The New York Rangers are 1-3-0, having given up 19 goals in those three losses. Coach Alain Vigneault’s team has stumbled out of the gate like an inebriated thoroughbred, getting manhandled by the Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks on the road.
What’s gone all wonky for the Rangers to start the season? A few theories:
Henrik Lundqvist Is Doing Too Much
Henrik Lundqvist has a .879 save percentage and a bloated 4.31 GAA, putting him in the same decrepit neighborhood as Tim Thomas and Devan Dubnyk to start the season.
The immediate reaction to those numbers will likely be “IT WAS THE PADS ALL ALONG!”, as Lundqvist struggles at the same time the NHL shaved his (allegedly) oversized pads down by a few inches. Maybe he’s overcompensating for that, maybe not. But it’s not like every goal has beaten him 5-hole.
In fact, reviewing his goals, Lundqvist can be guilty of one thing: Trying to do too much. He misplayed the puck that led to a Kyle Chipchura goal. He lunged to cover the puck, an attempt to bail out an exhausted defense, that led to a Radim Vrbata goal. In the loss to the Ducks, this happened:
If that’s not a play by a goalie that’s exasperated by the play of his defense in front of him, we’re not sure what is.
Speaking of which …
The Defensemen Have Been Atrocious
Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh are considered one of the top pairings in the NHL. In the Rangers’ first two loses, they were on the ice for 6 of the 13 goals scored, and played a direct role in a number of them - failing to pick up opposing players around the net, losing puck battles in the defensive zone.
In the Ducks game, it was Michael Del Zotto and John Moore that were victimized, on the ice for two of the six goals while Del Zotto was on for another one as well.
Again, it’s easy to blame Lundqvist for the Rangers’ defensive failings early, but the support he’s gotten may have driven him temporarily insane, attempting to do more than he should. The Rangers look lost out there in the Sharks and Ducks losses, which might mean ...
The New Defensive System Has Them Flustered
Ulf Samuelsson was installed as the assistant coach running the defense during the offseason, building off what former coach John Tortorella instilled in the Rangers. Michael Del Zotto told the NY Post that “system-wise, he’s not changing the game … but he’s very positive, very supportive and he’s great helping to build you up.”
That said, there have been tweaks as far as responsibilities on the ice – Andrew Gross of Rangers Rants writes, “this system does call for different assignments in terms of crease positioning from ex-coach John Tortorella’s method.”
The systems change can’t be blamed for all of the team’s defensive failings, but it might be a factor.
The Nash Injury
The Rangers have now played 12 periods of regular season hockey, and Rick Nash has appeared in just seven of them. The hit to the head from Brad Stuart that felled Nash in the first period against San Jose took out a player that had three points in three games and forced Vigneault to reformat his lines again. It was a disruption, for sure; they've been outscored 13-1 without Nash on the bench or the ice.
The Schedule Sucks
My own opinion is that these last two games are the residue from the Rangers’ dysfunctional preseason - all six games on the road, a mini-camp in Banff, four games in five nights necessitating the Rangers take 39 players on the trip, limiting their ability to develop on-ice cohesion amongst their regulars in the preseason.
And, of course, the fact that the Rangers begin the season with nine games on the road before returning to MSG on Oct. 28, thanks to renovations ongoing at the Garden.
The Rangers Are a Poorly Constructed Team And Glen Sather Will Be Forced To Do Something Dramatic To Shake Them Out Of This Funk
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves …