The Rangers played two abysmal periods against the Devils Tuesday night and despite a better third (and a shocking refereeing decision in waiving off a late tying goal), they deserved to lose. That said, this is a tight-knit bunch who know how they need to play and (usually) play their style of game well.
The Rangers listen to their coach. Now that Tortorella has his team singing from the same hymn page, he needs to be spending a lot more of his time and energy on re-focussing his biggest issue right now, and that’s Brad Richards.
Richards’ sub-par play is a bigger issue than the power play. He should have been a huge upgrade on the regular line-up and should have been the biggest difference maker on the power play this season. Thus far, this has not been the case. The powerplay if anything has regressed.
We have seen Richards score clutch goals and we have seen the player he can be. However, we have not seen it nearly enough. The longer his sub-par play continues, the bigger a story it will become and a bigger distraction to all the good going on at the MSG.
Against the Devils, Richards looked lost. He looked devoid of confidence and most alarmingly, he made numerous bad decisions with the puck. It’s normally his confidence and decision making ability that sets him apart. One shift in the third period aside, Richards brought almost zero to the Rangers last night. That cannot continue.
Tortorella and Richards have a long standing relationship and if anyone knows what is going wrong with Richards it is Tortorella. The coach needs to spend as much time as needed focussing in on the skilled center to find his spark. Given how the Rangers have managed to get to first place overall (despite an inept powerplay) Tortorella should realise, if he can get Richards firing on all cylinders then this could truly be a special season.
It doesn’t stop there though. Essentially, this was still a developmental year for the Rangers, so any significant success would be gravy. That said, Richards is going nowhere for a long time and we’ve seen how underperforming big-tickets get treated by the media and fans when they underperform. It’s crucial Tortorella gets Richards going, as much for the long term as it is for this season.
Tortorella has faced several challenges as Rangers coach. He has helped oversee a huge change in organisational concept and approach and has helped usher in a bright future with his emphasis on youth. Getting Brad Richards to be front and center of that future (where he needs to be) may be his biggest – and most critical – challenge to date.