The Rangers’ West Coast Embarrassment Tour

It’s Day 12 of the Yankees’ offseason. The Giants’ season was officially (yes, finally) ended last night in Chicago. That means between now and April 1 the only thing I have left is the Rangers’ season, but with the way that’s going there’s a good chance I will have to turn my interests to the NBA or college basketball or curling or maybe start reading more or finally learn how to cook more than just-add-water pancakes and pasta.

Game 1 in Phoenix was a letdown after 131 days without Rangers hockey and it being Opening Night and the opponent being the Coyotes, whose big offseason signing was Mike Ribeiro.

Game 2 was what I expected from the 2013-14 Rangers with an impressive 3-1 win over the Kings (even if the third goal was in the Tuukka Rask tier of gift goals).

Game 3 in San Jose was a disaster, not only because the final score was 9-2, but because the Rangers led 3:27 into the game on a power-play goal (yes, those exist) and under five minutes later were trailing 2-1 as part of a six-unanswered-goal barrage. Even in this defeat you could chalk it up as an early-season loss on the West Coast as part of this season-opening road trip that is more like a rock band’s tour than a professional sports team’s road trip with the length of it. You could make the case that the Rangers were tired after playing in Los Angeles the night before and then having to travel from Southern California to Northern California. But the excuses, if any are even valid or reasonable, end there.

Then there’s Thursday night in Anaheim. What the eff was that? Seriously, what the eff was that? I could just go the route Ryan Callahan did in explaining what happened, starting with the first period, when he said, “I don’t have an explanation for you,” but let’s try to explain it and let’s try to explain what has gone wrong during the first four games of the season. And let’s use Alain Vigneault’s postgame to try to explain it.

On if there are any signs of improvement.

“It’s tough to say there were signs of improvement in a 6-0 loss, that being said though, I thought tonight we tried until the end. Obviously we’re not playing very well right now and there are probably a lot of theories out there as to why we’re not playing the way we should be playing, but our reality is really quite simple. We’re going to get up tomorrow morning and we’re going to go back to work. We’re going to work ourselves into the team that I believe we can be, which is a smart-working, hard-working hockey team that can make plays and right now we’re having tough times making plays with puck.”

Vigneault started this answered by stumbling around for the right words to begin his answer before using “that being said” which will always make me think of Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld’s “having said that” exchange in Curb Your Enthusiasm.

“Trying until the end” isn’t going to cut it for this team (and shouldn’t cut it for any team). There’s no need to always try to find some positive out of an embarrassing effort. Not everything needs to have some silver lining and a 6-0 loss two nights after a 9-2 loss certainly doesn’t.

On whether the team has no confidence.

“That’s always the word that’s thrown out there. We’re being tested as a team, as a group. We’re being challenged and it’s up to me as the head coach to get this team to play well.”

This is actually a bit of fresh air. In the John Tortorella postgame days, Tortorella would tell the media to go ask his players why they sucked or he would ask the media if they had asked his players the same questions since they were the only ones that had to answer for losses. Tortorella never took blame for the team’s struggles and was always quick to point the fingers at his players, including his star goal scorers, who he sacrificed as shot blockers.

Tortorella’s ability to pretend like nothing is his fault traveled with him to Vancouver where he recently said he isn’t sure what happened to his relationship with Brad Richards. Other than demoting him to the fourth line and then scratching him in the playoffs and citing his style of play not being that of a fourth-liner (real life?), I’m not sure why their relationship would be fractured. If I were Richards, I would be saving every puck from every goal scored this season and then writing the goal number on the puck using whiteout and then mailing them to Tortorella. After some quick research, it appears this would be the mailing address for Tortorella in Vancouver:

Vancouver Canucks
Attn: John Tortorella
800 Griffiths Way
Vancouver, BC V6B 6G1
Canada

On if it’s difficult to believe the team is actually the team that won in Los Angeles.

“I would say San Jose, you guys all saw it. The effort wash very good. I thought tonight our guys tried, but we’re not playing very well right now. We’re not making plays. Same outcome, but two different levels of competing in my opinion.”

Whaaaaaaaaaaatttttt?!?!?!?! I’m going to have to disagree with AV on this one. Did AV watch the same Rangers-Sharks game that I did or did MSG show a different game on Tuesday night? In the Rangers-Sharks that MSG aired for me, I saw a Rangers team that was outshot 47-20, looked to be shorthand the entire game, gave up odd-man rushes without a care and were eventually run out of the building with Tomas Hertl’s goal on Martin Biron (who I hope drank at least 12 beers during the game).

