It was just about two years ago that New York Rangers coach John Tortorella scratched Sean Avery from game five of the Rangers’ first round playoff game against the Washington Capitals. The Rangers would go on to lose that game 4-0.
Avery would eventually be reinserted into the lineup for games six and seven, both of which the Rangers would also lose and Avery’s game would never be the same.
After being scratched from a playoff game, Avery lost all sense of the line between irresponsibility and aggression, just as likely to take silly penalties as he was to not get under the skin of opponents.
When Tortorella lost his confidence in Avery, Avery lost his edge.
And now, one has to wonder if history will repeat itself.
With the Rangers preparing to take on the Capitals in the first round, once again, Tortorella has Marian Gaborik practicing with the second power play unit.
This is in addition to Gaborik, scoreless in his last nine games of the season, spending quite a few of the Rangers’ final regular season third periods glued to the bench.
Tortorella seems to have lost his confidence in Gaborik and he’s not being shy about showing it. Tortorella is obviously trying to motivate Gaborik and get Gaborik going by putting him on a different power play, but what if it just puts Gaborik further into his shell?
Great goal-scorers need to take risks. They need to be willing to leave the defensive zone a little early. They need to make risky passes. They can’t always finish their checks. That’s the difference between most 20+ goal-scorers and a 30+ goal-scorer. Coaches just have to hope that the risk pays off more often than it doesn’t.
Risks haven’t been paying off for Gaborik, but if he stops taking them, he probably won’t score either. And then you’re left with an ordinary player who won’t make any mistakes but also won’t score any goals. And Gaborik’s making an awful lot of money to be that kind of player.
Tortorella has the right idea in trying to hold his players accountable for their on-ice action (and inaction), but he needs to make sure he’s teaching and not simply psychologically destroying.
Avery’s takeaway after being scratched from his playoff game was supposed to be that he needed to watch the ill-advised penalties. Avery’s actual takeaway was not to engage opponents. So Avery has become better about bad penalties (sometimes), but he’s also become a much less effective player (most of the time).
Gaborik is an important player. If he’s confident and comfortable, he’ll rediscover his scoring touch. If he’s insecure and scared to take risks, he probably won’t.
Tortorella should probably make sure the power play demotion will instill the former and not the latter.