The New York Rangers seem to be on the brink of truly becoming a solidified contender in the NHL. Despite being without franchise goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who suffered a neck injury back in January, the Rangers have had a 9-1-2 record. The combined efforts of this team have allowed them to creep ever closer to the division leading New York Islanders.
Despite the good fortune, and over all decent play, there are factors of the Rangers game that are somewhat disconcerting. The Rangers are ranked fourth in “goals for” with 183, yet ranked third in “goals against” with 140. At this point the Rangers scoring has overcome their mistakes, but how long can this team keep up this trend, and still succeed?
The Rangers played a strong defensive game Tuesday night shutting out the Calgary Flames 1-0. The offense played very well serving up significant chances despite team MVP Rick Nash being scratched with neck spasms. Despite significant offensive pressure the Rangers had only one goal to show against a streaky, and young Flames team.
No points, no victories are guaranteed in the NHL, and that is why the Rangers play though generally positive may cause concern. Whether its team psychology, or in game self-preservation the New York Rangers have had a bad habit of letting leads slip away. Anyone tuning into a Rangers radio broadcast can hear the lamentation of former captain, and color commentator Dave Malone frustrated that the Rangers play is at times too cute, or lacks enough jump to put a rival down.
There are only so many times missed calls like the non-called trip against the Islanders which lead to a huge momentum shift (if you haven’t seen it, go right now, it’s a classic), or similarly by Chris Kreider against the Flames, can aid the Rangers in their efforts to win a contest. The most recent example of lazy play came against the Columbus Blue Jackets where despite being up 3-0, Columbus managed to climb all the way back to force the game into a shootout.
Thanks to the collective efforts of Rick Nash, Martin St. Louis, a cross bar, and a nifty poke check, the Rangers gained the much needed extra point against the Blue Jackets. The struggles seem to sit right beneath the surface hidden by positive results. These issues are not the failings of an individual player, or coach. The team at times shows different personalities numerous times throughout the course a game.
The play shifts from brilliance, speed, and strength to guarded, laid back, and complacent. In Hernik Lundqvist’s absence the lapses in defensive play, as well as offensive pressure are drastically apparent, as Henrik is not available to make huge momentum shifting saves.
If you take a close look at the most recent games against, the Nashville Predators, the Dallas Stars, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Vancouver Canucks, and The Blue Jackets you can see the lack of consistency in the teams play. Against Nashville they let a early lead slip losing the game 3-2. Against an anemic Stars team they allowed them to push the pace sitting back as if not taking them seriously, and were very fortunate to earn a point in the loss.
Its difficult to bad mouth a victory yet against the Leafs the Rangers allowed a struggling team fight back twice having lead them 2-0, as well as 4-2, the game finished 5-4 thanks to late heroics by Mats Zuccarello.
The most heartbreaking of these games was against Vancouver where the Rangers again squandered an early lead, allowed the Canucks to hang around, and could not shut things down defensively, losing 5-4 in a shootout.
Taking a hard look at the Blue Jackets game, the Rangers came out very strong. Playing exceptional hockey, as they are like to do. They quickly took a 3-0 lead, yet after earning lead came relaxed and somewhat idle performance. Seasoned players are not exempt form this personality shift. Giveaways by Kevin Klein, and Marc Staal in their own end lead to the Blue Jackets first goal.
The Blue Jackets second goal of the game again came a result of casual play, as Klein, and Staal doubled up forward Nick Foligno as Artem Anisimov powered through the crease for slam-dunk goal. As the Rangers were unable to construct any offensive momentum the second period ended 3-2.
Almost as if content to let this game ride to a 3-2 victory, the Rangers again failed to apply any offensive zone pressure tallying one shot on goal in the entire third period. Despite the team being sharper defensively the Rangers goaltender Cam Talbot conceded a third somewhat weak goal off of a fairly visible shot from just beneath the blue line. So it was on to another unpredictable shootout.
It should not have to come to that. Its becoming apparent that the Rangers need to feel uncomfortable with a lead, and never take it for granted. They must be able to closeout a close game in regulation especially against teams currently outside of, or fighting for playoff position.
Hopefully when Henrik Lundqvist comes back the habit of relinquishing leads will be behind them. It must if the Rangers plan on reaching the Stanley Cup Finals once again this year.