Henrik Lundqvist is 1-3-0 with a 4.31 GAA and .879 SV% and has been pulled once already. Those aren’t exactly Lundqvist-esque numbers, but the defense has failed him and the offense (or the lack of offense) might once again be a problem this season. Isn’t it great that eight days ago Lundqvist ended talks with the Rangers on an extension sine they couldn’t come to terms before the season? How many Stanley Cups are the Penguins going to win starting in 2014-15 with Lundqvist as their goalie? I would say at least five in a row starting next season.

On his theory for the struggles.

“My theory is reality. Our reality is we got to get up tomorrow morning, put our work boots on, come to the rink, have a good practice, watch some video, look at the areas that we need to improve and that’s what the coaching staff is going to do tomorrow. And the players are going to get up, put their skates on and work hard.”

If your theory is reality then you should have said, “My theory is reality. Our reality is we suck.” Because right now the Rangers suck. They have been outscored 20-6 in the first four games, the scoring production is the same it was last season and throughout the Tortorella era, but now there’s no longer a defense to balance out the lack of scoring.

I keep hearing about how great and solid a defenseman Dan Girardi is and how the Rangers need to extend Lundqvist while keeping enough space available to re-sign him. (This is the same Girardi who was basically a pylon against the Bruins in the conference semifinals.) I’m not even sure the Rangers should re-sign Girardi this offseason and it blows my mind that the Rangers would extend Lundqvist with Girardi in mind and that Girardi could somehow affect whether Lundqvist stays or not because of finances. (Hey there, don’t include Eduardo Nunez in a deal for Cliff Lee!) And how about Girardi suggesting that the Rangers go back to the way they played the last few years? You know, the way they played under the coach that they got fired?

I could easily pick apart the entire defense like Mitch in Waitinggoing around the room and trashing every restaurant employee, but I won’t. Instead I’ll just go with Michael Del Zotto the way Mitch takes down Floyd (Dane Cook’s character).

This is Michael Del Zotto’s fifth season in the NHL. In his first season as a 19-year-old, who put up 9-28-37 in 80 games (despite a minus-20) it had many thinking he could be the future face of the franchise, a premier offensive defenseman and a staple on the blue line for possibly two decades. But the following season he fell out of Tortorella’s graces and spent time in the AHL before returning with 10-31-41 and a plus-20 rating in 2011-12. Last season Del Zotto was back to his 2010-11 ways, which is most likely who he is and who he is going to be. He isn’t going to be the captain of the power play that some people have envisioned him as when he thinks that he deserves to shoot the puck in any any situation with Rick Nash, Brad Richards and Derek Stepan also on the ice (Dan Girardi has this problem when he’s out there on the power play) and when he does choose to shoot, he usually misses the net and is the best breakout strategy for any opponent (Dan Girardi also has this problem). Del Zotto is careless with the puck, makes incredibly poor choices in his own zone and unbelievable mistakes in the transition game in the neutral zone. He doesn’t score enough to not care about his defense the way Sergi Gonchar has for his entire career and because of this doesn’t deserve the ice time he receives. But like Brian Boyle, I have to accept that Michael Del Zotto isn’t going anywhere ever.

On if he can simplify the game while the team learns his system.

“The execution making a tape-to-tape pass has nothing to do with systems. Coming through the neutral zone and reading the other teams pressure and gap and reading the play with the puck has nothing to do with the system. Those are all things that these players have done their whole lives and I’m confident they can still do.”

Well, if the Rangers can’t even perform the basics of hockey, let alone learn and get down an offensive system then what’s the point?

You know what I would think the Rangers have done their who lives other than the absolute basics? I would think they would have understood the need to stick up for teammates on the ice, especially if your teammate happens to be your team’s best player.

Rick Nash wasn’t part of the debacles in San Jose (other than for two minutes and 32 seconds ) or in Anaheim and won’t play in St. Louis. While the team is touring the Western Conference, Nash is in New York because Brad Stuart doesn’t know how to properly check someone. Nash’s head injury is his second in under a year with the Rangers and maybe Nash returns after the Blues game or after next week or maybe after October or November or maybe never? Who knows with head injuries when any player is going to return, if at all, and if they do, will they even be the same player once they do?

Maybe the Rangers missed Nash fighting Martin Hanzel in Phoenix last Thursday to stand up for Derek Stepan the way I must have missed the Rangers-Sharks game that AV watched. But I know they didn’t miss it since after the game, Ryan McDonagh and Dominic Moore both spoke out about how it’s good to see Nash mix it up and how the team trusts each other and sticks up for each other. But where was the “team” when Stuart was earning a three-game suspension for an elbow to Nash’s head? Nowhere.

On if the road trip and travel is a reason for the losses.

“Not at all. This is normal travel. I have done this all my life. Travel’s been fine.”

That’s nice that the travel has been fine since that’s the only thing that has been.

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