We’re only seven games into the regular season and so far we know that the Rangers’ offense is inconsistent. The team notched 12 goals in their first three games, and in the following three only recorded two; just to bounce back on Monday night and post four goals against the San Jose Sharks. At the center of the questions are several of the Rangers core players; as up until Monday Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh, Chris Kreider, and Derick Brassard had only five points between them. On Monday Kreider, Nash and Brassard each had a point in an effort where they looked sound; Nash most of all. Now the big guns have to find a way to continue to be producers if this club will find a way to land on top of their division.
Smoke and Mirrors
The Rangers have had bad starts to the season in the previous two years, but the start to this campaign seemed different when the Rangers came out and won their first three contests posting nice goal totals in each game. The Rangers did look sound, but I believe that the two games against the Blue Jackets gave fans a false sense of security about the teams offense. If you remember back to the third game of the season, the Rangers were trailing the Jackets by a goal with under five minutes to go in the contest, before exploding with three goals in 77 seconds. Up until that point the team wasn’t crisp and didn’t create enough.
The Rangers followed that outburst by lighting up the Jackets the following night at the Garden by a final score of 5-2. Why is this important? Well Columbus is currently the worst team in the league at keeping the puck out of their net having allowed 30 goals in six games. No that’s not a misprint, 30; now to put that in perspective the Boston Bruins have the second worst Goals Against rank with 21. I’m not trying to take anything away from the Rangers offense, but there is a good chance that much of their success was attributed to poor goaltending and defense on the part of the opposition. Monday against the Sharks was much different, as the team looked more like themselves making slick passes and stretching the ice to break their speedy wingers past the defense. In the Rangers games prior they were scoring based more on bad mistakes than on their own sound plays.
Snake Bitten Nash
I mentioned Nash struggling, but I have to say it’s not for a lack of effort or chances. The big man has been getting to the net and creating havoc, but nothing is finding its way in right now. He currently leads the team in shots with 24, and every game he looks to be gaining confidence; overall I have to say not to worry about the winger. Monday was an encouraging game, because he was getting the space for chances, but couldn’t convert. Once Nash really finds his groove and starts burying the puck we should see the ice open for other Rangers. The great thing about Nash is that even if he isn’t scoring he can set up teammates and is also terrific at screening the goaltender.
Finding a Rhythm
The biggest part of the Rangers game is their puck movement. When they are at their best, they move the puck quickly east to west to draw in defenders, then hit the opposition down the ice with a stretch pass, or sling-shot one another into space. The Rangers played this way against San Jose; they still did look choppy at times, but for the most part put together a solid effort. In their first games of the season the Rangers passing was off and their entire game would screech to a halt as a result.
Their game starts on the back-end, and this teams defense is finally starting to move the puck like a unit. Prior to Monday night the Rangers’ defense had seven total points in six games; but against the Sharks the back-end had four points which is an encouraging sign. The team is looking more cohesive as the season draws on, and once the defense starts finding those tape-to-tape passes, this team will improve dramatically.
What It All Means
The Rangers looked “ok” on Sunday and good on Monday, so the takeaway is that the team is coming along, but again it’s just one game. The Rangers shouldn’t be a team that struggles to score, but their will be nights where they don’t have it. My colleague Tom Dianora says that the Rangers’ stars will find their stride;“The offense will likely come around, as players like Nash, Kreider, and Brassard are too good to be unproductive for long.” I agree with him and expect that by December the team will be in top form and will take off from there. At this point, guys are finding their sea legs and getting on the same page, so it’s no shock to me that the Rangers look like a different team depending on the day. One constant is that they seem more like a unit as the games roll along.