To say the Rangers have gotten off to a rough start this season would be an understatement. The Kings game aside, the Blueshirts have been thoroughly de-pantsed by some of the Western Conference’s finest over the past few games. After spending all summer telling my wife (who knows an awful lot about the game) how excited I was about AV’s arrival and the potential for this team to be really successful this season, she pointedly asked me last night, “what the hell is wrong with them?”. I was at something of a loss.
Earlier this week, The Suit splendidly broke down AV’s systems and got us all up to speed on what we should be expecting out of the Ranger players this season. But this malaise goes much deeper than simply adjusting to the system. They are making serious fundamental hockey errors, as opposed to systems errors.
Sure, the backchecking forwards and defensemen haven’t quite seemed to grasp the concept of the strong-side overload yet, routinely allowing a weak-side defenseman or winger to slide into open ice for a quality chance. The centermen have had issues covering the slot area as the defenders range out of the low-zone collapse, and Hank has been very mortal to start the year. (This could also be symptomatic of having to deal with backdoor lateral plays non-stop, but clearly the frustration in performance is there).
This is all compounded by AV’s personality, which seems trusting at best and apathetic at worst. His hands-off approach has lead many members of the fan base to panic (especially since Torts would have displayed heads on stakes at the pre-game presser in St. Louis).
The question that is ultimately begged is: where does this leave us? This team clearly has the talent to be a contender, and the off-season moves only helped to reinforce this notion. The system AV runs is far more complex than Torts’ more direct style, so I’m sure there are still growing pains on that front, but at the end of the day, this is the regular season and those training camp excuses aren’t going to fly anymore. There is a tangible transition going from zone to man coverage, and also backchecking coverages from a more offensively aggressive system, so there’s that.
I guess my best advice goes back to what we have been saying all along: we are still just 4 (!) games into the season. Not having Nash definitely hurts, but that’s what depth is for. This team needs to get a handle on this new system, and quickly. The nine-game road trip to start the season against some of the best teams out west was always going to be brutal, but we got a glimpse of what this team can do against LA.
Many pundits have discussed the timing of fights and team chemistry and yada yada, but at this point, its all about fundamentals. This team needs to clean up its communication, first-passes and backchecking coverages. This is first day of pee-wee’s stuff. Forget the system, forget the line-matching, and get back to competent basics. No more running around in the defensive zone, no more centers staring at defensemen staring at centers while the puck is in the back of the net. Time to start playing like men.