Last night against the Vancouver Canucks, the Rangers appeared to be outplayed in every facet of the game. Vancouver routinely clogged the neutral zone, disrupting the Ranger rush. They also sent defenseman Willie Mitchell and defenseman/forward Kevin Bieksa after Marian Gaborik, and the pair shadowed him all game. It was eerily similar to the John Madden/Jaromir Jagr strategy employed by the Devils for a few years. That strategy worked, as Gaborik couldn’t get anything going, and it eventually led to some tempers boiling over in the third in a 20-man brawl (slight exaggeration).
What can’t be ignored is that this is the third team in recent games to employ a similar strategy. The Islanders clogged the neutral zone, the Wild clogged the neutral zone, and the Canucks clogged the neutral zone. Three separate teams, three losses, three games where the Rangers scored under three goals. These are teams the Rangers should not be losing to. The Islanders are destined for Taylor Hall (assuming Phil Kessel ignites the Leafs), the Wild can’t score, and the Canucks were sans 50% of their starters, including Roberto Luongo and Daniel Sedin.
All three teams effectively kept the Rangers to the outside in the offensive zone, and didn’t give them any space to generate a rush in the neutral zone. The question here is, are teams taking notice? Clearly, this strategy only works at home (matching up lines), but this strategy has been employed successfully for three straight games in which the Rangers were the visiting team. Is this a blueprint for success against the Rangers, much like the three man forecheck was doom last year? Or is this simply a blip on the radar?
At this point, it becomes a coaching issue, and John Tortorella and gang need to recognize this as a flaw in the gameplan, and adjust accordingly.