Vancouver Canucks head coach John Tortorella watches his team play the Anaheim Ducks in the third period of a regular season NHL hockey game at Rogers arena, Vancouver, March 29 2014.
Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann, PNG
VANCOUVER – John Tortorella and Alain Vigneault were essentially traded for one another last spring and whenever their new teams play, comparisons will be made as surely as there are poll questions on talk radio. Even Tortorella gets that.
“We're losing games so I'm the idiot and he's winning games so he's the smart guy – and rightfully so,” Torts said Monday, indulging in some gallows humour.
Tortorella's Vancouver Canucks have 79 points, sit 10th in the Western Conference and will almost certainly miss the playoffs, their tragic number for mathematical elimination now at four games.
Vigneault's New York Rangers have 88 points, sit fifth in the Eastern Conference and are within easy reach of making the post-season. Their magic number to clinch a spot is four games.
Tortorella inherited a Canuck team that was already in decline and he has been unable to arrest it. Vigneault took over a Ranger group that reached the second round of the playoffs last spring and seems poised for another run this year.
So how different are the two men? Canuck winger Alex Burrows, who has struggled mightily with injuries and a lack of production under Torts, offered this assessment.
“Torts obviously talks way more than Alain did and comes in the locker room way more,” Burrows said. “With Alain, I felt like his decisions were more rational, based on the past or statistics, where Torts is a little bit more just gut feeling. He'll tell you: 'I got a feeling in my stomach and that's how I'm going to shape my lineup, or call this play.' So that's probably the biggest difference.”
Ranger goalie Henrik Lundqvist repeatedly used the word patient in describing the Vigneault style.
“He was very patient with us getting used to the new system,” noted King Henrik. “It was a lot about being patient and I think, in the second half of the season, we've been playing pretty good.”
The Rangers are 23-11-2 since Christmas, the Canucks 12-20-5.
Here are five differences in the Tortorella and Vigneault coaching styles:
ICE TIME FOR TOP PLAYERS
Last season, under Vigneault, Henrik Sedin averaged 19:20, Daniel Sedin 19:01 and Ryan Kesler 18:57. This season, under Tortorella, Henrik is up to 20:56, Daniel 20:57, Kesler 22:03. All three have been hurt – Henrik twice – and the trio's man-games lost to injury is 25 and counting.
Even worse, the Sedins points-per-game have plummeted dramatically. Last season, Henrik average .938 ppg while Daniel was at .851. Neither missed a game through injury. This season, Henrik sits at .701 ppg and Daniel .627. Both have suffered through horrific droughts, Daniel going 23 games without a goal and 13 without a point, Henrik also 23 without a goal and 12 without a point. Kesler, a former Selke Trophy winner, is minus-16 under Tortorella. In his last full season under Vigneault, he was plus-11.
THIRD PERIOD GOALS
Tortorella favours a three-line game but his top-nine forwards, when needed to either score come-from-behind goals or extend leads, have not been very productive. Based on Monday's league stats, the Canucks were 29th in third-period goals with 56. The Rangers, without a forward playing more than 19 minutes, ranked 11th in third-period goals with 71.
That's also reflected in third-period comebacks and squandered leads. The Rangers are 26-1-1when ahead after 40 minutes, fifth best in the league based on percentage. The Canucks are 20-5-2, ranking them 27th in protecting leads. The Rangers have collected 12 points (tied 15th) when behind after two, the Canucks just seven points (23rd).
Tortorella encourages his players to block shots but a high blocked-shots total can also indicate you're spending a lot of time in your own zone under siege, defending and killing penalties. This season, the Canucks are 6th in blocked shots, up from 27th a year ago. The Rangers, meanwhile, rank 17th in blocks, down from sixth under Tortorella.
A number of Canucks, including Alex Burrows, Chris Tanev (twice) and Kevin Bieksa have missed time after being injured blocking shots.
Despite Tortorella's declared intention bring more bite to the Canucks, his new team actually has fewer hits (1,592) than his old team (1,790). The Rangers also hit more last season, when Torts was still there. They finished third in body contact while the Canucks were 23rd. So maybe it's the personnel that makes the difference. Two seasons ago, Tortorella's Rangers were the top hitters in the league and the Canucks were 18th. That Vigneault-coached team finished first overall.
Does fighting, standing up for yourself and your teammates bring about an esprit de corps and, hence, more success in the win-loss column? Apparently not. Tortorella's Canucks have been in 43 scraps this season, highlighted by the opening-faceoff line brawl Jan. 18 against Calgary. They were fourth in the league in fights Monday – the Leafs topped out at 46 – while the Rangers were 25th with just 24 fights. (Tom Sestito alone has dropped the mitts 19 times.) Losing teams are often frustrated teams, which can lead to more fighting. So this kind of bite may not always be right.
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