Rangers agree they have to toughen up

John Tortorella coaches his team during the season John Tortorella coaches his team during the season opener against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden in Boston. (Jan. 19, 2013) Photo Credit: Getty

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GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Last season, opponents described the Rangers as a hard team to play against, perhaps not the most skilled club in the NHL, but steeped in a system that emphasized a collective mental toughness, whether it was fearless shot-blocking or stubbornness in the corners and along the boards.

In the first two losses of the season, according to players and coach John Tortorella, that element was lacking. With the big, nasty 2-0 Bruins coming in Wednesday night, the message was simple.

"The only thing we should focus on is our mind-set," Tortorella said after a video session and practice. "We're not hard enough mentally, and that certainly transforms into not hard enough physically."

The Rangers, "have not played hard enough in all areas," he said. "Taking a check to protect the puck, not being one and done offensively, holding on to a puck until guys get there . . . The team knows what the circumstance is, with the short camp, the short season, as 29 others. The two teams we played against [Boston and Pittsburgh], they seemed to find it . . . We haven't."

Tortorella shuffled lines in practice, in part because Arron Asham did not skate with a mild groin strain, so defenseman Stu Bickel took his spot as the fourth-line right wing, and Marian Gaborik replaced Carl Hagelin as left wing on the first line. But Tortorella insisted that the lines didn't matter "as much as the individuals."

Center Brian Boyle, for one, was disappointed in his early efforts. "I watched some replays," he said, "and I was wasting time out there. It didn't look like me, the way I can play. I have to hit, play hard, play strong. It took a few games last season, but that can't happen now, I have to get to that level right away."

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The Rangers need more urgency, captain Ryan Callahan said, "starting by closing out guys in the defensive zone, taking away time and space, and being good on those one-on-one battles, two-on-two, not running around. It's nothing new, stuff we been talking about three or four years now . . . We wish we were off to a better start, but we're a confident group."

Notes & quotes: Chris Kreider, who was decked by a shoulder check from Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik with 41 seconds left in Sunday's 6-3 loss, practiced. His jaw, which he had broken at Boston College, had locked and spasmed, but he called it a clean hit and joked: "I think [Orpik] learned it at BC, he's well-coached." . . . Tortorella was "not sure" if Asham would be available Wednesday; one possibility is to leave Bickel up front and use Steve Eminger on the third defense pair.

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