When head coach David Quinn sleeps these days, is it possible that he dreams of a hockey team that consists of Brendan Lemieux at every position other than goaltender?
If such a crazy scenario ever filled the head of the New York Rangers coach at night, it would be understandable. And it seems likely that such a theoretical dream would have occurred in the last couple of weeks.
As seamlessly as Quinn has adjusted to the NHL game following a career in the college ranks, there are undoubtedly elements of coaching in the NHL that have surprised him. At or near the top of the list has to be the incredibly streaky nature of his 2018-19 Rangers – involving both the production and effort level of his group of professional players, who in theory should be far removed from much of the erratic play of their youth.
The reality of Quinn’s first season behind the Blueshirts bench has, of course, been something else. It’s forced the coach to coax and nurture and discipline constantly to get much of his group of highly-paid players to deliver hard work and a consistent contribution on a game-to-game basis, something one would think he expected to leave behind in the Hockey East Conference.
The fantasy of recent acquisition Lemieux, the straight-ahead forward whose emotion and intensity don’t seem to waver and who might be Quinn’s ideal type of player, being cloned to play every spot on the team becomes less funny as the coach regularly views the hard truths of the club’s recent play.
Quinn Losing Patience With Rangers’ Erratic Nature
The Rangers have gone 1-5-3 in March and have been outscored 14-4 in their last three games. There are plenty of reasons why Quinn’s team has been strengthening its odds for the draft lottery on a nightly basis since the trade deadline, but perhaps the biggest is the maddening roster-wide inconsistency that has plagued the club all season.
Few Rangers have managed to avoid prolonged stretches of invisibility, of energy that ebbs and flows on a seemingly random basis. Quinn’s expectations of professionalism and accountability have collided with a group of players that, for whatever reason, has left him wondering why so much maintenance has been required to get NHLers to turn in NHL-level efforts on a regular basis.
“We GAVE them two goals. Complete gifts,” Quinn said after a 4-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday, his tired-sounding voice continuing to rise throughout the post-game interview. “The second and third goals were complete gifts. And then we get a five-on-three and we don’t even get a threatening shot. … The things we have to get better at and we have to stop doing, are things of that nature.
“You can’t gift-wrap goals. You gotta make people earn ’em. And when you get a five-on-three, you gotta look threatening. You can’t do what we did. So … I’m gonna focus on what we can do better.”
In steering a rebuilding team to a surprising 28-31-13 record, Quinn has delivered positive results from a number of talented young players, such as defenseman Tony DeAngelo and forward Filip Chytil. Yet the gains don’t seem to hold, with DeAngelo receiving another benching over his long-running maturity issues Monday and Chytil still struggling to find his way as a teenager.
“I’ll let you know in about three weeks,” Quinn said when asked if DeAngelo is getting the message while sitting out – a reference to the end of the season.
Rangers Veterans Also Failing to Deliver Consistent Efforts
If those were the only problems the coach faced, he’d be in decent shape. When you have to tend to veterans, as well, though…maybe that’s where it gets exhausting. It’s not difficult then to understand why Quinn’s patience and levelheadedness, prevalent throughout most of the season, appears to finally be cracking.
Mika Zibanejad’s scorching hot streak is history, his month-long run of elite center-like production having been followed by an eight-game goalless stretch that he ended in Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild. Chris Kreider is in the midst of one of his characteristic disappearing acts, going 10 straight without a goal. Will Kreider, who hit the 26-goal mark Feb. 24 with 20 games remaining, reach 30 for the first time in his career with 10 contests left?
Jimmy Vesey looks to be on the verge of a breakthrough at times, recording a goal and an assist in three straight games Feb. 23-27…and then doesn’t, going without a point for the next nine. Kevin Shattenkirk’s disappointing homecoming has continued in 2018-19, the nine-year veteran looking past his prime in providing little impact at either end of the ice and being a healthy scratch in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Detroit Red Wings last week.
Forward Pavel Buchnevich is starting to produce and defenseman Brendan Smith has been playing well of late. How long will it last? Are both players, who have also found themselves in street clothes over their lack of effectiveness/production numerous times this season, one bad game away from another exasperating stretch that has defined this Rangers season?
Add it all up, and it’s clear why Quinn’s frustration may be on the verge of finally boiling over. The coach can coax and nurture and discipline and attempt to teach as he has all season, but when it comes down to it, only his players can implement the lessons.
The departure of Kevin Hayes, Mats Zuccarello and Adam McQuaid at the trade deadline has left a production and leadership void within this young team. Yet Quinn had to be hoping that others would see the vacancies in the lineup and dressing room as opportunities to step up. So far, that hasn’t happened, with the club’s up-and-down nature leading to a late-season slide that Quinn might be powerless to stop – his recent words and tone suggesting that he’s aware of the possibility.
So it wouldn’t be surprising if Quinn’s dreams these days do indeed include an all-Lemieux Rangers lineup, perhaps with the exception of presumptive No. 1 overall draft pick Jack Hughes manning the middle on the top line?