Here’s an interesting statistic I read after the Pittsburgh loss: The Rangers will play their 48 games in 99 days. Last year they played their final 48 games in 100 days. Basically there is no great concern or big deal to be made of the compressed schedule. There will also be sufficient practice time.
The Rangers managed to win the Atlantic Division last year and came mighty close to winning the President’s Trophy. How they achieved last year’s success was on the back of a stingy, hard working defense providing Lundqvist with the platform to play to his Vezina winning standards. They also evidenced in the second half of last year an ability to adjust to their opponents styles – something that practice time will help achieve.
This season – all two games of it – the defense has been awful. Poor coverage, players guilty of chasing the puck and not remembering their positional duties and poor zone exits, not to mention a poor first pass; the defense has done precious little right thus far. That said, look at the players that make up the Rangers blueline. Marc Staal can still be forgiven for needing a few more games to get back up to his best but is a quality defenseman, particularly in his own zone.
Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh – while not yet their stellar selves –see the vast majority of top line match-ups and while the schedule doesn’t get much lighter you can say with confidence it doesn’t get harder than Malkin/Neal/Crosby or Lucic/Seguin/Krejci. They’ll be fine with time.
Then there is Michael Del Zotto; he’ll never be confused with a Norris trophy winner in his own zone, but we saw his pass for Pyatt’s goal against the Pens. He possesses a level of creativity that will come with time – and practice. The point here is patience and pedigree.
While the Rangers certainly have concerns on the back end – replacing Bickel, whipping Stralman into shape – there is a significant level of talent on the blueline that simply needs to get up to speed. The greater focus needs to be getting the forwards in sync with their defensive responsibilities (and there are several new forwards that need to learn the Rangers system) as well as getting the puck in deep and getting on the opposing defense quickly.
The Rangers for the most part have not played well physically or forechecked effectively. Once they get better in these areas – usually team strengths – the defense will be less exposed and the opposition will have less time to break out and catch the Rangers defense unorganised.
Yes, almost every single blueliner needs to improve and so does every forward in some way or another, but it’s practice time and game time this team needs. Coach Tortorella will know where the improvements need to be made. With two and a half days until the next game there’s opportunity to work on those areas of concern.
The Bruins are next up. We know they’ll be physical and defensively strong once again, and that’s exactly why they are the right opponent for the Rangers. The Bruins set a standard for the Rangers in the first game and the Rangers will know what is needed on Wednesday night. Now, it’s all about making sure they get back to their own high standards of a year ago. Plenty of time yet folks. Time to practice.