In case you missed it –and if you’ve been watching, you haven’t– the Rangers have been incredibly rusty in their opening two games against the Bruins and the Penguins. The defense has missed assignments, the offense hasn’t clicked, and it looks like only three players –Henrik Lundqvist, Rick Nash, Ryan Callahan– have shown up so far this year. In a shortened season every loss is heightened, but opening with two losses isn’t the end of the world.
Last season, the Rangers started the season 0-2-1 and finished October 4-3-3. By December, they were in first place and never looking back. Yes, the Rangers are 0-2 right now, but so are the Flyers and the Coyotes, two playoff teams from last year and are expected to make the playoffs this year. We stated yesterday that one game does not make a season, neither does two games.
That said, the Rangers are in a must win situation when the Bruins come to town on Wednesday. It’s been tweeted a lot that no team has ever started 0-3 in a shortened season and come back to make the playoffs. Now that information is skewed as there has only been one shortened season, and no team that started 0-3 was as talented as the Rangers.
Bill Meltzer pointed out the following records at the start of the last shortened season, and the information is intriguing:
In 1995, Flyers started out 3-7-1. Devils started 3-5-2. Caps were 2-8-2. NYR was 1-4-0 and 13-16-3. All made playoffs. Devils won the Cup.
Of course, the counter argument here is that the Rangers barely made the playoffs, and did so with a losing record of 22-23-3. But in such a format, the only thing the team needs to do is make the playoffs. They have an All-World goaltender that is capable of stealing games, and they have the offensive talent and defensive strength that will win them games.
That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a guarantee that the Rangers will recover, especially if they continue to play the way they have been. Last season, they survived because they were getting games to overtime in October. A loss to Boston on Wednesday would be crippling.
The rest of the club, specifically the top-six forwards and top-four defensemen that haven’t played well, needs to get back on track. They need to stop taking stupid penalties (see: Hagelin, Carl; Boyle, Brian) and need to stop missing defensive assignments (see: Staal, Marc; Del Zotto, Michael; Bickel, Stu). There’s only so much time before they dig themselves a hole they can’t climb out of.