John Tortorella beats Islanders, but he doesn't want to talk about that other New York team
When John Tortorella returned to the New York area on Tuesday, his focus was on his current team and not the one that fired him five months ago.
Tortorella led his Vancouver Canucks into a matchup with the Islanders at the Coliseum, about 30 miles from his old home behind the Rangers' bench at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers fired Tortorella on May 29 after the team was eliminated in the second round of the playoffs.
The coach wasn't interested in taking a trip down memory lane before Tuesday night's game, a 5-4 overtime victory.
"I'm here to win a hockey game," Tortorella said at Vancouver's morning skate. "That's all we're concerned about."
Tortorella was hired by the Canucks on June 25, completing an unusual coaching trade of sorts, as the Rangers had hired Alain Vigneault four days earlier. Vigneault was fired by the Canucks on May 22 after they were bounced in the first round of the playoffs.
The Rangers started this season 2-5, but Tortorella refused to comment on the team's slow start.
"That's not fair. Ask me about our team," Tortorella said. "I'm not getting involved in that. I'll tell you something, I loved working for the Rangers, I loved the area. We're going to come back here some time. I love everything about the area. I don't work there anymore and I'm certainly not going to criticize. I know nothing about what's going on with the club. That's not fair to anybody."
His main focus is getting his new team adjusted to his defensive style. Vancouver thrived in the regular season under Vigneault's more up-tempo offensive system, but it was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs the past two seasons.
"You've got to remember it's a pretty good hockey club and it's been successful," Tortorella said. "I'd like to see us play with more grind. I think we've got some talented people, so we're trying to play both."
In addition to the different style of play, the Canucks have had to adjust to Tortorella's personality. Tortorella is notoriously blunt and is a more hands-on coach than Vigneault.
"I think Vigneault had been here for so long that with the new coach it's kind of a breath of fresh air, something new, something exciting," left winger Chris Higgins said. "I think we're still learning a little bit how to play underneath him, but I think we're taking some good strides."
Higgins, a Smithtown native who scored the Canucks' fourth goal Tuesday night, played for Tortorella with the Rangers in the 2009-10 season and said the coach hasn't changed much.
"I think he's learned from some things, but he's still passionate," Higgins said. "He's still the same person at his core. I think maybe he's tweaked a couple of things, but he still wants to win more than anything. It's nice to see a coach like that."