The New York Rangers aren’t a disaster.
They’re 8-7-2, sitting one point out of the No. 8 seed with a game in-hand over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Their goal differential is a minus-3. If there’s a major point of concern, it’s the offense: Their 41 goals puts them No. 25 in the NHL, while their 3.35 goals per game average is 23rd in the League.
But there’s a sense that this team has dramatically underachieved, based on last season’s 109-point pace and appearance in the Eastern Conference Final, as well as its addition of Rick Nash to an all-star roster.
What’s wrong with the Rangers?
We asked Rangers bloggers Scotty Hockey; Kevin DeLury of NY Rangers Blog; and Patrick Hoffman of Goal Line Report to give us their take on the Blueshirts, and what’s gone right and wrong in 2013. Enjoy …
Why have the Rangers, in your estimation, underachieved thus far this season?
SCOTTY HOCKEY: They've only underachieved if you set unrealistic expectations for them.
But one big reason for their current struggles is the Blueshirts shed a huge part of their emotional and physical core over the offseason, and their replacements have yet to step up. No team can give up a ton of grit and heart and think that some mercenaries, minor leaguers and children will be able to immediately fill the void.
Last season's squad started in Europe and grew into a real Stanley Cup contender that came within two wins of the Finals. The Blueshirts' brass then decided to tear that team apart by dealing for Rick Nash and letting lower-line guys go. Gone were home-grown guys Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov and gone were guys who literally bled for the team: Brandon Prust, Ruslan Fedotenko and John Mitchell. Also worth mentioning with that group of team guys are Sean Avery and Michael Sauer, both of whom left the lineup during that last campaign. Neither of their very helpful skill sets - which could have turned the tide against the Devils in the ECF - were replaced.
It hasn't helped that Brad Richard$ lost his ability in Hurricane Sandy and Henrik Lundqvist has been ordinary, but the lack of tenacious team guys has really taken a toll.
DELURY: Last year, the Rangers were known for their toughness and grit. When an opposing team faced the Blueshirts they were prepared to fight for every inch of the ice. Torts' crew wasn’t the most talented team, but would outwork their opponent and was always there for each other. For some reason the "jam" as Torts likes to call it has disappeared. The tough forecheck and shot blocking that were the hallmark of last season have gone by the wayside. To steal a line from Coach Murray Chadwick, these guys could skate around with a carton of eggs and not break any.
When the Rangers parted ways with heart and soul guys like Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Brandon Prust, Ruslan Fedotenko and John Mitchell, I think management miscalculated how integral those guys were to the success of the team. Their hard nose style was the essence of Tortorella's brand of hockey. Unfortunately, the players who were brought in don't seem to fit the mold and there's a real identity crisis with the 2013 version of the Rangers.
Just look at what happened in Montreal Saturday night. Ryan McDonagh is plastered face first into the boards by Max Pacioretty, while Marty Biron is bowled over twice without even a nasty look coming from a teammate. Last year, Pacioretty would have been pummeled quicker than Glen Sather hanging up the phone on Bob Gainey after getting him to agree on the Scott Gomez trade. And it wasn't always Mike Rupp or Stu Bickel doing the dirty work. More often than not it was guys like Dubinsky, Dan Girardi and Brian Boyle, who were the first to step in.
Is the power play horrific? Yes. Have they been besieged by injury? Sure. But when the team has shown it doesn’t have the heart or balls to win battles in the corner or in front of the net it’s real easy to see why this team has underachieved.
Having said all that, the Rangers are still just one point out of a playoff spot with three games in hand on the 8th place Flyers, so there is still plenty of time for this team to forge an identity and get on a roll going into the playoffs. As the Kings proved last year, you just have to qualify for the postseason and anything can happen.
HOFFMAN: By far and away, the Blueshirts have been one of the league’s most inconsistent clubs this season and they have been this way for a few reasons.
For starters, the team’s power play is horrendous. The forwards stand still, not enough pucks are thrown on net, there are hardly any quality scoring chances and in general, the team’s power play is not being run the right way.
This leads us to the team’s next problem and that is offense. For the offensive talent that the Blueshirts have in guys like Marian Gaborik, Rick Nash, Brad Richards, Ryan Callahan, Carl Hagelin and Derek Stepan, the team certainly does not score a lot of goals (24th in the league).
While it is easy to place the blame on the forwards themselves, most of the blame should be put on team head coach John Tortorella. While it is great to play defensive hockey and win a bunch of games by one and two-goals, this kind of systems simply does not work for offensive players.
Lastly, there seems to be too much reliance placed on the team’s defense and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. The defense blocks a lot of shots and Lundqvist is still one of the league’s top goaltenders. The two combined can keep the team in every game but if the offense is not doing anything, it simply will not matter.
2. Who has been the Rangers' best player? Who has been their biggest disappointment?
SCOTTY HOCKEY: Best has probably been Ryan Callahan. Night in and night out the captain has gone to the wall for the team - he's throwing his body around blocking shots and forcing turnovers, he's battling defenders as often the first man in the zone and a regular inside the slot, and he's scoring big goals with two regulation game-winners and one shootout game-winner.
Biggest disappointment ... Tough one as there are a few to choose from. As mentioned above, Richard$ hasn't been the premier first line center he is being paid to be. Speaking of big money busts, Rick Nash had just three goals in 14 games before leaving the lineup - sure he showed some fancypants moves but we needed substance with that flash.
Which leads to Marian Gaborik, who has continued to be enigmatic - dominant some nights and invisible others. Gabby spent some time stapled to the bench in recent games, he wasn't exiled to the press box like Brian Boyle. Six-foot-seven of softness is disappointing but it is hard to be let down when he's lowered the bar so far since the final third of his 21 goal season. Arron Asham antagonized this team for years and was brought into the fold to replace Boyle's bestie Prust but to date he's been utterly ineffective. One late goal in a blowout, one hit per game and three losses in three fights. To pick from that pile of disappointments, I'd probably have to go with Richard$ - if he was better, Nash and Gabby could have been better.
