Here we go again. Following two wins, including a pretty energetic one against the Devils, there was hope that the Rangers could finally tally a string of victories together. Instead, we again witness an underwhelming loss against an underwhelming opponent. So ends the streak, so start the questions again about the morale of the team, where the offense is, and what it's going to take to get this team going. Credit to Markstrom, one of the top young goaltenders in the world, for a well-played game. And the refs didn't help their case with a couple of phantom calls. But the Rangers didn't get the job done against an injured, mediocre Panthers team. Let's look at some post-game thoughts:
The Powerplay: The past few years the struggles of the powerplay could largely been blamed on personnel. Last year, for instance, we saw John Mitchell centering the second unit. Clearly, not a good starting point. But this year it's hard to argue that the Rangers don't have the players necessary to have, at the absolute least, a middle of the pack powerplay.
So where do we go from here? Mike Sullivan's duties go well beyond the powerplay. He is in charge of the defensive units, and defensively the team has been largely successful. And a good chemistry between coaches is important. Tortorella and he have a good rapport and that's a good thing. But at some point pride has to be swallowed. It's just not working. Even if we count out Richards and Gaborik, who have been battling their own demons it seems, Nash, Del Zotto, Stepan, Callahan, Hagelin. That's too much talent to have the second worst powerplay in the NHL. Most NHL teams have two assistant coaches. The Rangers have one. Why not add someone else with some new ideas? You can still keep Sullivan and let him stick to the other areas. But right now status quo isn't working.
Richards, Gaborik, and Boyle: There's been a lot of talk about "team depth" and how Tortorella "refuses to adapt" to the makeup of this team. Now, there is probably some truth to that. But if we're trying to diagnose the shortcomings of this team, that's not at the top of the list by any means. Instead, let's look at what I see as the clear root of the problem.
Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik, and Brian Boyle are three veterans, three guys who have played plenty under John Tortorella, and three guys who have proven that they can score under John Tortorella. Gaborik had 41 goals last season. Brad Richards had 25. Brian Boyle had 11. I don't think those numbers are at all atypical of what would be reasonable to expect from them. Except this season they are struggling offensively, and so are the Rangers.
These three have combined for 14 goals this season. That's it. And the Rangers are ranked 28th in the NHL in goals per game with an average of 2.27. If Richards, Gaborik, and Boyle were scoring at the same rate this season as they did last, they'd have a combined 28 goals. Or 14 more. Which would jump the team's goals per game up to 2.73, good for 13th in the NHL.
Does this mean that all of the problems boil down to those three? Of course not. Thirteenth in the NHL is still not fantastic. But it IS a hell of a lot better than where the Rangers are, and it would be a big enough difference to put the Rangers well cemented in a playoff spot and perhaps even challenging Pittsburgh for the division. Yes, some depth has been lost, but this is the real issue. Prust or Fedotenko were not making the difference offensively. Richards and Gaborik were, and to an extent Boyle. Again, these are three veterans who have played for Tortorella and succeeded under his system. Thus, it would be pretty silly to conclude that they can't play in his system or that Tortorella is holding them back. They know what their jobs are. They know how Tortorella wants them to play, and they are capable of it. These are not young, inexperienced guys like JT MIller and Chris Kreider whom Tortorella can really make a big impression on and change. He shouldn't need to babysit two of the highest paid players on the team. Ultimately, we can go down the list of every little thing wrong with depth and Tortorella's use of them and whatever. I'm not saying they're inexistant. What I'm saying is that it's missing the forest for the trees. Gaborik scored tonight, and good for him to break that slump, but it came on his eigth shot and at a time that was very late in the game. All three of these guys, but Richards and Gabby especially, have no tactics or coach or scheme or anything to blame for their lack of tangible offense except themselves. And there's no coaching of Miller or Asham or Pyatt or Halpern or anyone else that is going to make up for that.
Kreider and Miller: Well, let's move on to the silver lining. Which is that Kreider and Miller played well together tonight. Miller has been doing his thing for a while, but Kreider, in his first game since being recalled, has to feel pretty good about how he performed. Even while the Rangers largely looked comatose, the third line was getting pucks deep, battling for them, and putting pressure on the Panthers. Kreider was skating well and with intent, whereas he was coasting a bit unsure of where to be in his previous stint. And credit does have to be given to Boyle tonight despite me ripping on him previously because he played his role in that and allowed the this line to build pressure with 10 faceoff wins on 10 attempts.Hopefully, it can be used as a building block, because if Richards and Gabby get it together the play of these two together could give the Rangers three legitimate lines. As Tortorella said, we all know that Kreider has all of the talent in the world. It's about him bringing it consistently. Good first step for him.
I don't really know what else to say. Lundqvist did his part, but that's status quo and irrelevant to painting the picture of what happened tonight. There are some other guys who played well but nobody who really stood out and made that difference. Esepcially if our top guys aren't going to do it, somebody is going to have to even if it's unfair to expect as much. Because otherwise, it's going to be a long, tortorous remainder of the season.
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