By Dan David, newyorkrangers.com
On the day their first-round Stanley Cup playoffs series was set to open at Washington, the Rangers went through an optional morning skate at the Verizon Center this morning.
Roughly half the team was on the ice for the skate, which was followed by interview sessions in the locker room and a brief press conference by head coach John Tortorella.
|Rangers head coach John Tortorella said the Rangers will need to worry about containing Alex Ovechkin more than outright stopping him as they try first and foremost to focus on their own game. |
Speaking with the media, Tortorella addressed several areas heading into tonight’s Game 1. One of the more notable points he made involved his sense that the Rangers have something of an advantage by being the visiting team tonight and for Game 2 on Saturday.
“I think there's a lot of pressure on the home team to win those first two games,” Tortorella said. “We had some great travel yesterday and were together as a team on a train, which was great for us. We're all together right now, we're not spread out. And I think there's a tremendous about of pressure on the home team to try to win those first two games, and we're looking to come in here and steal one and see where we go from there.”
While the Rangers only face Washington four times per season, Tortorella is far more familiar with the Capitals, having coached against them eight times per year as a division rival during his years in Tampa Bay.
“It's always good to understand the (opposing) players, but how much it really helps in the winning or losing, I don't know,” he said. “We're just going to worry about going out and playing our game and really not spend a lot of time worrying about the other things.
One player Tortorella has seen many times is Washington superstar Alexander Ovechkin, the league’s leading goal-scorer.
“He's a great player. We all know that, but you can't allow an opposing team and opposing players to change what we're going to execute,” said Tortorella. “You need to understand who's on the ice, especially when he's on the ice, and try to contain him. Are we going to stop him? I don't know if we're going to stop him, but we need to try to contain him and we'll see where go from there. But we're not going to try to change our team concept in order to accomodate him, for sure. We're going to try to play.”
It became clear throughout his remarks to the media that Tortorella wants to see his players build on the momentum they have enjoyed over the past few weeks.
Tortorella did not coach any of the earlier, regular-season Rangers-Capitals games, which will likely have no resemblance to this one, since the Blueshirts’ style has changed so much.
“I think we feel pretty good as a club. I think the way we're playing now under our team concept is more instinctive,” he said. “… It took us some time in teaching that in a cramped situation when we're in a playoff hunt, but now we've simplified it even more, and I think it's more instinctive. That's the most important thing. You don't want your players thinking. As I've said all along, I think we overcoach. That's why I'm glad we're playing Wednesday, so we don't have to coach on Wednesday and give them more information before a Thursday game. Because I think we look for things to give to them. Focusing too much on the opponents could be a liability.”
Expanding on that sense of why it would be vitally important for the players not to let their minds stray from the task at hand, Tortorella said the coaches are the ones who are focusing most on the specifics related to the Caps.
“We understand how they (the Capitals) play,” he said. “… They're a good club. They wouldn't be the second seed if they're not a good club. We respect that, and I know how they play. I know what they're going to do in certain situations. How much (of that information do) you give to the players? That's the fine line that I go through. So it doesn't wreck what we're trying to do in our execution. In our identity. We understand their offensive capabilities and we understand their defensive capabilities. We understand the Washington Capitals and we're going to try to execute our game plan against them.”
When it comes to actually worrying about the Capitals, one of the biggest concerns of this series will be keeping the Washington power-play units off the ice.
“If we sit in the box for extended periods of time during these games, we're not going to win,” said Tortorella. “They are that good on their power play. They win hockey games on their power play, especially of late. That is a dangerous power play. Our penalty killing has been outstanding this year, but we can not get into that type of situation where e're killing a lot of minutes during a game, because sooner or later they're going to get you. So discipline is a very important thing here in this series. With that power play, we have to be really careful.
In addition on Wednesday, Tortorella said captain Chris Drury would be a "game-time decision" as far as playing tonight. Drury has been nursing an injury, but skated hard during the optional morning skate and is no stranger to playing through pain in the postseason.