John Tortorella and his coaching staff challenged the Philadelphia Flyers upon arrival. ‘Camp Tortorella’ prepared the roster to play hard. Grinding down the opponents was always the blueprint of the standard Tortorella presents. They won’t be the most talented team on the ice in most contests, but controlling what can be is the requirement.
Two of the most important hires for the Flyers were Tortorella and Brad Shaw. Tortorella challenged his lineup throughout the season, from Travis Konecny and Kevin Hayes to Rasmus Ristolainen and Travis Sanheim. The latter is where the hire of Shaw becomes critical. Sanheim is struggling out of the gate, and Ristolainen is still finding his footing. Together, the usual middle pair is inconsistent.
“I think he [Ristolainen] needs to play better. I’m not going to go that much deeper into it. I don’t think he’s played well enough. He’s gonna’ get another crack at it. Everything about his game, I think he needs to be better.”John Tortorella; 11/7/2022
For the foreseeable future, these two have a role on the defense in Philadelphia.
Tortorella called both of these defensemen out for their play. He challenged Ristolainen to prioritize positioning over the big hit and spoke of how unfamiliar he is with Sanheim because he hasn’t made much of an impact.
“Not good enough. Not nearly good enough. I don’t know him; I haven’t seen him make a difference for us. I know him as far as people have talked to me about him, but I certainly haven’t seen it. Forget about using the word ‘consistency;’ I have not seen it.”John Tortorella; 11/3/2022
A season ago, these two flashed small moments of chemistry in the same pair. Sanheim propelled his game, becoming the best defenseman on the Flyers. Ristolainen, when used correctly, is a runaway truck through the neutral into the offensive zone with a heavy slapshot.
As coaches do, they seek to develop players in their problem areas. Tortorella wants to see more offense out of Sanheim. Before Ristolainen expands his game, Tortorella demands detail to fundamentals. These requests are the foundation of these players finding their groove for Philadelphia in 2022-2023.
Sanheim had a tough road trip. He wasn’t bad against the New York Rangers but fell apart against the Toronto Maple Leafs. John Tavares put him through a spin-cycle on the way to a hat trick. He did pick up the pace against the Ottawa Senators, though it meant taking two penalties. The effort was evident in his attempts to clear Brady Tkachuk and Claude Giroux off the crease.
“Everyone stepped up, honestly. In order to win in this league, you need everyone on your team, and if a few guys aren’t going, it’s going to be tough to win. Tonight, the whole team played well [for a] full sixty minutes. It was our best defensive effort.”Kevin Hayes; 11/5/2022
On the other hand, Ristolainen only participated in four games this season before Tortorella began to pick at his lack of defensive positioning. Justin Braun replaced him against the Senators, to which Tortorella commented on the defensive positioning after the game:
“As we talked about before the game, we’re eleven games in, and we’ve got to start playing to some sort of identity in what we want to build. It has to bring some grind into it. That’s what I liked about our lines; we grinded. I thought we were much better defensively, positionally. We hung out there, blocking shots. That’s a big part of playing defense. It’s a step in the right direction as far as trying to find who we’re going to be.”John Tortorella; 11/5/2022
Hoping his message was received, Tortorella is hoping for a better version of Ristolainen, but he’ll have to break old habits.
(Photo Credit/Alex McIntyre)