DELURY: To show you how bad the Rangers have been offensively, Rick Nash has easily been the team’s best player and he has just three goals this season. Amazingly, he still leads the Blueshirts in points with 12 despite missing the last three games with an undisclosed injury.
Nash’s playmaking ability has shocked the hell out of me as he has made his linemates better as evidenced by the resurgence of Carl Hagelin and Derek Stepan after early season struggles. Not to mention the jaw dropping moves he makes on a gamely basis. He’s one of the few Rangers players not afraid to go to the net with the puck and make something happen. Rangers Nation is still holding their breath regarding his injury, which has still not been confirmed by the Rangers.
With a team that has frustrated as much as the Rangers have, it’s hard to choose just one player as the most disappointing, but I’ve got to go with Arron Asham. He was one of the guys brought to New York to fill the void left by the loss of Brandon Prust and Sean Avery. When the team needed a spark, he was supposed to ignite it. When someone got physical with a Rangers skill player he was supposed to defuse it. It was going to be his job to play mind games with teams. Instead, he has followed in the footsteps of a long line of free agent enforcer disappointments the Rangers have suffered over the years, including Donald Brashear, Derek Boogaard and Mike Rupp. Unlike Prust, he’s been unable to find the appropriate time to fire up his teammates with a fight and he can’t hold a candle to Avery’s ability to get an opponent off their game.
HOFFMAN: He may not have the lights-out statistics that he did last season but Rangers’ netminder Henrik Lundqvist has been the team’s best player.
When he plays, he gives his team the best chance to win a hockey game and when they do win, he is usually one of the reasons why. Again, his numbers of 7-6-1, 2.29 GAA, and a .918 save percentage may not be at the top of the league or anything but there is no doubt that when the Rangers’ are on top of their game, Lundqvist is their most valuable player.
The club’s most disappointing player this season has been Brad Richards. Richards, who has 11 points (two goals and nine assists) in 17 games, has had trouble creating offense, seems to be afraid to shoot the puck and has been horrible when it comes to being the team’s power play quarterback.
3. Where is your confidence level with both John Tortorella and Glen Sather?
SCOTTY HOCKEY: I have no confidence in Tortorella but, to be honest, I haven't had that since he tanked the team with his antics during the Caps series in 2009. He is still coaching this team like it is pre2004-05 lockout, over-relying on a select few players. It worked back then because the grab-and-hold hockey allowed players to conserve some energy but now, he's just wearing guys into the ground (see 2012 playoffs: Girardi, Dan and McDonagh, Ryan). And that is not to mention his acerbic, unprofessional attitude or his recent propensity for putting too many men on the ice ...
As for Sather, he continues to leave a checkered record. For all of the offseason errors (in my opinion), he surely will come back with some more Jedi moves to make everything alright. After all, he was able to trade Scott Gomez and Mike Rupp - he can do anything.
DELURY: From Day 1, John Tortorella changed the culture of the Rangers. Veterans were finally held accountable and young players given a chance. Under Torts’ regime the Rangers began to build from within and filled in the blanks with character free agents. And it all came together last year with the Blueshirts best playoff run since 1997.
This year, however, Tortorella is faced with a real challenge as the personnel doesn’t seem to fit his game plan. Where players bought in last year, they seem less willing to do so this year. So now he has to decide if he wants to change from a defensive system to a more wide open style to accommodate the skill of Nash which the team has alarmingly become dependent on as evidenced by the one goal by a forward in the three games since he went down with an injury.
In the end, I have the confidence that Tortorella sticks with what worked so well last year and the players buy back in. Since the Montreal game Saturday night, the Rangers’ toughness has been questioned in every corner of the hockey world and you can be assured that Tortorella will use it as a rallying cry the same way he did when Joe Thornton called his team soft last year.
I love Tortorella’s in your face, blue collar style and I think it’s perfect for New York. I still contend there’s nothing better than a Torts’ press conference after a frustrating loss.
To Sather. I’m not sure I can remember the last time I’ve seen a sports figure do such a 180 with fans. Just two years ago, Rangers fans were holding “Fire Sather” rallies outside of Madison Square Garden and now he’s being widely praised for the miraculous trades he’s been able to pull off. I’m convinced he has naked photos of every GM in the NHL. Not to mention the free agent moves that are finally paying off after a decade of futility. I am more than confident that Sather will fill any need the Rangers might have at the trade deadline and/or this offseason.
Rangers owner James Dolan is faithful to a fault, just ask Knicks fans, so I’d assume both Sather and Tortorella are safe even if the Rangers don’t turn it around and miss the playoffs this season. But if they struggle again next fall you can be assured both of their seats will be plenty warm.
HOFFMAN: While it is great to see that John Tortorella’s defensive style of hockey works to a ‘T, it is not a good thing that it comes with the sacrificing of offense.
There is no doubt that good defense is important when it comes to winning hockey but that cannot come at the expense of putting the puck in the net. Players like Marian Gaborik, Rick Nash, Brad Richards and Carl Hagelin need to be given more free reign when it comes to generating offense.
If Tortorella can change his system a bit and get the team’s offense clicking, my confidence in him will be a lot higher. With that said, Tortorealla is still the right coach for this team and he just needs to change things around a bit.
Surprisingly, there should not be too much worry when it comes to Rangers’ general manager Glen Sather. He has made some smart moves of late and has totally brought into making this team younger and faster.
Together, Sather and Tortorella make a good GM/coach pairing and while the team is certainly playing inconsistent hockey this season, not all of the blame should be placed on their shoulders.
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