First and foremost, thanks to Carp for giving me a spot in the lineup. Most appreciated.
Here we are, folks. A dozen games in the books already. Twenty-five percent of the schedule done, just like that.
Sure, a truncated 48-game season is better than no season at all. But it hasn’t started out the way most of Ranger Nation thought it would. A team that came within six wins of capturing the Stanley Cup last season shouldn’t have stumbled out of the gate, right?
When you don’t play together as a team for nearly eight months, there’s going to be some rust.
When you don’t go through Camp Tortorella, setting the foundation for the season, there’s going to be some mistakes. And in some cases, plenty of them.
We’ve seen a little bit of everything from the Rangers over these first 12 tilts. Things that make you pull for them with all your heart. Things that make you pull your hair out—like Tuesday night’s third-period meltdown in Beantown.
They sit with a 7-5 record after the 0-2 start that probably had many of you teetering on the ledge.
So what to make of it all?
Without any further adieu, here are a few of my observations (in no particular order):
1. 61-derful—Up until the Rangers acquired him in last July’s mega-deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Rick Nash was a polarizing figure amongst the Blueshirt faithful, with the contributors to this blog being no exception. However, the big guy has been nothing less than a powerful, energizing figure from game one. Granted, he only has three goals. But his play in all three zones in nothing short of outstanding. He makes all the prototypical power moves. He’s hard to take off the puck because of his body position. He’s got a pretty good set of wheels. The coach loves him. And that deke he put on Rask in the shootout was amazing. Great move getting Mr. Nash.
2. Not so special teams —Perhaps the NHL should adopt a rule enabling teams to decline penalties, just like they do in the NFL. That way, the Rangers wouldn’t have to put themselves and their fans through the pain of watching their powerless play go to work. What is especially alarming is their ineptitude with the 5 on 3. It’s already cost them valuable points in the standings. And the penalty killing (middle of the pack right now) certainly hasn’t been up to its usual standards. The absences of Brandon Prust, Brandon Dubinsky and Ruslan Fedotenko certainly have something to do with that.
3. Filling the need for more speed—As you go up and down the lineup, you see the Rangers certainly have some players who can wheel and deal. Hagelin, Kreider, Gaborik, Nash, J.T. Miller, Powe, Halpern, McMonster. All can really move. And the way the game is played today, you need that speed. Rupp couldn’t keep up, now he’s in Minny. That’s how it goes.
4. Rounding into royal form—It took nearly a month for Henrik Lundqvist to start playing like Henrik Lundqvist. But that’s what happens when a world-class athlete doesn’t have world-class competition, or any competition for that matter, for eight months. The King thrives on plenty of work. And it has taken him a quarter of the campaign to regain his Vezina Trophy winning form. As he goes, so go the Rangers. It’s that simple.
5. Changing their depth perception—The Rangers were certainly a top-heavy team for most of the first dozen games, with the Richards-Nash-Gaborik line being the focal point of their offense. But a couple of moves have taken the Rangers out of the depths with more depth. Ridding themselves of Mike Rupp and adding Darroll Powe gave them a player who could work third or fourth-line minutes with speed, snarl and penalty killing ability. Plus J.T. Miller and Chris Kreider have given the Rangers a solid third line along with Captain Callahan. Arron Asham and Jeff Halpern have looked good recently as well. Teams that roll four lines can make a lot of noise in the spring. Remember what the Devils fourth line did to the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals last season? ‘Nuff said.
6. Sometimes Brad, sometimes bad – Brad Richards will never fulfill the expectations of his lofty contract. But, he is a seasoned veteran with a season on Broadway under his belt. He should be adjusted. He should be more consistent. He should be putting more points on the board. Being a mentor to the kids is one thing. But that won’t get the Rangers to the top of Mount Stanley. And get him off the point on the powerless play, please!
7. Less than full Boyle—Brian Boyle has been a big disappointment thus far this season. Counted on in previous campaigns for solid third-line minutes and strong penalty killing duties, No. 22 has provided neither so far. Subsequently, he’s in the coach’s dog house and will hopefully learn from watching his teammates from the press box. This is a character player who can play at a much higher level than he’s shown. Not sure when he’ll get back into the lineup, though.
8. Stral stands tall
When you have Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal and Michael Del Zotto as your top four guys on the blue line, you know where the majority of the minutes are going to go. But Anton Stralman has been super solid again this year. A sound positional player with deceptive speed and a pretty good shot, No. 6 has become a mainstay on the Blueshirt backline. Perhaps he should man the right point on the powerless play.
9. Too many men, too many times—Twelve games. Six penalties for too many men on the ice. WTB? Change is supposed to be good for you.
10. Trying to find the grind—Last season, the Rangers imposed their will of plenty of their opponents, as they played a shutdown style that preserved many a lead. It was a part of their DNA. Their identity. That has been noticeably absent for much of the first dozen tilts. The only time we’ve really seen it was the third period last Sunday at the Garden against the Lightning. Certainly didn’t happen in the third period in Boston. To take another team’s will away is both a physical and mental thing. It’s how teams go deep in the play-ons. The Rangers need to get back to that. Fast.