I asked coach John Tortorella, now a month and a day into his new job, where he is in terms of knowledge of the players. On his first day, he said he was at zero.
“I feel very comfortable right now in understand where some people will succeed and where they’ll struggle,” he said. “I don’t need to have my pad with the names and numbers. I understand what our lines are, where I can move people in certain situations. We’ve kind of locked in a little bit on some penalty-killing units. I’m still not happy with the power play. I still haven’t figured two groups that you live with. I think that’s going to be a game-by-game thing, as far as who’s going and more or less a gut feel on the bench.
“But individually, I think I’m beginning to understand what some players can do and can’t do, but it’s my job right now, if there are some deficiencies, we need to teach and try to get them into another level. But I feel pretty comfortable now in understanding them as players.
“I don’t hang around with them. I don’t know who they are, and maybe that will come as you go through a full year and maybe get into some conflict along the way — which I always think is a good thing. That’s when you find out about people. As far as where they sit during the game, I feel much more comfortable where I can put people.”
Some other pregame Tortorella comments:
He said he had “no” impression of Mike Sauer off the brief morning skate. Sauer’s playing with Mara just so the other pairs can remain intact. “I know nothing about him,” Tortorella said.
Tortorella discussed at length trap vs. pressure systems. Minnesota is known for trapping under coach Jacques Lemaire.
“Whether it is Jacques in Minny or whoever it may be, there is a lot of that in the league as far as the trap in the neutral zone. So during our practices we go over different things as far as trying to get through the neutral zone. I think Jacques Lemaire gets pigeon-holed where everybody thinks he’s a defensive coach. I think his — and I know, because I’ve talked to him many times about it — his philosophy is trying to get the puck back that way in transition, is the strength.
“Any team you play against, turnovers in the netural zone is a recipe for disaster. So we need to get through there clean. Sometimes it’s not going to be tape-to-tape. Sometimes it’s going to be area plays to get their D to turn and go get the puck so we don’t have those turnovers. Second period the last game we had way too many turnovers in that neutral zone, and not so much because the team was trapping. We just didn’t pass the puck well, or we didn’t do many things well in that second period, for about nine minutes or so.
“So we have to get through there. We talked about that. It not only allows us to forecheck but it keeps them away from transition.”
And a bit more:
“Again, this style vs. the trap, it’s not right or wrong. Mine may be wrong. Jacques Lemaire’s may be right. It all depends on your philosophy as a coach, so I don’t want to put down anybody else’s style. I just believe in this style. And I think it takes out a lot of the thinking. It’s pressure. The only thing you’re thinking is pressure. And angling is a big part of the game of hockey, and I’ve tried to take some of that out, where you start angling and thinking about that, I think you’re thinking too much. A coach, if you dont’ believe in how you’re going to play, (the players) are going to rip you apart. They’ll pick you apart because you’re not teaching it the correct way, because if you don’t have a true belief you can’t (teach it). Just like a school teacher.
“I believe in this. We will have some breakdowns, but I still think you reap the benefit in the other end, and I just have a strong belief in it. So I hope they buy into it.”
He was asked if he is showing more video to the players than he would at this time of year if he had been coaching from the start of the season.
“The way I approach it, those first three months of the season … your schedule is more spread out, you have more days where you can really develop your team concept and when December comes along, your team concept needs to be nailed down and it needs to be an instinctive way of playing. I think you develop your identity and I think you start backing off the tape. Since we started here, we have shown a lot more tape than I would at this time of year than I would if I were here at the start of the year.
“We brought them in yesterday. I had probably 50-60 clips that I’d probably take 30-35 out and show them. But I sat through the night thinking about it and into the morning and I just felt we’re kind of beating a dead horse at that time. Can I say that? That isn’t too bad to say. I’ve said worse, I guess.
“My gut told me, leave them alone. Leave them alone. So we got them out of the rink. They know. They were disappointed they didn’t get the job done. I don’t think they played as bad as a lot of people think they did. You have to give a little bit of credit to Ottawa.
“But I’ve definitely done more at this time of year than I ever have, just because of just changing a little bit within a team concept.”
Tortorella on where his team is in terms of developing the identity he wants:
“I wouldn’t say way off, and I definitely wouldn’t say dead-on. It depends on the period that you talk to me. And that’s my concern, our consistency. It’s not consistency of the scoreboard or Xs and Os. It’s the consistency of a mindset. I still think we have work to do there, and for our team to feel they can step on that ice and feel good that they’re going to get it done, not hope to get it done. And that’s going to take some time. I know it’s going to take some time. It’s easy, you know, you win a couple of games and you get on a bit of a roll. But I know we have work to do there.
“I think we’ve improved, but we have a ways to go.
“I think it’s fluctuated. I think they’ve picked up the Xs and Os. Sometimes you look back at a game … I mean, we ran all over the place in that first (of back-to-back) Philly game. To me that was a great opportunity to teach, and I think they really found themselves in correcting themselves in the second Philly game, and I think we played two pretty good games after that.
“So as a coach you look at those opportunities to teach.
“That mindset and identity as a player and, then combined, as a team, I think we have some work to do.”
Enjoy the game.
For those who missed it, you can still view our video chat from this afternoon by clicking here, and then going to On Demand and selecting today’s (or past) videos, including those with the great Sam Weinman.
We hope to do it again at least once before the playoffs, in a couple of weeks.