There was so much hope before the beginning of this season. The New York Rangers had Vezina winner Henrik Lundqvist in net, arguably the best corps of young defensemen in the league, and they got their man in elite power forward Rick Nash. Two weeks later, the Rangers have amassed an unimpressive 3-4-0 record, with a 3-0 Pittsburgh Penguins spanking being the latest loss.
There have been flashes of last season’s dominant Rangers squad. There was a 5-2 win against the Leafs in which they never quit, even after giving up 2 goals early in the first after only 3 shots. There was a gutsy overtime win against the Bruins, in which the super-line of Nash, Brad Richards, and Marian Gaborik, caused major chaos in front of the Bruins net.
But, losses to the Flyers, the aforementioned Bruins, and two matches dropped to the Pens have left many Rangers fans wondering if they’re watching the correct channel. Maybe the Rangers were replaced by the Islanders in the off season.
No, there has been no kidnapping, and the Rangers problems stem from two specific issues, and they have nothing to do with depth on their roster or not having the right pieces. It has everything to do with discipline and passion.
The Rangers have been taking, for lack of better term, really stupid penalties. For instance, in the loss to Philadelphia, Derek Stepan attempted to clear a puck out of the Rangers zone on the penalty kill, and ended up putting the puck directly into the Garden crowd, handing the Flyers a 5 on 3 power play, and an opportunity for Philly to get back into the game. Now, an epic 3 minute shift by Dan Girardi, in addition to Jeff Halpern putting in extra effort after losing his stick, killed that penalty off, but how many times are these Blueshirts going to be able to do that?
Another good example is the amount of bench minors this team has received for having too many men on the ice. Out of the seven power play goals the Rangers have surrendered, 3 of them have come after taking a too many men penalty. In that aforementioned 3-0 loss to the Pens, the back breaking goal came while attempting to kill a too many men penalty.
Bad penalties and bad communication adds up to never being able to build momentum. And that leads to the next issue. The Rangers seem flat.
Last season, the Rangers played mostly with heart, and reaped the benefits. They had a swagger to them by mid-season that made opponents fear them. Their game was based on cycling, responsible defense, and epic goaltending. And all of that stemmed from the passion and swagger the Rangers played with from game 1 in Sweden.
This year, the defense has been disorganized, but seems to be better. Lundqvist has seemed to fix the issues that he has had seeing the puck through traffic. But, the swagger is just not there. The heart seems to be missing, and with their captain Ryan Callahan injured for the next 14 days, the Rangers may be digging themselves a hole that they will not recover from.
In 1995, the last time we had a 48 game, lockout abbreviated, season, anyone who was not in a playoff berth 10 games into the season, remained that way in April, with minute exceptions. After Thursday’s loss, the Rangers are currently in 11th place. The next three games could determine the Rangers post season fate. Will they get it together in time, or will this Rangers squad with such high expectations upon them crash and burn like a lead zeppelin?