Well, we knew that it was bound to happen. The fact that it has taken 11 games may be a surprise…maybe it was too late or too early. Either way, Flyers head coach John Tortorella has called out a player. A few weeks ago, Torts benched Kevin Hayes and Travis Konecny in the third period against the San Jose Sharks, during a 3-0 loss, to send a message. Message received and both responded well. He never publicly named them, but he did warn that all the players needed to step it up.
Now, Coach Tortorella has turned his attention to blueliner Rasmus Ristolainen. In a recent press conference, he shared that he has been unhappy with Ristolainen’s level of play this season after just a handful of games.
Ristolainen has been a major focal point of fan ire over the last year. From the price paid to get him to his expensive salary, he has been a subject of controversy. Much of it has been due to his subpar play. While he isn’t the worst defender in the league, he is far from one of the best; of which his paycheck would suggest.
Risto started the season with an injury. It was an undisclosed injury that kept him for much of the camp. With him out, a lot of younger defenders, like Egor Zamula, Cam York, and Nick Seeler got some time to shine and show what they had.
And with Ristolainen out, the Flyers shuffled up the defensive line combinations to see what worked. Then he got healthy. In four games, he has yet to score a point, has dealt out seven hits, accrued four penalty minutes, and has a plus/minus rating of -4. That dropped to -2 after the 5-1 victory over St. Louis. Even at -2, that is the lowest rating of all the Flyers defenders. Only Travis Sanheim (-1) has a negative plus/minus as a defender.
Well, if you watched the game Saturday night against Ottawa, you’d have noticed that Ristolainen wasn’t there. He was scratched. But he wasn’t hurt or needed time to rest. He was sat because of his play.
"“He just hasn’t met expectations. He needs to play better. I’m not going to go that much deeper into it, but I don’t think he’s played well enough. He’s going to get another crack at it. But in everything about his game, I think he needs to be better.” Tortorella said recently."
Torts had, at that point, not committed to playing Risto against the Blues. And while he did insert him into the lineup, the message has been sent.
It doesn’t matter the paycheck or what you think you are worth. Coach Tortorella is here to make a team in his own image. If a veteran player is not playing up to his standards, he will find someone who will. The Flyers have a lot of young players in the AHL who can come up and play if they are hungry enough. If any veteran won’t conform to the team standards, they’ll find themselves on the outside looking in.
The ball is in Ristolainen’s court….err…puck is on his ice. He’s got to play better. If he will not play better, someone else will. How he handle this will say a lot about him. Either he will straighten up, man up, and play to the level we’ve all expected him to play at or he will sit, sulk, and find himself off the team. The choice is his.