One can tell a lot about Gerard Gallant’s coaching style by the way he responded to the Rangers’ unsightly, 5-1 loss to the Flames on Monday.
Placing an acceptable amount of blame on the fact that the Blueshirts had one of the most demanding game schedules to open the 2021-22 season, Gallant was also frank when acknowledging that the team was careless with turnovers and didn’t play to the identity it’s still trying to establish.
Gallant singled out Alexis Lafreniere, the Rangers’ prized former No. 1-overall pick, as a player he needed more from. Despite not usually putting emphasis on film, Gallant called a team meeting to closely review the undisciplined performance. He declared that the Rangers have to become a man’s team.
Following practice on Thursday, Gallant said he knew coming into the job that the team was going to need to make that transition into a man’s game. It’s not a difficult conclusion to make at first glance of the Rangers’ roster, which is the third-youngest in the NHL behind the Blue Jackets and Devils.
When referring to a man’s game, Gallant noted this week he didn’t mean more hits, an area in which the Rangers certainly aren’t lacking. He is looking for the Rangers to earn more puck possession with their “battle level” and fully buy into his system.
“More like play like a man, not because you’re younger [or] because you’re a younger kid, it’s coming into the league and you have to play a man’s game,” Gallant said ahead of the Rangers’ matchup against Columbus at Madison Square Garden on Friday.
“If you have success in the NHL, you get success by playing a man’s game. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of boys on our team and around the league. But you have to play a man’s game, and we’re doing that, not every night, but when we do we’ll be a real good team.”
Gallant specifically said he needed more from Lafreniere after the coach bumped him from the top line mid-game Monday in favor of Julien Gauthier. Lafreniere then addressed the postgame criticism the following day with a real maturity, taking full responsibility for his play and vowing to be better.
Lafreniere comes off as the kind of player who will respond well to that kind of coaching. It’s a style that could positively shape the rest of the Rangers in their early 20s. Like several other players, Kaapo Kakko pointed out Gallant’s ways are a lot different than those of predecessor David Quinn.
Asked if he feels the Rangers are growing up quicker under Gallant, Kakko agreed and added that the team is a lot stronger.
There was an old-school approach to Gallant from the moment he accepted the job. He waited until the Rangers reported to training camp to start getting to know the players, and he implemented a system that gave the players more freedom to play their own game.
“It’s a combination of all of that,” Gallant said when asked if this young Rangers team needs a bit of tough love. “You can’t be Mr. Good Guy all the time and you can’t be always on them, either. It’s a fine line of that. You try to do the best you can with that and you try to make the best decisions as a coach.
“We all want to get better, we all want to be on a good team, players, coaches, managers, trainers, everybody.”