The New York Rangers are going the same place the two Russians were at the beginning of Boondock Saints, according to Detective Greenly. That place? “Nowhere!” OK, that’s not completely true since there are 41 games left and the entire conference is separated by eight points, but for anyone who watched Thursday night’s 3-0 loss to the Penguins, you can’t help but think the Rangers are the NHL’s version of two dead guys on top of trash bags in a South Boston alley.
Thursday night was bad. It started off bad, got worse and then became unwatchable, so I headed for the exit with over two minutes left and left the booing of the Blueshirts to those fans who either called out of work on Friday or who struggled through the workday on Friday despite an abundance of Gatorade, greasy food and Advil.
My girlfriend surprised me with tickets to the game an hour before the puck dropped and it was the first time I would be seeing the Penguins in person since they lost to the Bruins 3-0 on Nov. 10, 2009 in Boston. Evgeni Malkin didn’t play in that game, James Neal was in Dallas and Bill Guerin was still in the league and on the Penguins. (Eric Godard even dressed for the Penguins!) So as a hockey fan, I was excited to see Sidney Crosby with Malkin and Neal, but as a Rangers fan, I was worried about what they could do the Rangers’ search for consistency. It only took 1:24 for Malkin to justify my worrying.
Before I could tell my girlfriend about his one-timing abilities from the right side, Henrik Lundqvist was late to his left and it was 1-0 Pittsburgh. Had I known the Rangers would Sunday Skate their way to their fourth loss of the year over the next 58:36, I would have gladly walked over to The Flying Puck and watched a game or a team worth watching.
The box score says the Rangers were outshot 29-28. Either the official scorer at MSG is a relative of Tomas Vokoun or part of the new CBA is that the league is recording shots the way points are given out on Around the Horn because there’s no way the Rangers had 28 shots or one shot less than the Penguins. And even if the Rangers did have 28 shots, which I don’t think they did, how many of those shots were high-quality scoring chances? I think I remember two and I had one beer at the game, so I can’t blame my memory of the Rangers’ scoring chances on that. At most there were three, possibly four. (Apparently Derek Stepan had six shots last night! Six! He still wears number 21 right? Maybe I did have more than one beer?) But I’ll stick with two because I remember those and one of them came from the guy who is here to score big goals against teams like the Penguins and to be the focal point of the offense. So let’s start with him in an attempt to turn the Rangers’ season around before this season turns into a countdown to baseball’s Opening Day the way the Giants’ season turned into a plea to end the lockout and then a countdown to start the hockey season.
Rick, Rick, Rick. Am I really writing something negative about you after just seven games? No, of course not. It’s not all that positive, but there isn’t much positivity to go around with this team. And I’m not here to wish Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov were still on the team rather than Nash because even if he finishes the rest of this season with the same exact numbers he has through seven games, I won’t say that.
The number 1 criticism of Nash prior to becoming a Ranger (well, aside from nonsensical postseason career arguments and cap-hit BS) was that he didn’t pass the puck. Now only unintelligent people would use that as a criticism for an elite goal scorer who actually had no one to pass to on his team (and even if he did, he’s a goal scorer, not a playmaker), but in nine years in Columbus, Nash finished with more goals than assists five times, which is semi-unheard of for one of the best scorers in the world.
We are seven game into the season. Rick Nash has one goal. It’s not like he isn’t getting the scoring chances because he is getting several every game, he’s just not finishing when he does. But for all the one-on-one moves and the amazing highlights of him creating space and using hesitation for a shot in the slot, it’s time for Rick Nash to carry the team for a few games in a way that only he, Marian Gaborik and Henrik Lundqvist can.
Remember, Lundqvist is in the selective Jeter/Rivera/Eli class of complete immunity to criticism (unless it’s done sarcastically). So this isn’t me questioning Lundqvist’s play over the first seven games. This is me asking Hank to kindly play like the Vezina winner he was last year.
Lundqvist has started all seven games this year and has allowed 18 goals. Last season, Lundqvist allowed his 18th goal in the eighth game of the year, so he hasn’t been that off when it comes to the start of the season. It just feels differently because that season started in October and this one started in January and that season was 82 games and this one is 48 games. Do you see what I’m getting at? There isn’t an October, November and December and 34 other games to balance things out. Lundqvist is going to play as much as he did at the end of the 2010-11 season when the Rangers didn’t have a backup and there isn’t time for Henrik Lundqvist to not be Henrik Lundqvist. Unless he plans on sprinkling 11 shutouts in at some point.
The Rangers have a depth problem. (I’m aware that Ryan Callahan and Chris Kreider are out. Thanks for clarifying that.) Is that Tortorella’s fault? No. That’s the guy upstairs who could do pretty much anything at this point to destroy James Dolan’s life and still hold his job. But complaining about Glen Sather’s track record in New York would be like complaining about the Noroton Heights, Rowayton, Green’s Farms and Southport stops on the Metro North. They’re always going to be there and there’s nothing you can do about it, so just deal with it. (But really does Norwalk need a South Norwalk and East Norwalk stop? Two stops? This is worse than BU having three stops on the B train in Boston.)
But what is Tortorella’s fault is the way he chooses to use the players that Sather has given him. Is there anyone who still loves that Tortorella loves Brian Boyle? Is there anyone in the Kings organization who thinks, “Man, I really wish we didn’t trade Boyle to the Rangers in exchange for that third-round pick” when they see Boyle playing? Of course not. But Boyle is going to continue to play in important spots because of his “defense,” which is almost as ironic as James Shields being called “Big Game James” or Matt Ryan being called “Matty Ice.” Unfortunately, Boyle isn’t the only issue.
Do we really need to see the fourth line following the Penguins taking a 2-0 lead? There’s 19:32 left in the game. You’re trailing by two goals to the Penguins. So let’s put out the fourth line for an energy shift to bang some bodies and likely provide nothing offensively since the clock is not a factor!
Did Michael Del Zotto getting sent down for part of the 2010-11 season get him off the hook for the rest of his Rangers career when it comes to playing defense? Or does his career .45 points per game allow him to only worry about offense?
I don’t want to get on John Tortorella too much here because it’s only seven games and he did lead the team past the first two rounds of the playoffs last year and he did win the Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay nine years ago, so it’s hard to criticize the man given his incredible amount of success in New York. But if Tortorella wants to tilt his head and look at media members asking him questions in his press conferences like a dog who ate something dogs aren’t supposed to eat from the trash and then recycled it on to the living room floor, he might want to get his team over .500. Acting the way John Tortorella does is fine when you’re winning more than every other game. Right now the Rangers aren’t even doing that.