Every hockey fan can see that the Rangers aren’t playing hard enough. It’s perhaps not surprising then that the Rangers are struggling around the eighth spot in the East after around one third of the season. On the other side, injuries have begun to decimate a squad most considered top heavy and the result is a lack of true identity, a lack of production, and subsequent panic among the masses.
The problem is the Rangers are not tough enough to play against no matter what the line up looks like, regardless of prolonged health. Changes, whether minor or significant, probably need to be made. Look at the Toronto Maple Leafs. Whether it’s a hot streak or the start of something promising; the Leafs are sporting a 12-8 record, scoring more goals, being difficult to play against, and in the midst of a 7-3 streak. They have gained an identity as being a tough club. All this ironically enough after the truculent preaching Brian Burke left town.
This summer the Leafs made the following additions: They added James van Riemsdyk, Mark Fraser, Jay McClement and brought back Colton Orr (gasp Rangers fans!). Only Van Riemsdyk can be considered a truly talented player but the cost to acquire him was to give up an equally talented one in Luke Schenn. What the Leafs did was add size, toughness, and ‘sandpaper’ to their line-up. They added players that fitted their system even though the presence of finesse players such as Kessel and Lupul meant they too found room for skill.
In no way whatsoever, at this stage, are the Leafs more talented than the Rangers, yet they are more successful. Despite bright spots in Ben Scrivens and James Reimer, the Leafs stand no chance going toe to toe with the Rangers in net, don’t have the same defensive skill level through one to four on the blueline, and don’t possess the same star quality up front. However, which team do you fancy coming out of the corners with the puck more often, right now?
Playing to their strengths, to their roster, has allowed players such as van Riemsdyk to blossom and has given a platform for Nazem Kadri to finally showcase his talent. The Rangers can be excused for missing a step because of injuries, it happens. However there is no legitimate excuse for the way they are laying down against opponents or being second best so often in puck battles. The Rangers need to address the situation and quickly. The return of Nash may add some goals, but this team still needs to return to an identity whatever that may be. Darroll Powe addresses this a bit, as does Arron Asham when he returns.
The Leafs didn’t make a lot of noise in the summer but are starting to make noise now. They made changes that fitted their intended style and are playing to their strengths. Either the Rangers need to play to their strengths (and they have plenty of them) or they need to change things up. However that may be.