Amid unmet high expectations, from the start of the season there have been endless, sometimes conflicting explanations for what is wrong with the New York Rangers. After last night’s crushing 5-3 defeat to the Islanders, perhaps the most dispiriting loss of the season, the bafflement continues.
Let’s start at the very beginning:
- The team’s slow start was due to a very difficult 9 game road trip against the best in the West.
- With a new coach, the team had to learn a new system, more concentrated on offense.
- Key injuries to Ryan Callahan, Rick Nash, Carl Hagelin deprived the team of top 6 performers.
- Lundqvist suffered an undisclosed injury, though playing through it was not himself.
- The team lacked fighters, or at least grinders.
As the season continues:
- Playing 9 games at home creates extra pressure to perform.
- The coach is still learning the players and searching for the right line combinations.
- Callahan and now Marc Staal are injured.
- There is no longer talk of Lundqvist’s injury, but did the glove get smaller too?
- The team lacks scorers, fighters, grinders.
If a team finds both road trips and home stands difficult, there is no other place to win. The fact of the matter is that most of the team has underachieved. This is mostly the same group who achieved a greater level of success in the past; one could now argue it overachieved. Outside of Ryan McDonagh, who had a tough time last night with bouncing pucks, no single regular player has exceeded expectations. Cam Talbot would be a part time candidate and it may be time to play him more while Lundqvist gets a reinvigorating vacation…he wants to “be better.”
When essentially the same group performs differently for 2 different coaches the answer is often found in the coach’s approach. This is not only a system question, but also a motivation question. The former coach, John Tortorella, was quite disrespectful to the press who only have jobs because the fans want information about the team they love. I took his rough treatment of the mild-mannered and thoughtful Sam Rosen, for instance, as an insult to the fans as well. What was the real story of his treatment of the players behind closed doors? Whatever it was, the players seemed better prepared to compete night in and night out, every shift. I never thought I would say it but coach Alain Vigneault could stand to channel a bit of Torts’ disrespect to right all of these wrongs.