NEW YORK – Rangers coach John Tortorella does not make empty threats.
When he tells the media – and you can be sure the same message was delivered to the team – that he’s going to start benching underperforming players, they listen. No one wants a seat in the press box, even for one game.
Consider the message delivered. The Rangers (5-5-0) came out with better energy and more intensity in a 4-1 win over the suddenly-slumping Islanders (4-5-1) Thursday evening at MSG.
“There’s a couple of top guys – they have a little bit of a bank account. Five goals,” Tortorella said pre-game, clearly referencing Marian Gaborik. “This situation, the other guys are going to be held accountable also, as we start this, and try to get our team to understand this just isn’t good enough.”
So, how did the Rangers react to their coach’s public tongue-lashing? Teenager J.T. Miller scored the first goal just 89 seconds into the game, and the targeted Gaborik sent one home from the slot just over 14 minutes into the game.
“The players we have in here, we realize we have to be better,” said Ryan Callahan, who returned after only nine days after suffering a subluxation of his left shoulder. “It shouldn’t take Torts saying that in the media or anything like that. To a man, we knew we had to be better, and our top guys had to show up and play better. I felt like this was the first step in doing that. It’s only one game – it’s only two points. We have to go out and get this going now and put a couple of them together.
“We wanted to have a good start,” said Rangers defenseman Marc Staal. “We’ve been getting scored on first a lot this season. It’s tough playing catch-up in this league. We knew first goal was important; we ended up getting two, so that was huge for us.”
The Rangers are 3-0-0 when scoring first in a game this season.
“I don’t really buy it,” said Tortorella, characteristically downplaying the importance of his message. “Coaches have to do what they have to do. I have two kids come in here, it jams up the lineup. Someone had to come out, so I had to pick who was playing better in that type of role Brian’s playing in. Brian lost this one. I just think the team scored some timely goals, didn’t chase the game, got out front, killed some penalties; you never know how you’re going to win or lose a game in the NHL.”
Miller added another, scoring on a power-play breakaway at 18:11 of the second, and Ryan McDonagh added an empty-netter late in the third to seal the victory.
“I think athletes are proud guys – I know this group is a good group of guys,” said Tortorella. “They’re trying to play better. Quite honestly, I thought we played better five-on-five in New Jersey, but [tonight] we win 4-1. Who’s to figure the game out?”
Miller stars in first game at MSG
It’s going to have to be a quick celebration for J.T. Miller and his family. But, the speed of the party will no doubt take any of the glee away from it.
Due to the blizzard getting ready to lash the New York City area, J.T. Miller’s mom, grandmother, and girlfriend are making a hasty exit from the area.
Still, Miller has plenty of reason to celebrate. His first career NHL goal came in his first ever shift at MSG, just 89 seconds into the game. His second came on the Rangers beleaguered power-play, when McDonagh found Miller streaking into the zone on a breakaway.
“I’m just trying to stay even-keel here,” said the understated teenager – only 19-years-old. “Obviously it was nice for me, but even better, we got the win on home ice and a big bounce back from last game.”
“He’s got some pretty good size, he can hold onto pucks, obviously he’s got a pretty good shot – we saw that tonight,” said Ryan Callahan of the Rangers’ youngster. “He used his speed on his second goal. He’s an all-around player, the amount of poise he has for his first two games is the biggest thing that sticks out to you.”
“Obviously a young kid like that coming in; not only his goals, he plays so mature out there, making good decisions with the puck,” said Lundqvist (27 saves). “It’s important. It definitely brings some energy to the group to have guys come in and do good right away.”
Miller, who centered the Rangers third line with fellow rookie Chris Kreider and captain Ryan Callahan, was taking pictures in the locker room with the puck used for his first NHL goal, and had the celebratory Broadway Hat sitting on his head.
The last Ranger to tally multiple goals in his MSG debut was Chris Kontos against Detroit on Jan. 3, 1983. Miller is the youngest Ranger to tally multiple goals in a single game since Alex Kovalev’s hat trick in 1992, at the age of 19 years, 307 days.
“He’s got some bite to him,” Tortorella said of Miller. “I’d rather have a guy that you need to tame a little bit as he’s learning to be a pro, than [have to] get someone to play with some spunk like that. I like the way he carries himself. He’s got some good strut to his game.”
MSG-TV between-the-benches broadcaster John Giannone was struck by a Marc Staal clearing attempt in the final seconds of the second period. He was immediately tended to by the Rangers training staff, but kept broadcasting even as blood streamed down his face.
Giannone, who was interviewing players in the Rangers locker room after the game, returned to his post in the third period. He had a lump on his head and a cut on his nose, but told reporters post-game he was otherwise uninjured.
The Rangers have won their last eight home games against the Islanders, and are 12-3-2 in their last 17 games against their cross-town rivals.