But team can boast of three-game winning streak against tough competition
BY CHAYIM TAUBER
Case in point, the Rangers are on a three game win streak; the last of which was a shootout victory over the Bruins that serves as something of a microcosm for the early part of the season.
The Rangers jumped out to an early lead on the strength of an unbelievable highlight reel goal set up by Rick Nash. Nash beat a defender to the outside, made a move to the inside, and got a pass off to Hagelin from his back after being tripped. The Rangers succeeded to tack on two more goals and build a comfortable 3-0 lead.
Throughout the game, Henrik Lundqvist made a statement and a loud one. Much as he did the other night against Tampa Bay, Henrik Lundqvist did everything a human being possibly could to maintain his team’s lead. He rebuffed breakaways, he smothered rebounds, and he practically did the impossible with regularity. Lundqvist put the league on notice that the inconsistent play that plagued him in the season’s opening weeks is gone. The man that won the Vezina trophy as the best goaltender on the planet last season is back.
The kids who’ve been maligned most of the season, Carl Hagelin and Derek Stepan in particular, had played a phenomenal game. And then, Mr. Hyde reared his ugly head.
That the Rangers Power Play was ineffective is no surprise to anyone. The Bruins have the top Penalty Kill in the NHL and the Rangers rank a woeful 29th on the Power Play. The Power Play’s been so awful that Coach Tortorella essentially gave up on figuring it out earlier in the week, handing the reigns over to the players.
“All the coaches felt that we were giving them just a little bit too much and I think that turns into player’s thinking, and it ends up being too stagnant… We just want them to play,” said Tortorella.
After showcasing the power play’s futility, the Rangers then fell back on another season-long storyline: penalties.
The Rangers committed what was unbelievably their sixth “Too Many Men on the Ice” penalty of the season. That alone was enough to leave Coach Tortorella apoplectic but to their credit, the Rangers penalty kill successfully killed it off (Darroll Powe, Ryan Callahan, and Dan Girardi in particular shined on the penalty kill). It was a Rick Nash penalty in the third period that opened up the flood gates and allowed the Bruins their first goal.
Penalties and giveaways have been the Achilles heel of the Rangers all season. It’s a problem to which Tortorella doesn’t have much of a solution.
“Don’t do it,” Tortorella said regarding the giveaways and penalties.
Easier said than done. Constantly playing a man down and their futility with the man advantage sapped the Rangers of all the momentum they had accrued and left them swimming upstream. In the last two minutes of the game, with their goaltender on the bench in favor of the extra attacker, the Bruins struck twice to tie the game and force overtime.
That the Rangers escaped with a shootout victory is something of an afterthought. It’s that with everything finally going right, the Rangers found a way to shoot themselves in the foot that is so alarming.
Last season, the Rangers let Lundqvist carry them and were actually one of the more disciplined teams in the league. That they are suddenly incapable of executing a simple line change is more than alarming. For all of the highlight reel Rick Nash rushes or top shelf Gaborik wristers, there seems to be a bad penalty or giveaway right around the corner waiting to nullify it.
What’s the takeaway for Ranger fans?
The Rangers problems don’t seem to be the skill. Unlike last year’s squad; a squad that could be described as all heart without much offensive talent, this years’ squad can score. Nash is a stud. Gaborik has 6 goals. Brad Richards is streaky but when he gets hot, is a great playmaker. The young players: JT Miller, Chris Kreider, Carl Hagelin, and Derek Stepan are all highly skilled and have produced in some way or another this season. Darroll Powe essentially replaces Tortorella favorite Brandon Prust and Arron Asham is an upgrade over Mike Rupp. Ryan Callahan is still the heart and soul of this squad.
So where the hell did this lack of discipline come from?
Mental toughness has been a Ranger staple for years and right now, it seems to be an inconsistent Ranger team’s biggest question mark. If they hope to live up to their Stanley Cup aspirations, they’d better figure it out and clean it up, quickly.