Were the two losses for the Rangers this weekend concerning? Sure. But should a full-blown panic ensue during the second week of November? Absolutely not.
There’s no way around it. The Rangers had a weekend they’d like to forget, plain and simple. They were horrific defensively, the back-check of their forwards was far from acceptable, and they let two games, both of which were completely within their grasp for the taking, slip away into the darkness.
A Weekend to Forget
On Saturday, New York fell to the Toronto Maple Leafs by a score of 5-4. The Rangers allowed a 5-on-3 power play goal where Phil Kessel was left all by his lonesome to the right of Cam Talbot. They allowed a short-handed goal on which Mats Zuccarello tried to force a cross-ice pass, and then proceeded to lose his stick on the back-check; Anthony Duclair also wasn’t exactly skating his hardest either, as the Leafs took advantage of the short-handed rush. And finally, with the game tied at 4 with just under six minutes to play in the game, Matt Hunwick -who overall has filled in very nicely recently for New York- failed to clear the defensive zone on a feeble attempt, and the Rangers immediately paid the price.
It was a game in which the Rangers had the lead twice, including a 4-3 lead in the third period, however, faulty defense and an apathetic back-check eventually burned the Rangers in the end.
Vigneault told reporters after the game, “we need to tighten up defensively, and I think a lot of that starts with our forwards getting available a little bit better and on the right side of the play.”
Lucky for the Rangers, though, their less-than 24-hour turnaround before the tilt against Edmonton was an opportunity to fix their mistakes, and quickly right the ship following a forgettable effort on Saturday.
That wasn’t exactly how it happened, though.
New York’s effort seemingly carried over into Sunday’s game against the Oilers. While the final score was 3-1 in Edmonton’s favor, that was far from indicative of how the game actually went.
The Rangers were outshot 33-21, they lost 39 of 68 faceoffs, and had 12 giveaways, compared to Edmonton’s five. The Rangers were flopping and flailing on defense, and had absolutely no answer for the Eberle-Pouliot-Nugent-Hopkins line at any point during the game.
Ranger assistant coach Ufl Samuelsson may have been just a tad dramatic when he told John Giannone during the second intermission that, “collectively that could be our worst two periods I’ve seen since I got here.”
Maybe, maybe not.
He did go on to say, however, that “it’s not about x’s and o’s right now. We are not competing at the level we need.”
That, he was indeed correct about.
It’s the cold, hard truth. The Rangers weren’t competing at the level that they needed to be in order to win. They were flat and sloppy, and if it weren’t for the out-of-this-world play of Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes, the final score easily could’ve been 7-1 instead of 3-1.
Following the game, when asked if Sunday’s game was a wake-up call for the Rangers, Lundqvist was blunt by saying that it was the second or third wake-up call for the team this season.
There was a lot of that type of strong language coming out of the Ranger dressing room following Sunday’s loss to the Oilers, and there’s no denying that when a player of Lundqvist’s importance says that this wasn’t the first wake-up call for the team, but instead the second or third, it’s somewhat concerning.
There’s also no denying that when the assistant coach is frustrated enough to say publically that it was possibly the worst the Rangers had played in his 100-plus games behind the bench, there’s cause for uneasiness.
But under no circumstances should any of that be enough for a full-blown panic.
Gain Some Perspective
Yes, the Rangers had a terrible weekend. They were loose defensively, their back-check was sloppy, and if you ask the coaches, the team’s level of competition was nowhere to be found as well.
AV: “Our whole group needed to respond better.”
— Steve Zipay (@stevezipay) November 10, 2014
But has all of Rangerstown already forgotten the tumult of the first quarter of last season? Has last year’s 6-8-0 start already completely faded from the memories of all Rangers fans?
Last season, the Rangers had collected 12 points through 14 games. This season, the Blueshirts have fared slightly better, as this year’s team now has 14 points through 14 games, and this team hasn’t even given the fans a chance to see them play together at full-health.
Now of course, this is a very different team than the 2013-14 squad. I get that. We all get that.
This year’s team may not win the Eastern Conference Championship, and come within three games of winning the Stanley cup. They may not even make the playoffs at all. Who knows, really? That’s beside the point, though.
The point is that the Rangers have been riddled with injuries. The quarterback for their power play has been sidelined from day one. Their smooth skating, young, and offensively gifted third-pair defenseman has been out thanks to a suspension. Their captain, and top defenseman is injured, and won’t return for at least another two weeks. And finally, their number one center, who broke his fibula during training camp, only returned to the team two days ago.
The point is, regardless of what is going to transpire down the road this season, it is still very early. It is still November. Give this team some time. Allow them to get healthy. Allow them to gel and come together. Give them the benefit of the doubt, and for the love of Messier, have some patience.
The Rangers had a bad weekend, a very bad weekend. There were many concerning things that transpired, no doubt, but in all reality, they are still sitting at .500. Imagine what Columbus would give to be .500 right now?
Have We Forgotten It’s November?
Take a breath Rangerstown. It’s still November.
At the end of the day, these are talented, professional hockey players, many of whom have proven their worth in past seasons. As they regain their health, and reinforcements arrive, they’ll regain their identity and success as a team. They will find a way to nip these problems in the bud.
If we’re still talking about the same issues come mid-December, or early January, then we’ll sound the alarm bells.
But until then, let’s all take a deep breath, and relax.
Jake Gittler is now in his second season as a contributing member of The Hockey Writers. After spending the 2014-15 season working in Communications for Adirondack Flames of the AHL and covering the New York Rangers here for The Hockey Writers, Jake’s coverage has been switched over to the Colorado Avalanche for the 2015-16 season. Jake can be reached via email at Jakegittler@gmail.com, or on Twitter @Jgittler_hockey.