The roller coaster ride that is the 2013 New York Rangers is now on an upswing, just days after a freefall had Blueshirt fans screaming for the axing of coaches, the trading of underachieving stars, and summer buyouts of underperforming veterans. That is Broadway in this lockout-shortened season where every game now has a life or death feel to it. The peaks are sky high with optimism and promise, while the valleys are filled with desperation and panic.
Just nine days ago, the Rangers defeated the Capitals in Washington to kick off what looked to be a promising four game road trip and the start of a second half run. That was quickly followed by nearly identical, lifeless losses in Buffalo and Winnipeg, and a mostly non-competitive 3-0 blanking in Pittsburgh. The three game skid dropped the Rangers out of playoff position, and calls for head coach John Tortorella’s head filled the nervous airwaves of New York’s 24 hour, shock therapy sports radio stations. With back to back games on Monday and Tuesday evening against teams looking down on them in the standings, the car seemed ready to fly off the rails, taking nearly everyone’s job security with it.
Someone, however, must have flipped a switch in the Ranger locker room between periods one and two Monday night against the Carolina Hurricanes. Following a dreadful opening period that saw New York manage only six shots in trailing 1-0, the Rangers responded with a strong effort the rest of the way, creating numerous opportunities and injecting some sense of life into what had been an angry and disenchanted Madison Square Garden crowd. Henrik Lundqvist was brilliant, Derek Stepan got the equalizer, and rookie JT Miller scored the game winner in the shootout. At the end of the game, you could hear and feel the collective sigh of relief come from the players and the fans.
Yet, the victory would only serve as a temporary stay of execution if New York didn’t follow it up with a win Tuesday night in New Jersey. After a wide open first period which saw the offensively challenged Rangers and the far from explosive Devils score twice each, New York settled in and rode Lundqvist’s goaltending the rest of the way. Rick Nash scored the eventual winner in the second period, the Rangers leapfrogged the Devils in the standings into playoff position, and all of a sudden all is right again in Rangerland.
Or is it? Is this just another tease from a team seemingly loaded with talent yet maddeningly inconsistent? It’s hard to tell. The temperature of this hockey club rises and falls like Wall Street, and is much more difficult to predict. Marian Gaborik, since being reunited with Nash and Brad Richards, has shown signs of life, though the puck is still not going in for him. Richards’ game comes and goes, which seems fitting. Brian Boyle is physical and assertive one night, invisible the next. See a pattern? No one seems to know which Ranger team will show up from one night to the next, which brings us to the next order of business.
With the trading deadline fast approaching, General Manager Glen Sather will be looking to bolster a roster that on some nights appears capable of going deep into the playoffs. But can the GM be sure, based on what we have all seen over the first 29 games? Will Sather risk moving young talent, or even struggling veteran Marian Gaborik, to hopefully bring in the missing piece of the perplexing puzzle that is the 2013 Rangers? It’s Sather’s job to decide, and to somehow figure out if this roller coaster is racing to the finish line or heading full speed towards the edge of the cliff.