Monday, October 17, 2011
The Good and The Bad: Rangers Fall To Islanders 4-2
It almost seems unfair, doesn't it? After starting the season with back-to-back losses in Sweden we had to wait an entire week before seeing the Rangers play again on Saturday, and now that they finally are back on the ice they lost, yet again, for the third time this season while displaying pretty much the same patterns we saw from them in the first two games in Sweden.
There were some good signs that the Rangers showed on Saturday, but there were also a lot of bad signs, too. Read more to see what went right and what went wrong.
1. Derek Stepan was phenomenal on Saturday night. I wasn't sure how well he would play on the left wing being a righty shot, but he looked fantastic. He was everywhere on the ice - he played physical, worked the boards, got to the net and, most importantly, worked very well with Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards. D-Step also made a solid defensive play that allowed Brad Richards to make a perfect pass that sprung Marian Gaborik free on his breakaway goal. John Tortorella certainly had to be encouraged by what he saw from Stepan, who also got time on the second Power Play and PK units. If Stepan is able to continue to excel playing on the wing, it's got to benefit him in the long run because he'll get much more ice time playing as a top six forward than he did as a bottom six forward during the first two games of the season when he played on the third and fourth lines. Stepan's struggles on faceoffs last season combined with the fact that the Rangers are set with Brad Richards and Artem Anisimov as their top two centers make him a prime candidate to remain playing on the wing provided he shows he can play there. I will wait until I see more from him, though, because if we remember from last year, the Islanders made a line of Sean Avery-Erik Christensen-Marian Gaborik look like the best line in the history of the NHL, too.
2. It's only three games so far, but Marian Gaborik looks like he is back to the player he was during his first season on Broadway. Gaby is doing exactly what the Rangers need him to do, and that's shoot the puck. He's not looking to pass, he's not trying to tee up the perfect shot; he's simply getting the puck and is ready to shoot. He looks like he' playing with a lot more confidence this season, likely because he knows he finally has a playmaking center in Brad Richards who has shown great chemistry with him. Gaborik has also looked stronger this season. He's not getting knocked off the puck as easily as he was last season. Gaby is doing a nice job of controlling the puck and is just looking to put it on net. Gaborik and the Rangers insisted he was healthy down the stretch last season when he struggled, but I still contend that he was banged up more than he was letting on. The Marian Gaborik we saw last season simply wasn't himself - this is the Marian Gaborik who scores 40+ goals and is an offensive threat every time he touches the puck.
3. Henrik Lundqvist. I mean, what else can you really say about the guy? Yes, the second goal he gave up was one I'm sure he'd admit he he should have stopped, but with all the scoring chances the Islanders had in this game the score could've been much worse if not for some outstanding saves by Lundqvist. As expected, Hank has been the Rangers' best player so far this season, and the Rangers' winless record so far certainly isn't a reflection on the way Lundqvist has played. Henrik has continued his stellar play that we saw from him down the stretch last season when the Rangers needed him to step up big in every single game. If Lundqvist can continue to play this well over the course of the season, he'll find himself as a top contender for the Vezina when the season is over and done with. I think Lundqvist's biggest test will be how he responds to the way John Tortorella handles his workload early in the season so that they can have a fresh Henrik Lundqvist when the Rangers need him the most later in the season. In fact, I expect Marty Biron will get into a game at some point during the West Coast trip this week just to get him some action early in the season, but overall Rangers fans have to be very encouraged by what they've seen from Henrik Lundqvist so far this season.
1. Penalties, penalties, penalties. Yes, the call on Brian Boyle for supposedly covering the puck with his hands was flat out wrong and joke, and I also thought the goalie interference call on Ryan Callahan was atrocious, too (As Dave Maloney pointed out on the air, where else is Callahan supposed to go in that position?). But the fact remains that the Rangers are taking way too many penalties this season, and they're coming at crucial points in the game, too. Marian Gaborik's penalty in the final four minutes of the game took a large chunk of time off the clock when the Rangers were trying to get back in the game. Also, the early penalties in the first period today meant that John Tortorella had to immediately shuffle his lines in order to get Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards more ice time since they don't kill penalties, and it also kills the flow of the game. The Rangers have come out slow in all three games so far this season, and taking early penalties only keeps them from developing a rhythm and establishing scoring chances early. With the exception of Henrik Lundqvist and a few other players, the team we've seen in the first period of each game so far this season has been completely different from the team that's shown up in the second and third periods. It's something John Tortorella will have to address going forward because it simply cannot continue and it's also the reason the Rangers are sitting at 0-1-2 right now.
2. Making Evgeny Nabokov look good. Nabokov has had his fair share of success in the NHL, but how many times have we seen this from the Rangers where they make average goaltenders who they haven't seen in a while look better than they really are? The fact is, I can't remember Nabokov ever being forced to make any difficult saves on Saturday, and the Rangers certainly didn't generate enough sustained offensive pressure, which again had a lot to do with being in penalty trouble from the early get go. Outside of the Rangers' first line they really weren't able to generate a whole lot of scoring chances from the rest of their team when you consider the fact that the Rangers' only other goal came from a lucky break on a wraparound chance by Brandon Prust. Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards have been really the only offense the Rangers have had so far this season, and it's time for other guys to start stepping up.
3. Kind of goes in line with my first point, but the slow starts the Rangers have come out with have absolutely killed this team in every game so far this season. It's not like this is a new problem we're seeing, either. The Rangers had this same issue in games last season where they would come out completely flat for whatever reason and then would be forced to play catchup the rest of the game. It's strange to see it happen from a John Tortorella team, who focuses so much on conditioning all throughout training camp. It's not like the team is tuning John Tortorella out, either, because they always seem to respond better in the second and third periods. Whatever the reason is, it's clear something has to be done to change this pattern, and it seems like it's more of a mental thing from the team than it is anything physical. There's just no reason for them to consistently put forth that kind of effort, and aside from drawing up some different strategies and line combos I don't know what else John Tortorella could really do to help fix this. The team seems to be tentative in the first period and they show a lack of aggression and intensity that I think could be solved by getting an early goal. That type of thing could change the mindset of the team for the rest of the game. Of course, in order to actually get a goal or two they need to actually come out strong. It's kind of like the chicken and the egg - are they not scoring because they don't come out strong or do they not come out strong because they're not scoring?