Don't Push The Panic Button Yet, Rangers Fans
Heading into this season, we knew the addition of head coach Alain Vigneault was certainly going to give the Rangers a new look, both offensively and defensively.
Former head coach John Tortorella implemented an extremely defensive oriented system for the Rangers. The Tortorella system gave them one of the best defenses in the league, but hindered their scoring abilities greatly. Many believed that, because of the already impressive defense and incredible goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist, bringing in Vigneault would be a sure fire way to improve the Rangers offensively and give them what they have been lacking for so many years: a good power play and the ability to score. In the first few games, however, that has not been the case.
The Rangers have not looked very impressive at all in the first six games of the season, and one of the worst facets of their game has shockingly been their defense. Vigneault has changed the Rangers’ defensive system from a stout, zone defense that Tortorella used to one that involves a defenseman picking up his man as he enters the zone in order to attempt to steal the puck away quicker. This system, when used correctly, can create odd man rushes as the puck is taken away, which is what Vigneault wanted to do in order to stimulate the Rangers’ offense. The Rangers defensemen, however, have not taken kindly to this new system, and have been torched as a result. Even the best defensemen like Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh have found themselves missing assignments, which have led to odd man rushes and caused Lundqvist to be hung out to dry on multiple occasions. This explains embarrassing losses of 9-2 to the San Jose Sharks and 6-0 to the Anaheim Ducks.
Ironically enough, even their offense hasn’t shown great improvement under Vigneault’s system. The system relies on the defense to make plays and for the team to maintain puck possession and predominantly play in their offensive zone to generate more offense. Since the defense has been unable to do that up to this point, the Rangers have found themselves unable to create scoring chances and looked abysmal on both sides of the puck. This is why they find themselves at 2-4-0 at the beginning of the season.
But is this a time to panic? Absolutely not.
It was going to take a while for the Rangers to get adjusted to a new system, and early season woes were bound to happen. Also, the Rangers are without Carl Hagelin, who is recovering from a torn labrum, Rick Nash, who suffered a concussion early on in the season and Ryan Callahan, who returned from injury only to break his thumb (he is out for at least another three weeks). On top of all that, center Derek Stepan was not at training camp due to a contract dispute. The Rangers haven’t even put their complete team on the ice yet. It is also noteworthy that, due to the renovations at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers have yet to play a game this season at home, and as a result have started their season on a road trip that is tied for the longest in NHL history. It is extremely hard to write a team off who has only played six games, all on the road and most on the West Coast, under a new system without three of their key offensive players on the ice at the same time.
Another reason not to panic is the Rangers have actually looked better recently. Since losing to the Sharks and Ducks, the Rangers lost a 5-3 game to the St. Louis Blues, but the offense looked much better than in games previous and the defense showed major improvement. And in their most recent game, they defeated the Washington Capitals 2-0, and their defense shined while their offense was productive. Even their power play, which has been the worst aspect of their game for years, finds itself at fourteenth best in the league at a 20 percent success rate.
Pretty soon this road trip will be over and the Rangers will finally be able to have a home game at MSG. At that time, Hagelin and Nash could be back and the team will have had more time to get used to this new system. So don’t go pushing the panic button on the Blueshirts. It’s October. There’s still plenty of hockey to be played.