Upon arriving in New York in February of last season, it was clear that Head Coach John Tortorella was going to completely control the players of the Rangers team, and would take the spotlight within the locker room in the process. Even heading into this season, the former Stanley Cup winning coach stated that he would keep tabs on what the players were up to away from the rink, and that the photo shooting and advertising opportunities would be shot down in fear of his players being fatigued. This basically was "John Tortorella's team" and he would be in control of it at all times.
Something has changed Torts approach, because in a recent interview with MSG Network's Sam Rosen before a game, John stated that he was allowing the locker room to be run by whoever wanted to step up and be a leader. He said that he has backed off a bit and has let the players settle things amongst themselves. And after watching the last two emotional wins, where obviously something was said either before or during the game, you would have to imagine that it has been effective.
This all started after the Rangers dismal 2-1 loss back in December against the New York Islanders in front of a full house at Madison Square Garden. The effort, if there was any, was atrocious and the first period of that game was one of the worst we have seen in years. Luckily for the Blueshirts, they would have to go right back at it the next day, this time meeting the Isles for the second of the home-and-home at Nassau Coliseum. Prior to the game, that morning in fact, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and forward Sean Avery, who are great off-ice friends, got the team together in a room and had a meeting without a coach in sight.
While no one would admit what was said during the get together, the fact that both the overall mentality of the team and the effort the night before were discussed was quite explicit, because the team then came out and defeated their intrastate foes by the score of 5-2. This is likely where John Tortorella first realized that this club can inspire themselves and get themselves up and ready for a game without his assistance.
Then there was the debacle where the Philadelphia Flyers came into town and destroyed the Rangers 6-0 in a game that was one-sided from the opening faceoff. Once again, New York would have a chance to redeem themselves within a 24-hour span as they were headed to Raleigh, North Carolina where they would take on the Hurricanes. Another rebound victory went down in the books that night, 2-1. After being demolished the night before, I would imagine someone would have had to stand up and get things back in order before the next night, and I am not too sure it was Tortorella who did so.
Finally, there was the 180 turnaround against the Montreal Canadians this past Sunday. The Rangers came up short in the first period, falling 2-0 the Habs and having their own fans doubting them through just twenty minutes played. However, something changed things around and re-adjusted the team's focus, because for the Rangers, who had scored just two goals in a week up until that point, to come out and net eight unanswered goals does not just happen by the players sitting in silence and wondering where to go from here. Someone had to of gotten up and taken control of the situation themselves, and whoever it was did one hell of a job because that was one of the better comebacks for the Blueshirts in recent memory. They came out shooting, they came out hitting, and even fighting. It was truly remarkable.
With that being said, though, these theories that the team comes up with never seem to last longer than a month. The whole yelling approach of Tortorella got old, and the chances of the players running the locker room getting old and eventually expiring are high. At the same time, I do think John Tortorella may have a better grasp on this team than he did earlier in the year, so we will see what happens moving forward.