After flaming out last year in New York when the Rangers fired him, John Tortorella’s 14th season as an NHL coach has opened with him taking a gentler approach, at least publicly, and he’s directed the Vancouver Canucks to a 5-3 record.
That same fire is there in the locker room and on the ice but his dealings with the media, a huge issue in New York, have been much calmer. Tortorella, the master of the one-word answer, met reporters for several minutes Thursday morning in First Niagara Center prior to his team’s game against the Buffalo Sabres and talked on a variety of topics. He did so again after his team’s 3-0 victory.
His players say Tortorella has been everything they expected from the all-time leader in coaching wins among U.S.-born coaches (415).
“You might have 45 minutes of video and he’s going to tell you what you’ve done wrong in a brutally honest way,” Henrik Sedin said here Thursday. “But two minutes afterward, you might have done something well in a clip and he’ll tell you the same thing. That’s all you can ask for as a player.”
“It’s been good so far. He’s a very passionate intense coach and I think we needed that in this locker room,” said goaltender Roberto Luongo. “He’s bringing a lot to the table and the guys are buying in.”
For his part, Tortorella has marveled at the skill and leadership of the Sedin twins.
“I have never been more impressed with two athletes,” he said. “Watching them from afar, watching them play I was impressed with them. But I’m even more impressed with them as people as I get to be with them every day. And we’re not even talking about what they’ve done for us on the ice.
“It’s just how they carry themselves. I hear so many great things about what they’ve done for the community there in Vancouver and I just from day one have been blown away on how impressive they handle themselves. Forget about hockey. Just the way they go about their business. It’s very fortunate for a new coaching staff to have people like that be leaders of their team.”
Tortorella had a big smile when a Vancouver reporter asked him about his time in Western New York, as he was once the head coach of the Rochester Amerks and was an assistant for the Sabres from 1989-1995.
“I lived here for eight years and it’s probably one of the most underrated places in the world,” Tortorella said. “Everybody says ‘Buffalo?’ I have a tremendous amount of friends here. It was a great place to coach.”
Tortorella was pleased with his team’s second straight win; the Canucks opened a seven-game road trip with Tuesday’s 3-2 victory in Philadelphia.
“We’re getting there,” Tortorella said. “Everybody looks at records of teams and this and that. It’s a dogfight every night. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing. I thought we played quick and simple tonight and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Luongo made 25 saves for the shutout, his first of the season and 63rd of his career. That’s second among active goaltenders to Martin Brodeur of New Jersey.
Luongo admitted he was lucky he wasn’t beaten by Thomas Vanek’s shot in the opening minute of the third period. It was overturned on replay after hitting the crossbar and goalpost.
“I thought it was in,” said Luongo. “I was kind of cheating a little bit there. I thought he was going to bring it to his backhand. On that one, I probably deserved to get scored on but it all evens out by the end of the year.”
Sabres co-captain and fellow agitator Steve Ott said he was disappointed with the 10-game suspension Patrick Kaleta earned for his hit last week on Columbus’ Jack Johnson.
Kaleta is appealing the ban, likely on the theory that Johnson was not injured and played more than 23 minutes in the game. Thursday was the fourth game he has missed. Kaleta has not spoken to the media about the situation while details of his appeal are being finalized.
“It’s hard because there’s no injury on the play,” Ott said. “I have a hard time with it for that simple fact. Is it suspendable? Absolutely, as in the guy could have really been hurt. But could have is not good enough for me. No one wants to see anybody injured by any means but that has to play in the equation if you’re going to throw a book at somebody.”
Mikhail Grigorenko played just eight shifts totaling 6:43 while centering the Sabres’ fourth line and continues to be pointless on the season. He did not have a shot on goal and was minus-1. Johan Larsson centered the third line, playing 13:22, but was minus-2.
Coach Ron Rolston said there was no disconnect between he and general manager Darcy Regier about Grigorenko, whom the GM said over the summer would be on the roster.
“He is on the roster and he’s playing,” Rolston said. “That’s where he falls into the lineup right now. Larsson is playing good hockey for us. He competes and is playing hard.
Would Grigorenko be better served going back to junior hockey? Rolston’s answer was a simple “no.”
The Canucks snapped a three-game losing streak in Buffalo and won here for the first time since Feb. 7, 2003. The teams meet again March 18 in Vancouver; it’s the first time since the 2002-03 season the 1970 expansion cousins will meet twice. Thursday’s result left the all-time series tied at 46-46-19. ... Jamie McBain and Zemgus Girgensons were the Sabres’ scratches. Girgensons, who took a puck near the eye Tuesday on Long Island, should play Saturday against Colorado.