Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Rangers Need Answers to Questions

Two months into this young NHL season, it is obvious who the weakest division is. 

The Metropolitan Division in the Eastern Conference has become the joke of the NHL right now. The Pittsburgh Penguins have been the only consistent team so far this season while the Washington Capitals have come on strong of late and may be finding their stride behind captain Alex Ovechkin. 

So who wants that third spot in the Metropolitan Division? The New York Rangers would seem to be the odds on favorite to secure the third spot, but have had trouble putting back to back wins together and have lost three in a row to under achieving teams. 

After starting the season with a treacherous nine game road trip where the Blueshirts went 3-6, and a home opening loss to Montreal, it seemed as if the Rangers were in for a long season with their star goaltender in the final year of his contract. The Rangers struggled to find the back of the net while opponents were peppering the back of theirs. 

Then came a favorable stretch of games where the Rangers would begin to elevate their game to the level everyone expected. A three game winning streak against mediocre to bad teams was halted by the mighty Anaheim Ducks, but the Rangers bounced back with a blowout win against Pittsburgh and two more wins against the basement of the Eastern Conference. 

Winning five out of six helped this team regain their mojo....or at least everyone thought they did. 

Since that last three game winning streak, the Rangers have been the most inconsistent team around. Win a game then lose a game, win two games then lose two games, and finally lose three games in a row. That is not exactly the recipe for success in any sport.

Now the Rangers, and their fans, are left wondering what their identity is and why they are sitting at 15-16-1 after thirty two games. 

Two years ago the Rangers were the top seed in the Eastern Conference and reached the Conference Finals. Last season they added Rick Nash to boost their offense, and in a lockout shortened season reached the Conference Semi's while underachieving all year. 

The John Tortorella coached teams of the last few years had an identity. They worked hard in the corners, blocked shots, and their Vezina Trophy winning goaltender stood on his head at times to help steal games. The Rangers were opportunists on the offensive end and relied on timely scoring to win games. 

The 2013 Rangers, under new head coach Alain Vigneault, still have not created an identity for themselves as evident in their current struggles. 

Who is to blame for this lack of success so far this season?

Answer: Everyone

There is no one area of the Rangers that stands out as the sole reason the Rangers have struggled this season. The offense is not there on a consistent basis, the defense has been exposed many times this year, and Henrik Lundqvist has not been the Hank that everyone knows he has been. 

Don't get all flustered and enraged with the calling out of Lundqvist this season. Some of the blame has to fall on him. He has a habit of letting soft goals, and letting them in at the worst times. He still makes his spectacular saves that make fans sit there in awe, but the consistency has not been there from Hank. And let's get one thing straight, Cam Talbot will not be the full time starting goalie on the New York Rangers any time soon. 

 Lundqvist has been the Rangers best players by far since his rookie season in 2005-06. Expect him to get back to being the All-World goaltender who won the 2006 Olympic Gold, and who posted back-to-back shutouts against Washington in last years playoffs. 

As for the rest of the team, who knows where to begin. 

Bad penalties, inconsistent offense, and poor play in front of their own net have doomed the Rangers so far this season, not to mention the lack of effort on a consistent basis. 

There have been a few bright spots on the team in Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello helping to spark the offense, and Ryan McDonagh running the point on the power play, but the bad out shines the good right now on the Rangers.

It also looks like AV is starting to get the Tortorella syndrome with the switching of the lines. How many times last night were the lines switched against Nashville? Chemistry does not happen over night. 

Somehow AV needs to get this team to buy into his system, help this team gain their identity, and start reeling off some wins. 

How he will do it is yet to be seen.

Do they look to move Del Zotto and get a top six forward? 

Do they stand behind their current team and believe they have the pieces to make a Cup run?

The Rangers have many questions. Will they be answered, and will they be the answers we want?

The only thing we know is they will have to do it without Marc Staal who has a concussion, and Ryan Callahan who is out for 4-6 weeks. 

by: Josef Schaetzle  (@Schaetz23)

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