After perusing the Internet to measure the pulse of Ranger fans following the Rangers losses to the Devils and Senators, I find myself in the same position that Kevin Bacon’s character did at the end of Animal House when the town of Faber is in riot-mode following the zany antics of those Delta Tau Chi rapscallions.
The funny thing is that anyone who knows me knows that I am probably the last person you would expect to be extolling a stance of “Remain calm, all is well!”
Even with the Blueshirts in the midst of a two-game losing streak (and three of their last four) there is still time to take a step back, pause, and realize it is not time to go into panic mode – even the losing streak continues with a loss in Chicago to the Blackhawks.
On the plus side, the Rangers have been nothing but reliable when it comes to the back-to-back games – as pointed out by Brett Cyrgalis in today’s NY Post.
“With Friday night’s game in Chicago, the Rangers will complete their 12th of 14 back-to-backs this season. Thursday night’s loss took their season record in the first game to 8-1-3 (3-0-0 at home, 5-1-3 on the road),” Cyrgalis points out. “In the second game, they are 8-1-2 (6-0-0 at home, 2-1-2 on the road). Since 2009-10, the team is 29-9-4 in the second game of back-to-backs, with a 15-3-1 mark at the Garden and 14-6-3 on the road over that span.”
Just as important to the Rangers and their fans is that the Chicago game kicks off the final stretch of the season that will see the Blueshirts play 10 of their final 15 games at home, including a seven-game homestand that begins Sunday night against the Islanders.
While the Rangers will be playing every other day, they don’t have to worry about travel and can probably get in a couple of really good practices – something the team needs in order to counter the ills that Coach John Tortorella has noticed of late.
“I think we are beating ourselves sometimes in the game and finding ways to lose,” Coach Tortorella said following the Ottawa loss. “We are just going to keep working at our game and trying to chip out the mistakes.”
There is an obvious physical fatigue that is affecting the Rangers play when you factor in the injured players (like Brandon Dubinsky and Michael Sauer) and the hurt players (too numerous to mention). In that respect, the Blueshirts are no different than any other team in the NHL at this point in the season.
In addition to the physical fatigue, it seems that the Rangers are going through a mental fatigue as well. The Rangers European Vacation and North American Tour to start the season made a long season even longer. Then when you consider that almost every win has been a life-and-death struggle, it becomes clear that the Rangers are a fatigued team.
It all points back to Tortorella’s idea that the Rangers are beating themselves and finding ways to lose. The plays that they were making earlier in the season have morphed into turnovers. The bullets that they were dodging because Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Biron were erasing mistakes are now turning into deflection and screened goals.
Of course, all of these bumps in the road are magnified by the Rangers inconsistent offense which is keyed by their moribund power play that is 29th in the NHL (just ahead of the Coyotes).
How bad has the power play gotten? Instead of concentrating on scoring goals it is if the Rangers are practicing “Primum non nocere” – “First, do no harm”. In other words, as long as the Rangers don’t give up a shorthanded goal it can be considered a good power play opportunity. A successful power play would be one where the momentum doesn’t shift to the opponent.
I have said it before and will continue to say it, the Rangers power play needs more movement of the puck and, more importantly, of the players. When the Rangers move themselves and the puck you get games like the one they had ion Philadelphia on February 11 when three power play goals powered the Blueshirts to a 5-2 victory.
In the end, the only way the Rangers are going to “right the ship” is by playing the way they have up until this point of the season. They have to outwork their opponents shift-by-shift. The Rangers are not a talented enough team to win on talent alone.
Marian Gaborik might have summed it best while speaking to Andrew Gross of The Record, “We just have to play better and support each other more in the neutral zone and play straight ahead. We have to play together as five.”
As nice as it would to have the best record in hockey – and thus have home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs – it is more important that the Rangers get back to playing Rangers hockey. They are already used to playing tight checking playoff hockey. Now they have to get back to being that team again.