Marc Staal quite frankly has been awful, Henrik Lundqvist has been inconsistent, Martin St Louis has been on the periphery, and core players such as Mats Zuccarello have either been invisible or terrible, depending on how forgiving you are as a fan. Throughout the Rangers line-up too many players haven’t kicked into gear yet or shown nearly enough consistency.
Almost the entire roster has Rick Nash (and to a lesser extent Chris Kreider) to thank that the record isn’t a lot uglier than 4-4, eight games in. Fancy stats to one side, this team hasn’t passed the good old fashioned eye test. A lot has been made of the Rangers ‘big three’ on defense not playing well so far, and that is certainly true (McDonagh and Staal were both particularly poor in Montreal) but better contributions are required all over the line-up.
It has to start with the veterans. Marty St Louis probably has Nash to thank that he’s close to a point per game, as he’s well down on his career average for shots per game and, while it’s admirable that he’s tried to help out at center, a player of his standing has to impact games more than he has thus far. Let’s not even start with Zucc: One assist, a minus five and yet he’s averaged close to eighteen minutes per game thus far. Keep looking around the roster for players who should be doing better, there’s plenty of them.
The Rangers are poor at faceoffs. We know this. Dan Boyle and Derek Stepan are being missed, we know this too. However one of the advantages of this year’s Rangers team should be their depth. This team is stacked on the wing, (apparently) has a trio of elite defenseman to call upon, and an all-world goaltender as its last line of defense. But despite all these benefits, there is no consistency to be identified eight games into the season.
Staal is playing for a new contract, but so are Zucc, MSL, Carl Hagelin, and several others. Kids such as Anthony Duclair and Kevin Hayes, and depth guys such as Ryan Malone and Chris Mueller are trying to cement their places in the line-up. Motivation for this squad shouldn’t be lacking. Tonight’s game against the Minnesota Wild will be a good indication of where the Rangers are headed. The Wild are a defensively tight, opportunistic group and will demand the Rangers are focussed. If they continue to be error prone the Wild will leave with the two points.
Stepan will be back soon. We’ve likely entered a critical phase for prospects such as Hayes and Duclair, while several other forwards will see their situations change when Stepan returns. How several individual Rangers respond to subpar efforts against the Canadiens and (despite the victory) the Devils will have a huge impact on how the roster changes – and it will change – within the next two weeks.
It is far too early to panic, and a 4-4 record isn’t a disaster by any measure (has a hockey team ever won or lost anything meaningful in mid October?) but it is fast approaching the time that several key Rangers stopped being passengers and helped this team establish some consistency – and identity – otherwise we could see plenty of change in the coming weeks.