Back in the City
The Rangers will pay for their lack of physicality
when the Tax Man Cometh in Spring
In the spate of three games, Tex's Rangers knocked off the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks and the Columbus Blue Jackets both on the road, then completed a sweep of their home and home against the Blue Jackets in Saturday night's season opener at Madison Square Garden.
They accumulated six quick points along the way, while doubling up their opponents by a 12 to 6 goal margin.
That's quite a first week of hockey.
Game 1: Wednesday @ Chicago - Season Opener
After a lengthy Stanley Cup banner raising ceremony, the Rangers ruined an otherwise glorious night for Blackhawk fans. In the days leading up to the season opener, the Miller/Stalberg/Lindberg forward line generated the most concern. As such, Oscar Lindberg dampened the mood right away with an opening goal at the 1:48 mark of the 1st.
The Blackhawks finally tied the game at the 14:24 mark. But he Rangers responded with two more 1st period goals by Kevin Klein and Derek Stepan providing the difference in a 3-2 victory.
Game 2: Friday @ Columbus
MattZuccs opened the scoring, but despite a 1-1 tie through two periods, the Blue Jackets arguably outplayed the Blueshirts. Columbus, however, was unable to convert on four power play opportunities.
The Blue Jackets out-shot the Rangers by a 23-16 margin. In the 3rd period, Brandon Saad's finally converted Columbus' fifth PP opportunity of the game giving the Blue Jackets a 2-1 lead.
Columbus then fell apart like wet toilet paper. The Rangers registered three unanswered goals within span of just 1:14 allowing the Rangers to escape Ohio with their second victory of the season.
Game 3: Saturday @ MSG - Home Opener
An immediate fore-check resulted in three costly Blue Jackets defensive zone turnovers. The Rangers cashed in on all three, and led 3-0 after just 5:48 of play. Two Columbus goals late in the 3rd period gave Tex's Rangers opening night game its 5-2 final score.
When the Rangers have their choreography down, sometimes Vigneault's system is a true marvel to behold. Look no further than Columbus, whom are regarded as an early Eastern Conference favorite, not to mention one of the Conference's toughest teams. Yet, the Rangers took them completely out of their game, sparing themselves from Columbus' more punishing style of play.
The above reflects Alain Vigneault's emphasis on effort and proper positioning on defense, effective fore-checking, puck possession, then generally staying ahead of any disruptive physicality with quick decision making and passing, and of course, skating with speed. He wants his defensemen passing the puck out of the zone quickly, and he wants his forwards in deep.
The Rangers will play well and accumulate many points this season. I have no doubt they'll be an upper echelon Metropolitan Division force. But, they will continue sustaining big hits along the way. Just remember getting hit, exchanging hits, and initiating hits, all effect games differently.
Said another way, my eyes tell me very little regarding the Rangers overall condition has changed.
Vigneault wants to stay a step ahead, but opposing forwards are still following through and punishing his defensemen nonetheless. The blue liners are blocking pucks, getting pounded from behind, and getting pushed off the puck by bigger forwards. Teams know it's open season on Blue Shirts. They know retaliation, for the most part, won't come.
And frankly, Tanner Glass is not the answer - at least not by himself. Since I'm going there, when do you actually see Marc Staal use his body to separate forwards from the puck? He poke-checks you death, but he won't hit you, much. How many times can Girardi get blasted from behind? How many cheap shots will the Rangers allow their goalie to endure? I already witnessed my first questionable indiscretion against Henrik that went unaddressed. The next incident is just a matter of time.
Yet, the Rangers get by defensively with superior positioning, stick work, and quick exits out of the zone.
Right now, everything is great. But over the course of the season, this style will wear on them, again. Alain Vigneault wants to get things done based on talent, and talent alone. But I will forever maintain you can't win without a complimentary measure of toughness.
If the Rangers were tougher, they wouldn't have gone as long as they did against the Washington Capitals, whom punished the Rangers, but succumbed to their better coach and collective skill. By Round Three however, the Rangers were bruised, battered, and spent. Their forward lines mustered nothing in Game Seven against the Bolts.
Simply put, the Rangers never had the forwards that get deep and punish defensemen off the puck. Instead, the Rangers forwards are the ones getting pushed off. When I watch Rick Nash get bumped around, I just shake my head. He lacks killer instinct in that respect. He's great when well fed, but left to stalk his own prey, not so much (not for his size and skill).
King Henrik's Taxes:
All this means Henrik Lundqvist will once again be asked to carry the heaviest load, and make 100 saves a game. That said, Lunqvist (now 33-yrs old) has faced 106 shots on goal, and has stopped exactly 100 through the first three games of the season.
The problem is this:
- Game One - CHI 39 SOG; NYR 29 SOG
- Game Two - CBJ 33 SOG; NYR 25 SOG
- Game Three - CBJ 34 SOG; NYR 27 SOG
- Total - Opponents 106 SOG; NYR 81 SOG
The Rangers are operating at a deficit.
Never too early to do the right thing:
Performance wise, salary cap wise, locker room wise, and particularly fan wise, Dan Boyle has officially become the 800-pound gorilla on the roster. He is a problem.
Meanwhile, there's a potential solution. Some of what the Rangers lack physically, and on defense, could potentially be addressed by giving Dylan McIlrath regular ice time. It's not so much a case of Boyle's inadequacies, it's just that McIlrath addresses more important, physical matters that ultimately affect everyone, most importantly Henrik Lundqvist.
And let's face it - McIlrath can't do any worse. Three games into the season may seem hasty, but this issue has lingered far longer than that.
The Rangers don't have to eat his salary, just make Boyle the odd man out.