004 Stanley Cup, but was fired after the 2007-08 season, which ended with the Lightning finishing with the fewest points in the League.
He had been working as a hockey analyst for TSN until this week, when he replaced Tom Renney as Rangers coach.
There's no question Tortorella is looking forward to his latest challenge.
"I coached in a great city in Tampa for seven years and I loved it there, but I always wanted to get back into the north, into hockey country back in the northeast," said Tortorella. "I love the city. I think the people are fantastic. They're going to disagree with me. You guys (the media) are going to disagree with me. There will be some booing and criticizing. That all comes with it, and that's what I love about it. It is a passion. And to play in that building and be with the logo of the New York Rangers
, are you kidding me? It's an honor, and I feel very fortunate to get the opportunity."
With just 21 regular-season games remaining and the Rangers mired in a 2-7-3 slump, Rangers General Manager Glen Sather
tabbed the hard-driving Tortorella as his new coach Monday following the dismissal of the laid-back Tom Renney.
"This reputation that I just kick the hell out of people, it takes on a life of its own," Tortorella said following his first practice with the team Tuesday. "As a coach, you'd better understand what your team is right now as far as how they feel. They need to get a little self-confidence. We're going to allow them to try to work through that and try to find a way to get a win."
"I love the city. I think the people are fantastic. They're going to disagree with me. You guys (the media) are going to disagree with me. There will be some booing and criticizing. That all comes with it, and that's what I love about it. It is a passion. And to play in that building and be with the logo of the New York Rangers, are you kidding me? It's an honor, and I feel very fortunate to get the opportunity."
-- John Tortorella
A season that looked to be so promising for the Rangers thanks to their 10-2-1 start has seemingly spiraled out of control. The Rangers have fallen into sixth in the Eastern Conference -- and are just two points above the postseason cutoff.
"They are going to get pushed," Tortorella said of his players. "They're going to be held accountable, and there may be some bumps in the road.
"I'm not going to stand behind the bench and calmly go about it. I'm just not built that way. I think honesty is something the players want and that's what I'm going to give them."
The game will mark the fourth and final meeting of the season between the clubs with the Leafs holding a 2-0-1 record in the season series, capped by the Leafs' 3-2 overtime victory Sunday at Madison Square Garden. In that game, Toronto goalie Vesa Toskala
stopped 39 shots to improve to 4-0-2 with a tie and a 1.51 goals-against average in seven career games against New York. He'll be the likely starter Wednesday.
At the opposite end, expect Tortorella to give goalie Henrik Lundqvist
the nod. Lundqvist (26-19-6, 2.57 GAA, .913 save percentage) is 4-4-1 with a 3.57 GAA in nine career appearances against Toronto.
The Rangers play three games over the next four nights and will attempt to put an end to an eight-game road skid during which they've been outscored 30-8. However, New York has won four of its last six visits to Air Canada Centre.
The Maple Leafs will be looking to notch consecutive wins for the first time since Jan. 29 and 31.