If there’s one thing that sticks out in new Vancouver Canucks coach John Tortorella‘s strategy, it’s defense. Numerous times during his tenure with the New York Rangers, he would load the net-front area of the ice with as many players as possible, creating little room for opposing teams to get a clear shot through. It was part of the reason Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist saw so much success in New York.
Of course, one of the expectations that comes with the strategy is that players will sacrifice their bodies to block shots on net. When the slot and crease are filled with defenders, this typically results in shots having to come in from the blue line, and there are plenty of NHL defensemen who can rifle a puck at 95-100 mph.
Therein lies the problem with this coaching style; if your roster has plenty of guts and grit, you can really cash in on shot blocking. However, if the majority of your roster is more concerned with protecting their bodies than preventing a shot on net, you may see plenty of friction between coach and players.
This is brought up because Vancouver’s two star players, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, aren’t exactly known for their defensive prowess. The Swedish twins have made names for themselves in perfect on-ice chemistry and each excel offensively. The problem is, when the going gets tough, these two usually get going in the opposite direction.
While each Sedin contributed offensively against the Boston Bruins in the 2011 Stanley Cup Championship, things changed drastically whenever the Bruins got physical. They had zero answers whenever they got pushed around, with things even coming to the point of Boston pest Brad Marchand rabbit-punching Daniel repeatedly without getting a response.
It seems the idea of the Sedin twins consistently risking injury to dive in front of a slap shot is pretty lofty. However, Tortorella, speaking with NHL.com, says he expects them to make the sacrifice.
“They’re going to be killing penalties and I hope they do [block shots] because I know both Danny and Hank want more,” he said. “In my conversations with them this summer they want more. I’ve told the team I’m going to ask more out of everybody on this club and they’ve embraced that.
“For them to get more they’re going to be put in more situations, not just offensively but away from the puck and killing penalties, and they can be very dangerous people killing penalties. So if they’re going to kill penalties they’re going to end up blocking some shots.”
In an attempt to put a positive spin on getting drilled with pucks on a nightly basis, Tortorella believes shot blocking will make the Sedins better players overall, claiming, “I think they’re going to feel better about themselves that they’re becoming complete players because that’s the way they think.”
Its one thing to claim you’re willing to block a shot, but its another to do so in live game action. The fear of getting hurt can overwhelm many players. Just don’t expect that excuse to fly with Tortorella.
“The next question that I’m sure is going to be asked is what if they get hurt. So be it. You need to play the game the right way,” he said. “You get injuries in a lot of different ways. You need to play the game the right way and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
So, if the Sedins are willing to accept their roles defensively, this marriage could work out in the end. If they expect their new coach to sympathize over bruises, well, its going to be a long season in Vancouver.
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