I really thought the Rangers were going to turn it around after Thursday’s impressive win over the Sabres. I really did. It’s not that I thought there wouldn’t be other losing streaks this season or that the Rangers would go on the kind of run they want on in early 2015. But I did think we would see consistent, full-game efforts from the team moving forward. That optimism lasted a little more than one period.
I didn’t expect the Rangers to necessarily beat the Bruins, even without Tuukka Rask playing. I did, however, expect them to play a competitive game, considering the Bruins had played at home the night before. The Rangers were barely competitive on Sunday night and barely looked like they were from the same league as the Bruins playing their second game in as many cities in as many nights. The Rangers might have led 1-0 after a period on a Micheal Haley goal of all goals, but the score was no way indicative of how the first period went. It was a game straight of the Henrik Lundqvist era as Number 30 played like it was 2011-12 and the defense gave up high-percentage and quality scoring chances like it was as well. To think Rangers fans would long for the overhyped defense of Lundqvist’s prime whose bad contracts led to this rebuild in the first place.
The Bruins dominated the first period and their domination paid off 11 seconds into the second when they tied it up on a call which I will never understand how it wasn’t goalie interference. Fifty-seven seconds later they had the lead and by the end of the period they were up 4-1 and Lundqvist’s night was done after essentially playing a game of Rebound for two periods. Fourty-three seconds into the third, Zdeno Chara welcomed Alexander Georgiev to the game with the Bruins’ fifth unanswered goal and the rout was on. The Rangers lost for the sixth time in seven games and lost by three goals for the fourth time this season. It was the type of game you could expect from a young, inexperienced team against a team that came within one win of winning the Stanley Cup, but not when you remember how the Rangers played and looked on Thursday against Buffalo.
I don’t know what to make of this Rangers team, and unfortunately, neither does the front office or coaching staff. I didn’t expect them to contend for a championship or necessarily even compete for a postseason spot a year and a half after they said they were going to move any tradeable asset and start over. But after opening the season with back-to-back wins and after seeing the type of game they are capable of playing against Buffalo, I thought we would see more of that. I thought we would see a young team grow and gain experience, while being fun to watch. I didn’t think 2019-20 would be a continuation of 2018-19 with no progress.
The Rangers’ roster is being managed and their games are being coached with no real plan. Players who are the foundation of the rebuild are having their minutes given to less deserving players and players who need and deserve NHL experience are having their roster spots given to less talented players for unknown reasons. Rather than go full rebuild and put the most talented team on the ice, no matter how young or inexperienced the team might then be, the Rangers are more worried with playing veterans even if those veterans aren’t part of the future and even if those veterans are playing out of position.
It would be one thing if this strategy were working, if the Rangers were winning with a head-scratching bottom six, while letting first-round picks with nothing left to prove in the AHL continue to need to prove they have earned their shot, but they’re not. The Rangers aren’t winning with their current roster and lineup construction, and their choices are coming at a cost of stunting the growth of their high-end prospects. With each game that comes off the 2019-20 schedule in which the team isn’t giving roster spots and ice time to the players they expect to be the architects of this rebuild, they’re hurting themselves for 2020-21 and beyond.
Maybe so much shouldn’t be made of the Rangers’ impressive four-goal win over the Sabres and that game should be viewed as the type of anomaly that can happen in a salary-cap league over 82 games, especially since it was sandwiched between a five-game losing streak and the worst effort of the season. But it’s hard to act like that game didn’t happen and now wonder how the Rangers can duplicate that effort moving forward.
This rebuild was always going to be a true rebuild and wasn’t going to happen on the fly. The Rangers miraculously acquiring the second overall pick and landing the offseason’s top free agent wrongfully sped up the timeline in the eyes of fans and altered the expectations of many. After nearly a month of play, the expectation for success for the Rangers this season is returning to where it should have been all along: none.