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John Tortorella asks Rangers for better play down low

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) Credit: Getty

PITTSBURGH -- Call it the crease, the blue, the paint. For the Rangers, it's been an area of concern.

Not the goaltending, which is rolling along at a 2.36 goals-against average, sixth in the NHL. It's the other players in the crease -- on both ends of the ice.

Henrik Lundqvist mentioned the problem after the 3-1 losses to the Sabres and Jets. And Friday, coach John Tortorella made the point, as did defenseman Ryan McDonagh.

"I think our defensemen have been drifting away," Tortorella said on the eve of a matinee against the Eastern Conference-leading Penguins that closes this four-game road trip, during which the ninth-place Rangers are 1-2. "They're getting some rebound chances on us. We've got to do a better job. And certainly for us, we need to be in their paint more and staying there. We're going by but we're not staying there."

McDonagh, who has been victimized on those scores, said the defense, without injured Marc Staal, needs to be "taking pride in being hard-nosed around our net. Maybe not puck-watch as much and just trust your teammates and find your man."

With rule changes, Tortorella said: "I don't think you're allowed to do as much as you could do 10, 15 years ago. It was ugly around there. Now you're taking that stick off the ice, it's an immediate signal for a referee to maybe call an interference or hooking. I think they allow a little bit more around the net . . . but it's certainly not like where it was a rumble there. Underneath the hashmarks, I think you need to let us play a little bit more. I kind of miss that part of it."

Tortorella, who fumed after the loss to the Sabres, insisted that's in the past.

"I am not down on the team," he said. "The worst thing we can do when you lose a couple of games is start panicking and saying, 'What is going on?' I believe maybe we score a goal, maybe Gabby [Marian Gaborik] scores on the penalty shot [against the Jets], the complexion changes."

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