No doubt about it, the Rangers have been incredibly underwhelming to start the season. They were outplayed in Phoenix, dismantled by Anaheim and San Jose, and bested by St. Louis (although they played well in that game). If not for strong showings in Los Angeles last week and Washington last night, we would be talking about the winless Rangers, not the 2-4 Rangers. The blame doesn’t sit squarely on one player, as almost everyone has been under performing.
In fact, it is easier to name those that are playing well. Brad Richards is playing well. Brian Boyle is playing well, although he gets a lot of unnecessary hate because of the name on the back of his jersey. Anton Stralman hasn’t been bad, although he’s facing awful competition so far. Ryan Callahan has been his usual self. Yup, that’s about it.
So what’s the problem?
You can blame the preseason schedule, which saw them start in Banff, play four games in five nights, and carry over 30 players until the end of the preseason. They never had a chance to gel as a team because they had so many players there.
You can blame new systems. Alain Vigneault has the club switching forechecking styles, neutral zone styles, and defensive zone styles. They say it takes a month to get used to new systems, but that’s with a full squad. The Rangers have had a full squad for two weeks. Plus, because of that ridiculous clause in the new CBA, they weren’t able to practice after the demolition in San Jose because teams are required to have a day off when they play three in four nights.
But in the end, it’s on the players. They aren’t making systems mistakes. They aren’t making mistakes due to inferior players in the lineup. They aren’t making mistakes because of fatigue. They are making Hockey 101 mistakes.
Against Anaheim, there were no less than three breakdowns that led directly to Duck goals. In San Jose, there were five breakdowns that led to goals. It got so bad against San Jose, that the goal breakdowns consisted of two words: “Wide. Open.” In Phoenix, three breakdowns. St. Louis: another pair.
Now the term breakdown is used loosely here. A system breakdown for the Rangers would be one too many guys overloading the strong side. A system breakdown would be half the team collapsing and half the team overloading, leaving a guy wide open. Those are systems breakdowns. The Rangers are having head-on-a-swivel breakdowns. That’s Hockey 101.
Think about it: The first thing you’re taught in hockey is don’t clear the puck up the middle. The second thing is always look around, and see where everyone else is. The Rangers aren’t doing this. At least half of the goals against this season could have been prevented by just looking around. By knowing that the man cutting to the net is the defenseman’s responsibility, by simply getting a stick in a passing lane. These aren’t mistakes that the Rangers should be making.
The good thing is that these are mistakes that will resolve themselves as the Rangers adjust to AV’s systems. That may sound like a contradiction, but Suit pointed out that these mistakes the Rangers are making are because they are taking an extra second to make sure they are covering the right guy. That extra second taken (along with not covering the right guy in some cases) is costing them dearly.
I specifically held off on writing this until after the Rangers played a complete game. Why? Because there are still growing pains to go through. Games like last night will be what the Rangers eventually become, and hopefully last night is them turning the corner. As for now, I’m expecting a few more hiccups. But even then, we’ve seen what they will be, and it’s only a matter of time until they play like they did last night on a consistent basis.