The Rangers 2013 season has potential to be great, but lockout has caused early season chemistry problems
BY CHAYIM TAUBER
They were one game, one Adam Henrique goal away, from the Stanley Cup finals. And they couldn’t score. This year, they are retooled and primed to go far. Suddenly, the New York Rangers are a trendy pick as the Stanley Cup favorites.
The reasons why are simple. They returned last season’s Vezina trophy winner, Henrik Lundqvist to his rightful post between the pipes giving them an instant advantage over most. The physical, grueling style of play that they had to sustain over the course of an 82 game season (followed three rounds of postseason play) had them utterly exhausted in the playoffs. The condensed 48 game schedule the NHL’s adopted for this season thanks to the lockout should make Coach John Tortorella’s shot-block-heavy game plan much more pragmatic and sustainable.
Marian Gaborik, the Rangers leader in goals and points in two of his three seasons on Broadway, had shoulder surgery in the offseason and was expected to miss the first half of the season. Thanks to the lockout, Gaborik doesn’t miss a single game. He’s been at each practice the Rangers have had since the lockout’s ended, sparing the Rangers the unenviable task of having to go to battle without their top offensive threat for the first half of the season.
Although, it must be noted, Marian Gaborik isn’t the only offensive threat on the Rangers anymore.
The Rangers immediately addressed their offensive deficiencies by nabbing the biggest fish in the pond, 6’4 Left Winger Rick Nash, in a blockbuster trade this past offseason. The Rangers gave up a lot to obtain him, sending over fan favorites Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov, blue-line prospect Tim Erixon, and a first round pick but managed to retain all of the big pieces they were loath to trade (Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan, and Chris Kreider namely). In return, they acquired Rick Nash – a goal scorer with a rare blend of size and speed who has tallied over 30 goals in 7 of his 9 NHL seasons.
All nine of those seasons were with the Columbus Blue Jackets, a team so utterly inept that Nash often found himself shadowed all game as he was the only offensive threat the team had. Now he joins a roster with marquee talent like Gaborik, Brad Richards, and neophyte Chris Kreider and his scoring potential is through the roof because of it.
Through the first two games of the season, Nash has easily been the Rangers best player, inspiring Tortorella to say “you can see he’s for real.” The Rangers haven’t had someone who can carry the puck with that kind of size since Jagr was wearing blue. Nash’s ceiling is very, very high once the lines are figured out and he develops some chemistry with his new teammates (one of the obvious facets in which the lockout has hurt the Rangers.)
In addition to the chemistry that needs to develop overnight, the lockout has hurt the Rangers in one other aspect. Coach Tortorella is famous for his dreaded skate-test and conditioning practices at the beginning of each camp. He uses the first week of training camp to build up the conditioning of his players for the long haul. Their conditioning was a huge advantage for the Rangers last season as they are a team that stress defensive responsibility, forechecking, and shot blocking – in short, the “hustle plays.” Tortorella had no choice but to forego his rigorous conditioning drills and to this point in the season, it sadly shows.
The Rangers have been thoroughly outclassed by their Eastern Conference rivals in the first two games of the season in virtually every aspect of the game. They’ve come out lethargic, undisciplined (early penalties in both games essentially doomed them), and out of sync.
“I don’t think we can label it one thing,” said Rangers captain Ryan Callahan, “I don’t think we were strong in really any aspect. We have some things we need to work on.”
They were beaten up physically in Boston and picked apart with a surgical precision by Pittsburgh’s finesse offense. Everything from taking bad penalties, to committing turnovers in the defensive zone and even line changes has been awful for the Rangers at the onset of this condensed season. In a season where each game is worth double, the Rangers don’t look like the Rangers at all. The shot blocking, grit, the sheer will to win that defined last season’s squad seems to be missing and they don’t have much time to find it.
“It’s only been two games so no, I don’t think we’re pushing the panic button, but it’s not the start we wanted, and we’ve got to get back to work,” said new Rangers star Rick Nash.
Nash has been about the only bright spot for the Rangers. He was clearly the best player on the ice when he was out there and he inspired a visibly irritated Coach Tortorella to admit that “you can see he’s the real deal.”
The “real deal” tallied his first goal in Rangers blue against the Pens (shorthanded no less) causing the starved Rangers fan base to erupt. The air of excitement and expectations that surround this team is unlike any in recent memory. Captain Ryan Callahan admitted “this is the highest expectations have been since I’ve been here.”
The Rangers fans have bought in to the “cup contender” moniker and are rallying behind this Rangers team in a big way. The ground literally shook when Ryan Callahan tied the game up against Pittsburgh and 17,000 blue-clad fists punched the air in tune with the Rangers Goal-Song.
Coach Tortorella has said that his team needs to be “woken up” and most believe it’s only a matter of time. In a season that’s more of a sprint than a marathon, the Rangers need to find their identity and do it quickly. When they do, they’ll find a rabid fan-base awaiting with great expectations for the 2013 season.