Late-game mindset needs reset
Tortorella: Team's third-period meltdowns come down to lack of mental toughness
On the surface, John Tortorella's challenge is rather simple this week.
He just has to get more Canucks playing like Tom Sestito.
Say what? The past couple of weeks have been mostly wonderful for Sestito. He's played tough and effective. He's played his way on to the second line - the third line tomorrow - and all the way up to the first power play unit.
It's been a nice run. But what is encouraging for Sestito has to be troubling for other forwards - guys like Mike Santorelli and David Booth - who have five times his skill and haven't had near the impact, of late.
Yes, it's the ebb and flow of a season. Sometimes things seem easy - like they did in December.
Other times - like now - the team loses five in a row, and it feels like the biggest dogs in the division have them belly up, rolling helplessly in the sand.
Of course the Canucks are a mentally frayed and fragile bunch right now. They've come up small in some of the most important situations, especially late in games.
But what Tortorella has made rather clear this week is he doesn't believe the Canucks are mentally tough enough quite yet.
"Late in games, I always talk about situational play ... situational play is a mindset and we have not totally grasped that," he said. "That's mental toughness to me. I believe you can develop that kind of mental toughness.
"I think, at times, we've done it this year. Obviously, of late here, we haven't."
Asked about Tortorella's comments, Ryan Kesler said: "It means we have to close out games. We have to keep being aggressive. You have to think you're going to win. You have to know you're going to win."
Lost in their 10-1-2 December was the fact the Canucks are still undergoing a cultural reset under Tortorella, one that began in September and one which is expected to go right into the spring.
Tortorella still qualifies as a new coach, just four months into a fiveyear contract, and he has some distance to cover to get his team playing his way.
The coach may not be big on practice, and he's clearly not, but, as he said Thursday, he's fascinated with trying to effect his players' mental approach to the game.
"We don't know what's going on up there (in the mind). We can't peel it and fix it, turn a screw, (and say) 'Okay, now we got the right adjustment,'" Tortorella said. "It's through experiences.
"A huge part of changing a mindset and developing mental toughness is spontaneous coaching. That's what I call it. When the situation happens, you need to coach it, whether it be good or bad."
There's been plenty of bad during the past five losses. In four of them, the Canucks have blown third-period leads. In the last one, they gave up a goal with the opposing goalie pulled for the fifth time this season.
Many expected the Canucks would respond by practising six-on-five drills Thursday at Rogers Arena. They did not.
"How do you fix it?" Tortorella said. "You hope you're leading again 3-2 in the third period (tonight) and you find a way to get it done. You need to grasp something (to say) 'It worked. I blocked that shot.' "Then, instead of showing them the opposite, you show them what worked. It's the coolest thing about coaching, the mind. And getting them to understand how tough you have to be mentally.
"I don't think you can truly change the spots on people as far as mental toughness, but I think you can change it within that 60-minute game or in six months or in three months, to get out of them what you need to get out of them mentally."
Tortorella conceded Thursday he's made some mistakes and there is a trial-and-error component in his efforts to get the most of his players.
"I can't coach a couple of people the way I coached them earlier in the year," he said. "It didn't work. It hurt them.
"So you need to make adjustments. The accountability is always going to be there. It's how you hold them accountable."
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