The Rangers season was ended at the hands of the Boston Bruins on Saturday evening, in a 3-1 game five loss.
It was most certainly disappointing, but inevitable — despite an inspiring comeback win in game four, the Rangers had still gone down 3-0 to the Bruins before earning their first win, and that is a hole that no one expected the Rangers to claw themselves out of. Game five actually started well, as the Rangers scored the first goal, on the powerplay, no less, but that is the only goal they would score. Torey Krug (yes, him again) scored a PP goal of his own to tie the game in the second period, and in the same frame, Gregory Campbell put home a rebound after a failed clear attempt by Roman Hamrlik. That would do it for the Rangers. Tuuka Rask shut the door, and the Rangers were eliminated by the Bruins in game five of the second round.
A Fall From Glory
The second round exit is quite a contrast from what many predicted for the Rangers prior to the start of the season — Stanley Cup Glory and a first place finish. Unfortunately for the Rangers, things went awry. It might or might not be a factor in their play, but the lockout screwed everyone over. These rosters were built with an 82-game season in mind, not a 48-game one. That being said, that is not the reason the Rangers struggled right up until the end of the season. The main cause of these struggles was the lack of production from the supposed offensive leaders of this squad. Both Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik had abysmal seasons.
Richards, despite decent regular season numbers, was not the same player that he was in 11-12. Once again, a free agent center suffered a drastic regression in the Big Apple — Richards did not dress for the final two games of the playoffs, and even when he was playing, he was being played on the fourth line.
Gaborik struggled mightily as well, scoring just nine goals in 35 games before being traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets for a package of players, including current second line center Derick Brassard. Fun fact: Gaborik had 27 points in 47 games. Brassard had 23 points in 25 games played with the Rangers, including the playoffs, where he was the team’s leading scorer with 12 points.
Considering how important these two players were to the offense of the 2011-2012 team, it’s a wonder that the team fared as well as they did, finishing in sixth place and getting to round two of the playoffs. Especially when one considers the major changes that were made to the roster between the offseason and trade deadline. Therein, however, lies one of the major problems — the constant shakeup of the roster. Compare the Rangers to a team like LA, Pittsburgh, Chicago, or Boston. The main difference? The core of the team has been set and together for several years. ‘Chemistry’ is hardly a quantifiable aspect of hockey, but it is a factor. It’s clear when a team has been hastily jammed together by a madman like Sather, and that’s coming from someone who has been a big fan of the recent moves the team has made. The Rangers lacked cohesion in the postseason. No one seemed to be on the same page — the players themselves, or the players and coaches. The Bruins were a well-oiled machine in the second round. They looked like a team that has been together and playing the same style of hockey for several years. On the other end, the roster that Sather has built contradicts the style that Tortorella wants his team to play — this is no longer a team of muckers and grinders. It is a team loaded with skill, speed, and passing ability.
Another player who failed to live up to expectations was Chris Kreider. Personally, I believe that Kreider should have been playing consistent minutes in one of the
AHL/NHL — not yo-yo-ing between leagues. Fortunately for the Rangers, Kreider ended his season with a bang, playing two excellent games, one of which he scored an OT winner in, on the top line with Stepan and Nash. Tortorella finally gave Kreider a chance with players that suit his style, and look at that, he was effective.
The Bright Spots
Despite the disappointment of a season for the Rangers, there were still a couple of (very) bright spots that helped lead the team into the playoffs and past the Capitals.
Derek Stepan appears to have evolved into a #1 center. He had a fantastic regular season, finishing with 44 points in 48 games, to go along with a defensive game that was elite. Quite frankly, Stepan should be in the discussion for this year’s Selke honors — he was that impressive. Rick Nash also had a productive season. He finished with 42 points in 44 games, his highest point per game total in three years. While Nash had an excellent regular season, his playoffs were a disappointment, however. He had only one goal through 12 games, which is a killer for a team that was riddled with injuries and lacked depth. That being said, I actually believe that Nash had a very good series against Boston, and I’m personally not worried about his ability to produce in the playoffs at all. Derick Brassard was able to make a difference after being traded to the Rangers. He had 11 points in 13 regular season games, and followed that excellent stretch up with a fantastic playoff run, where he racked up 12 points in 12 games.
Another bright spot was the play of Ryan McDonagh and Anton Stralman throughout the season. They were consistently the best Rangers’ defenders on any given night. McDonagh, in particular, was absolutely incredible in the playoffs.
Of course, Lundqvist was once again the MVP of this team. He had another Vezina caliber season and was one of the main reasons the Rangers were able to stay alive in the regular season while the roster in front of him struggled to find their game.
What Needs To Change?
The Rangers struggled to find themselves all season long, in both the regular season and the playoffs.
Why is that, you may ask?
Well, to me, this is a coaching problem. I like Tortorella as a coach, and as a person — quite a lot, actually. He was the perfect coach to whip this team, one which used to be a cesspool of entitlement, into the blue-collar, hard-working squad that prided themselves on teamwork. However, most coaches have a shelf-life, and to me, Tortorella’s time should be up.
This team needs to go in a different direction, coaching-wise. What once worked here does not at this point. When Tortorella had a team of big, strong board players, his style of play fit the team like a glove. Since last year, however, it appears the team has gone in an entirely new direction. As of right now, this is a team that should be relying on their skill and speed to win games — not their ability, or lack thereof, to win board battles.
The breakout is a mess. Tortorella employs the bank/stretch pass far often. He fails to utilize the middle of the ice on the transition, which leads to dump-ins that won’t be retrieved, turnovers in the neutral zone, and hardly any chances on the rush.
The offensive strategy doesn’t fit the team. Key contributors like Brassard, Hagelin, Zuccarello, and Stepan aren’t going to be winning a ton of board battles, yet that is what the offense is predicated on. Tortorella also fails to utilize the point shot, and there is never a slot presence — let alone a net presence.
Don’t even get me started on the powerplay. The fact that Tortorella refuses to have a PP specialist behind the bench is absolutely ridiculous considering how poor the powerplay has been for quite some time.
Now, the big question: who would replace Tortorella? Well, that’s up to management, but to me, the two most intriguing candidates are Guy Boucher and Dallas Eakins.
Regarding the roster, I don’t believe that a major shakeup is needed. I’m actually going to breakdown my offseason plan for the Rangers in a future article, one that will be completed relatively soon, so stay tuned if you’re interested in seeing that (and I know that you are).
Looking Ahead To Next Season
While 2013 was a disappointing year for the Rangers and their fans, one must remember that the Rangers are still an incredibly young group of players. The core that is in place is an excellent, well-built, young core. Now, Sather simply needs to A) add the right complimentary pieces and B) find a coach that fits this team, and the Rangers will be right back at the top of the East.
Easier said than done, of course.