Every NHL team endures peaks and valleys through the course of a season.
A team could go on a five-game winning streak and follow that up with a multiple-game losing skid. That’s why a typical 82-game schedule gives each team time to fix their kinks.
In a shortened season like this one, however, there really is little time to work on things. Teams have to come out ready to play and do everything they can to avoid losing streaks.
The New York Rangers, one of the league’s Stanley Cup contenders this season, has struggled out of the gate and has done so in an ugly fashion. On Saturday night in Boston, the Blueshirts lost their season opener to the Boston Bruins by a score of 3-1. The following night, they lost their home opener 6-3 to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
While the team looked good on paper going into this weekend, what transpired on the ice was underwhelming. Rangers’ head coach John Tortorella certainly does not like what he sees.
Asked after the dismal effort which areas his team needed to improve upon, Ranger coach John Tortorella snapped, “All of them. That is certainly not being sarcastic. All of them.”
With a tough game against the undefeated Boston Bruins at Madison Square Garden on tap for tonight, let’s take a look at why the Rangers have struggled so far this season.
1. Poor defence
Last season, the Rangers were one of the best defensive teams in the league.
With much of the defensive corps unchanged, one would think that they would be just as good, if not better, this year. That has not been the case so far.
In two games, the Blueshirts have allowed seven goals. While the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins are certainly no slouches, the Rangers did a good job last season of keeping those teams in check.
On Saturday night in Beantown, the Rangers relied too much on their all-world netminder, Henrik Lundqvist. The Bruins fired 34 shots, and Lundqvist stopped 31 of them as the team lost 3-1.
One night later, the team’s top defensive pairing, Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, was a minus-3. As the team’s top two defencemen, the Rangers should not be giving up many goals while those two are on the ice.
“I’ve definitely got to do a better job in front of the net,” Girardi said. “Clearing stuff out and trying to get it out clean and quick so we can create some rushes and not spend so much time in our end.”
Girardi added, “Nothing was (Lundqvist’s) fault… We really tried to play for him. He does so much for us, and it’s hard to see him go out of there like that.”
2. Not enough offence
On paper, a team with the likes of Rick Nash, Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik, Ryan Callahan, Carl Hagelin, Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider up front looks scary for any opponent.
Through the team’s first two games, however, that has been far from the case. The team is not generating nearly enough quality scoring chances, is playing too stationary and may be relying too much on its top-tier forwards to put the puck in the net.
In the team’s 3-1 loss to the Bruins this past Saturday night, the Rangers only had 20 shots on Bruins’ netminder Tuukka Rask. That is not enough rubber toward the net, and out of those 20 shots, only a handful could be considered quality scoring chances.
On Sunday night against the Penguins, the Rangers were able to put 34 shots on goal and put three by Penguins’ netminder Tomas Vokoun, including Rick Nash’s first goal as a Blueshirt. Nash, however, was not that impressed.
”It’s not the start we wanted. We’ve got to get back to work,” he said after the game. “There are a lot of mistakes out there we have to correct. It’s a short season, so we’ve got to correct them fast.”
While Nash’s goal did the cut the Rangers deficit to two goals, only one of the team’s goals ended up being meaningful in the game. The goal came back in the first period when Rangers’ team captain scored a power-play goal to tie the game 1-1.
3. Bad penalties
With a 48-game schedule and every game meaning something, NHL teams need to do everything they can to make sure they play a disciplined style of hockey.
In two games so far this season, the Rangers have taken a lot of bad penalties and it has ended up hurting them on the scoreboard. On Saturday night against the Bruins, the Blueshirts took three penalties in a span of nine minutes and were lucky to kill off all three as Lundqvist stood tall for his team.
Against the Penguins, however, bad penalties ended up hurting them. The Penguins scored two power-play goals as James Neal’s first goal of the game was on the power play and Pascal Dupuis scored with the man advantage to give his team a 4-1 lead just over nine minutes into the second period.
Last season, the Rangers were fifth in the league in penalty killing with an 86.2 per cent success rate. This season, the team is ninth at 83.3 but still needs to work on not taking so many penalties as they lead the league in the times that they have been shorthanded this season with 12.