There’s a million and one sporting clichés but one that often appears to ring true is how a team has to learn to lose and experience struggles before they can get to the top. The Rangers have struggled mightily at various stages this season. Perhaps, their struggles even began when they were outlasted by the Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals last year.
Being positive, the Rangers are blessed with a talented roster that, while currently struggling to score, in reality there is plenty of scoring talent. Rick Nash and Marian Gaborik alone should be enough that the Rangers shouldn’t own the Eastern Conference’s (current) most anemic offense. The defense has a top four that is, when healthy, the envy of almost the entire league. And in net the Rangers don’t have to bow down to a single team in any corner of any league. Yet this team is scrapping for their lives just to make the playoffs, let alone make some noise when there.
The Los Angeles Kings are Exhibit A about how momentum at the right time can take a team all the way, but the Rangers are well positioned to have prolonged success and it begins and ends with their recent struggles. What seems an impossibility around a decade ago is a reality today; the Rangers are a well run franchise from which you rarely here a sound bite of controversy or trouble.
Gone is media whore Sean Avery, gone are all those mercenaries in NYC only to take a wage check, gone also are the inconsistencies of a mismanaged franchise. In has come a consistent concept, in has come young home grown talent all fronted by a coach and team management that almost never reek of desperation or cluelessness. Look at the perhaps far more talented Washington Capitals of recent times. When things were going wrong, people heard complaints from the coach, in-fighting about individuals’ attitudes (see: Semin, Alex) or the lack of flexibility in players’ games (see: Ovechkin, Alex; Green, Mike). That franchise was so busy defending itself and bemoaning an apparent lack of respect, that it forgot to get the job done on the ice and is now the template for underachieving NHL franchises.
The Rangers? Amid a season of high expectation, most have really heard how the coach occasionally demands more (rightly so) from his key players. Occasionally you’ve heard the captain or star goalie ask for more and demand accountability. No player has ever bemoaned unfair situation or media scrutiny. This Rangers team is accountable to the standings, to their last game. As Ryan Callahan said before the Devils game; his team had to ‘back up’ the Hurricanes victory from the night before. What happened? Callahan came out and backed it up himself with another determined, dedicated performance against the Devils.
The Rangers may make the playoffs, they may not. It won’t break the franchise. With young players such as Oscar Lindberg and Jesper Fasth dominating overseas, and studs such as Chris Kreider in the wings, the franchise is well set beyond this year’s varsity to maintain its status as a team with a bright future. This roster will never have the Sid Crosby’s, Evgeni Malkin’s, or lottery picks that may add up to more talent, but it’s built on the right attitude and a team first ethic, supplemented by talent.
This Ranger team’s identity may have changed somewhat on the ice, but the core and that vital attitude and concept have remained. Through the difficulties this season the team hasn’t gotten worse, but its resolve may have been hardened. So the Rangers have lost three games to the Penguins this season so far, all relatively comprehensive. I guarantee you this, if they get to the playoffs you can count on it that the Penguins won’t want to face the Rangers.
For all the moaning about this team’s performances this year and its admittedly uncertain position remember this; this team lost its de-facto number one center for a few games, it’s lost one of its top defensemen, its lost its best forward for a prolonged period, lost several key defenseman for multiple games, and even missed its heart and soul captain for a spell. And yet this team IS on course for the playoffs all the while – despite the roll call of injuries – boasting the third best defense in the conference.
There’s plenty to worry about and moan over for sure, but step away from that ledge, there’s a lot to be excited about in the very near future.