About midway through October we asked everyone to have some patience after we started the season less than stellar. As I say every year — wait till the 20 game mark before planning a parade, trade, or handing out pink slips. Not every organization follows this advice of course, but most good ones do.
As expected, the Rangers have now made the full transition from playing Tortorella’s 2-1-2 spread forechecking system to AV’s more overload style of play. There’s still a fair amount of similarities between the two coaches though, definitely more than most would care to admit.
The Rangers still collapse in the slot and block a ton of shots, rather than pressuring the points. AV is also not afraid to shorten his bench if guys aren’t going. The zone-start/player deployment strategy (after a whistle) is pretty similar. Both regime’s penalty killing strategies are nearly identical. Though to be fair, most of these philosophies are fairly common in the NHL.
Where things get interesting though is for the players who haven’t yet made the transition. Obviously everyone learns at their own pace, but at some point the org has to start wondering about certain players and their adaptability.
Through 20 games, Girardi’s probably the most notable player who has had an uneasy transition. All of the defense struggled early on to the system change with missed assignments and poor decisions away from the puck. However, AV tweaked his d-zone strategy to include more of a collapsing defense, yet Girardi still hasn’t improved much. He seems to be fighting with when to purse vs. when to contain.
Offensively, he hasn’t contributed much either, just 1 point so far. His average shot distance this season is 58 feet from the net vs. 36 feet last season. So he’s not aggressive in his positioning either. Hopefully he turns it around. As one of two right handed shots on the blueline, his offense is needed.
Perhaps the biggest surprise has been the lackluster play of Derick Brassard. I figured he was tailor made for AV style hockey, but he’s been incredibly inconsistent. He seems to be the odd man out and is getting saddled on the 3rd line. During the playoffs Brass averaged a point per game and 18:54 of ice time. This season he has 7 points and is down to 15:43. Though to be fair, he’s been playing with Boyle and Benoit Pouliot, who is barley worthy of an NHL roster spot.
Speaking of Pouliot, signings like this never make sense to me. How many Wolski’s, Christensen’s, Lisin’s, Zherdev’s, Frolov’s, etc. can one man acquire? Does Sather not know what a flash in the pan is? Like all of the other aforementioned players, this kid makes no effort away from the puck. His stick handling skills are decent, but he has more offensive zone penalties than he does points, not exactly a recipe for success in the NHL.
If Pouliot doesn’t start maximizing his minutes, he is likely going to be another one of those soft ‘skill’ players who has nice fancy stats, but doesn’t bring much else to the table. My guess is he will likely be KHL bound come summer.
MDZ’s struggles are well documented on this site and I don’t want to be duplicative here. I will say, offensively, the only thing this kid is missing is the ability to find twine. He makes good reads on the rush and he seems to find open lanes that allow him good scoring chances, but the finish is not there. His average shot distance is typically in the 30’s, which is impressive for a defensemen, but the missed opportunities kill him. I don’t know how you fix his accuracy issues.
Finally, there’s JT Miller. I like the way this kid plays hockey. He has that same edge and nose for the net Dubinsky has, but is missing some of that playmaking ability. That’s something he isn’t going to learn playing on the 4th line. Hopefully the Rangers send him down to the AHL and give him top 6 minutes and PP time with the Wolfpack.
Overall, my guess is that Brassard and Girardi will find eventually find more game-to-game consistency. I think Del Zotto probably is what he is at this point. Unless we move him back to the left side and play him with a legit shutdown guy, I don’t really see him ever becoming a true offensive d-man/power play quarterback for the Rangers. Perhaps he’d shine brighter in a smaller market.
Fortunately the rest of this team has been playing pretty well. Even in losses, or at least recent ones, we are in every game. That’s what you look for when you’re not getting wins. Is our power play making better decisions? Does our top 6 have chemistry? Are we getting good defense and goaltending? Right now I’d say yes to all of those questions and that can only be a good thing despite a subpar 10-10 record.