This much we’ve come to know about John Tortorella.
The Vancouver Canucks’ head coach doesn’t over-think the game.
His first choice is to play his best players and, when that’s not working, he plays them again. His second choice is to play the guys who are going on a particular night and he isn’t stingy about their ice time, either.
That means, unless you’re among his best players or you’re flying, the only ice you’ll see is in your post-game mojito.
No, the Torts’ game plan isn’t exactly university-level calculus. He likes shots on goal and blocked shots. He dislikes turnovers at either blueline and mental mistakes. Add it all up and he isn’t, you sense, a disciple of advanced analytics.
But here’s the thing.
By reducing the game to its most elementary level, Tortorella has created one of the most complex, confounding and fascinating conversations currently taking place around any team in the NHL.
Wednesday night at The Rog, the Tortorella template was again on display but, unlike most nights over the last two weeks, it didn’t have the desired effect in a 2-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings.
Ryan Kesler and the Sedins, who are one, two and three among NHL forwards in ice time, again logged a work load that contravened several of this province’s labor laws. They just couldn’t produce the decisive stroke when it mattered most. Playing mostly against the Wings’ eternal pair of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, Henrik logged a season-high 26:41, Kesler clocked in at a paltry 25:20 and Daniel, the piker, finished with 24:09.
All three, it should be noted, played more minutes than the Canucks’ leading defenceman, Alex Edler at 24:08.
As for the net result, the twins did produce the Canucks’ only goal, scoring at the time Tortorella was putting his lines through the food processor. Datsyuk and Zetterberg were also held off the scoresheet and those two developments should have been enough for a Canucks’ win.
But this was one of those nights when it didn’t work for Tortorella; when the twins and Kesler, who were split up towards the end of the first period, weren’t enough to spark this team.
The Canucks, and the Wings’ checking had a lot to do with it, were flatter than Nebraska, producing just 20 shots on goal while failing to sustain anything in the Wings’ end. The big line was a non-factor. The power play, and this is developing into another storyline for the Canucks, was even worse. There just wasn’t enough from anybody, and there was nothing Tortorella could do about it.
The twins’ goal, in fact, came with Tom Sestito as their linemate in the first period. It was one of Sestito’s two shifts in the period and five in the game. By the third period, Tortorella had tried every conceivable combination and a few that were inconceivable, all while keeping the Sedins and Kesler in the mix. You needed the Hubble Telescope to find Zack Kassian. Brad Richardson barely needed a shower after the game. Jeremy Welsh may or may not have dressed. We’re not sure.
Now, the belief is that the law of diminishing returns will kick in with the twins and Kesler and then the Canucks will have problems, big problems. There is no Plan B. There is no secondary scoring on this team. They will go as far as the Big Three take them but they can’t be expected to keep up this inhuman workload.
That, at least, is the presumption and it will be analyzed within an inch of its life over the course of this season. Wednesday night, the twins and Kesler looked tired. They’ve been playing 22 to 24 hard minutes a game for a month and, maybe for the first time this season, it started to show.
Again, maybe that had more to do with the Wings than their ice time, but it’s worth noting now just as it will be worth noting all season.