With this being April 1, it would have been easy to come up with an April’s Fool’s joke involving the Rangers. However, after last night’s absolute horror show on Long Island, that would have been redundant. Besides, Rick Carpiniello of the Journal News pulled off a good one on his Rangers Report Blog .
Come to think of it, pulling an April’s Fool’s joke would not only be redundant it would be cruel given the reaction of some Ranger fans. Granted, the Blueshirts hold on the playoffs has taken hit this week.
In the space of two games, their seven point lead on Carolina is down to three points with the Hurricanes holding a game in hand – and the Rangers are tied with Buffalo who also has a game in hand.
If that were not bad enough, the Rangers face their final back-to-back set of games when they play In Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon and then host Boston the next night – with no rest in sight for Henrik Lundqvist.
Before taking that final step off the cliff, fans need to take a deep breath and take a step back. As bad as it looks – and it doesn’t look too good at first glance – the Rangers still control their own playoff destiny. The one thing they do not control is their ability to set their playoff seeding.
The question that must be addressed was last night’s 6-2 loss to the Islanders an aberration or a harbinger of bad things to come?
The Blueshirts two-game losing streak comes on the heels of an 8-1-1 streak that enabled the Rangers to regain control of their playoff destiny. Teams go through ebbs and flows during the season – it just seems that the Rangers some time pick the wrong time to ebb.
The problem is not the two-game losing streak. The problem is the team’s last five games have only produced five goals – which is a big contrast to the Rangers scoring 32 goals in their previous seven games. Incredibly, the Rangers are 2-2-1 in those five games – a testament to the work they have been receiving from The King.
While the Rangers have struggled to score goals all season long, this discrepancy is stark and troubling. It is giving the Rangers no margin for error in games.
During their 0-5-1 stretch in late-January to mid-February, the Rangers fortunes would have been far different had they scored one more goal per game. Their shootout loss to Pittsburgh becomes a win and adds a much-needed extra point. The four one-goal losses become overtime/shootout games which would add at least four additional points. Even one goal in the 2-0 loss to Montreal would have produced a point because the Habs scored an empty-net goal.
Perhaps the most telling point that came out of the losses to the Sabres is how the Rangers could muster lackluster efforts at best at a critical point in their season.
After turning in a performance that Coach John Tortorella referred to as “[it was] like it was Game 25 instead of Game 77}”, the Rangers all but phoned in their effort against Islanders. The lone bright spot was that Lundqvist didn’t get hurt and was able to get the third period off as Chad Johnson mopped up for the Rangers.
Andrew Gross in his NorthJeresy.com Blog offered up a possible answer as to the Rangers “tentative” play.
“Coach John Tortorella, because of the person he is, is a little tense right now. Just a theory, but the rest of the team may be picking up on that,” Gross wrote.
“Tortorella’s post-game press conference was pretty short. He said whatever thoughts he had were between him and his team and he would not be discussing anything. Actually, probably a good move for him. He’s got to be seething right now and better to say nothing than to say the wrong thing.”
Even if that were true, it is still a “chicken-and-the-egg” question. Are the Rangers tense because that is the way the coach is acting or is the coach acting that was because the team is playing tense and not getting the job done?
In my opinion, I think the coach is reflecting the mood of the team. You can use Marian Gaborik as an example. Think back to the times when he has been able to be a force on offense. It has come at times when he is an “autopilot” so to speak. When he has been in the follow it has been because he is getting the puck in a good position and just shooting. When he has struggled, and it has been almost a full season of struggles, it seems it happens when he over thinks and passes up good shots look for the perfect shot.
Quite frankly, that pretty much sums up the entire Rangers offensive philosophy – especially on the power play. They look to be too fine and strive to find that perfect shot, rather than get into good shooting position/lanes and put pucks on goal with traffic in front of the net – which is a problem in and of itself.
Watch any Ranger game and notice how poorly positioned the Rangers are – especially their forwards. I am a big proponent of “ice balance” which means you don’t have three forwards fighting for the puck below the goal line and opening yourself up top yet another odd-man rush. It means the defense stays on their side and doesn’t cut over to play the puck – thus leaving an open lane to the Rangers net.
Probably my biggest gripe in regards to ice balance comes when the Rangers forwards absolutely refuse to go the front of the net/top of the crease. Far too often forwards are at the side of net and are out of position for rebounds or to even screen a goalie.
I know it sounds like a small thing, but in the grand scheme of things it is these small things that fuel the bigger picture. In the big picture of an NHL game, one goal doesn’t seem like all that much, but when you are struggling top score goals it becomes the difference in getting points and getting left out of the playoffs.
Just think how big it would have been just to score one more goal per game in that 0-5-1 streak. An extra goal a game is the difference between fighting for their playoff lives and having 93 points and being a combination of two points away from clinching a playoff spot.