Canucks still adjusting to Tortorella's systems

Canucks still adjusting to Tortorella's systems
October 20, 2013, 9:00 am

John Tortorella is in his first season as head coach of the Vancouver Canucks. (AP)

It’s been anything but an easy transition for John Tortorella out in Vancouver.
 
While it’s true teams play a more wide-open skating style in the West, he’s had a hard time teaching them his aggressive forecheck that has actually seen as many as four Canucks around the goal line.
 
Hence all those odd-man rushes the other way.
 
His best defensemen, Dan Hamhuis, has looked discombobulated. His defense, as a whole, hasn’t grasped the idea of zone defense versus man to man in hockey.
 
The power play is almost as bad as the Flyers. Yeah, no one is that bad.
 
Plus, Vancouver is in the midst of an 11-day, seven-game road trip. And that might be the best news of all, Torts says. Going into Sunday, the Canucks were 2-0-1 on the trip, so things already are looking up.
 
When training camp fails to build a team identity, early roads become the backup plan.
 
“I think it’s an important couple of weeks for me to understand them,” Tortorella said this week when the Canucks visited Philadelphia. “You are with them and doing things together as a team on and off the ice.
 
“This length of a trip. Both ways. Me understanding them and them understanding me and really confine yourself with one another to build on this. I think it’s a good time.”
 
If you can string together some wins. On Tuesday, when the Canucks were in Philly, they were seeded 11th in the Western Conference. By Saturday, they were third in the conference.
 
Tortorella hasn’t changed from his New York Rangers days in terms of his outlook on himself, his team and the NHL. He’s toned his act down, however, quite a bit.
 
“I very rarely look at the standings,” he said.
 
He looks at games in the overall context of how the “team” concept is playing out, and not whether it's producing wins.
 
“I’m always looking at how our team is playing,” Tortorella said. “You need the results, you need the wins. But I concentrate on how we’re playing.
 
“If you win a couple of games, and you are not playing well and your goaltender stands on his head, that can really snowball in another week or so because you have not stayed on top of how your team is playing.
 
“My philosophy is watching how [my] team is playing, not looking at the result, looking at the three periods and see what is going well and what isn’t. Hopefully, you get results along the way. But get your thumb on how a team is playing.”
 
It would help if goalie Roberto Luongo had a goals-against average a lot lower than 2.47 and a save percentage a lot higher than .910.
 
Luongo is the unwanted guy in Vancouver. Unable to trade him last summer, unwilling to buy him out, Torts is stuck with Luongo -- for better or worse.
 
“When you have solid goalkeeping -- and I think Roberto is really coming along here -- it takes away some of the problems from building a team concept,” Tortorella said. “You’re not going to win in the league if your goaltending isn’t tops.”
 
You think the Flyers were a mess in front of their goalies in training camp and at season’s start? Ask Luongo. That zone defense concept has his head on a swivel and his defensemen uncertain what to do.
 
Kevin Bieska said this week the defense is chasing jerseys all night long.
 
“There is going to be breakdowns,” Luongo said. “That is part of the game. It’s just my job to come up with big saves when there is. Every game is important.
 
“It isn’t as bad as what Kevin said. Sometimes, when you are not used to doing certain things you notice the mistakes more. When we’re doing it the right way, [opponents] aren’t getting much. The more we get comfortable, the easier it will get on the ice.”
 
Which means Luongo is playing traffic cop a bit more this fall. At least, until the team nails down its systems.
 
“I’ve always been a verbal guy in the crease,” Luongo said. “That doesn’t change as far as my game is concerned. I always try to help guys out whether it be on breakouts, on coverage or screens or things like that. I’ve always been a vocal guy.”
 
He could get hoarse before things get easier.
 
Long term, Torts is facing one serious issue -- the re-signing of the Sedin twins.
 
Without the Sedins, well the Canucks will be lost in the Pacific Division and so far, general manager Mike Gillis has been unable to get them under contract for next season.
 
Could one of them end up as a Flyer?
 
Flyers president Peter Luukko says there have been no such discussions.

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