The Rangers have hit a speed bump in their season, dropping three straight in ugly fashion to the Sabres, Jets, and Penguins. While losing to the Penguins is par for the course for the Eastern Conference, the Rangers had four points slip through their fingers against Winnipeg and Buffalo. While everyone is hellbent on blaming the coach, Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards, Glen Sather, etc, let’s look at the real reason why the Rangers have hit this skid.
We have two goal breakdowns to look through from these games (we could not write one for Winnipeg, although I do remember how most of the goals were scored), and there’s a common trend in the goals the team surrenders. The Rangers are simply not fundamentally sound, and not winning the battles in the dirty areas. Those dirty areas are the boards and the front of the net.
Let’s start with Pittsburgh. The first goal the Penguins scored was because Taylor Pyatt lost a battle at the boards and failed to get the puck deep. Then Roman Hamrlik failed to win a board battle at the Rangers blue line, and that let Beau Bennett streak into the Rangers zone (Anton Stralman got caught flat-footed, but that’s besides the point here). This goal was a result of two board-battles lost.
The third Pittsburgh goal came when Brad Richards failed to get the puck deep, again losing a board battle to Matt effing Cooke. To add insult to injury, Richards didn’t backcheck properly (more details here), and the Pens wound up with a two-on-one. Both of these goals may have been avoided if the Rangers simply got the puck deep into the Pittsburgh zone.
Shifting to the Winnipeg game, the goal that sticks out in my mind is the Olli Jokinen goal, where he was left all by himself in front. No one challenged him, no one pushed him out of the way, nothing. Sure, it was a powerplay goal, and the Rangers penalty kill style doesn’t have one guy in charge of clearing the front of the net. But this isn’t about clearing the front of the net, which almost always results in a penalty, this is about tying up the guys in front on rebound chances. No one tied up Jokinen. The battle in front of the net wasn’t even a battle, it was the Rangers waving the white flag.
Now on to the Sabres game, where Marcus Foligno made the Rangers look silly at their own net. His first goal may have been pretty, but it was the result of him being in front of the net, and Nathan Gerbe also attempting to charge the net to cash in. Marian Gaborik was just sitting at the high slot. Gerbe was his man. If he ties him up, then it’s easier for McDonagh to tie up Foligno so that he doesn’t have the time to put the puck between his legs.
The third Sabres goal was almost identical to the first goal in the sense that McDonagh was again left all alone to clear two guys from the front of the net. Two more Rangers were so out of position they may as well have been on the bench. The Rangers were giving the Sabres the front of their net all game, and it cost them two goals.
The Rangers inability to win board battles and go to the dirty areas is costing them points in the standings. The Penguins game aside, they threw away four points against the Sabres and the Jets, of which only one team has a shot at making the playoffs. There’s only so much a coach can do. If the players don’t do their jobs in the system –something they were just fine doing last year– then it doesn’t matter who the coach is.