New York Rangers: Only Three Games In, Is It Time to Start Worrying?

The New York Rangers are on a road trip from hell. First they traveled more than 11,000 miles to Europe, through Scandinavian countries for exhibition matches, and now back to the United States, where they played one game on Long Island, and are now gearing up for yet another road trip, 3,000 miles to western Canada, to play four games against Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, and Winnipeg, before finally returning to back New York for their home opener against Toronto. This schedule, made so because of the prolonged renovation underway at Madison Square Garden, and the NHL’s fascination with having the Blueshirts travel to Europe what seems like every season, left the team exhausted for their first two games in Sweden, which they dropped to the Kings and Ducks respectively, in overtime, last weekend. With the way they played, they were lucky to have even gotten the two points. Lundqvist kept the Rangers in both games, while Gaborik and Richards were excellent together. Unfortunately, the list ends there in regards to players who actually impressed.

The Rangers could have blamed those two losses on any number of factors, which also included not having enough time to get in team practices, and playing four exhibition games on large-size hockey rinks. John Tortorella even exclaimed, “We can’t wait to get the hell out of here,” upon completion of last Saturday’s loss to Anaheim. Before last night’s game against the Islanders, he told the press that, “The season starts tonight.” If that is the case, than both starts to the season were disasters. With an entire week off to rest up, practice regularly, and prepare, the Rangers were flat once again, plagued by the same thing that dragged them down in Stockholm: penalties. The Rangers were shorthanded eight times last night, the Islanders cashing in on two of those chances. The most glaring of these undisciplined penalties came at the most inopportune time, with less than five minutes remaining, and the Rangers trailing 3-2. Marian Gaborik took the most obvious hooking penalty, one reminiscent of a pre-lockout defenseman trying to manhandle an opponent. I yelled at the TV, watching incredulously. This is the most undisciplined team I have ever seen in my life, I thought to myself. After eight last night, eight against Anaheim, and five against Los Angeles, this is not rust we are seeing, but an epidemic of laziness and stupidity.

The announcers on MSG last night mentioned just before the game that Tortorella preached better discipline to the team, and then Brandon Dubinsky takes a tripping penalty a little more than a minute in. Dubinsky, whose play has been less than lackluster all throughout the preseason and these first three games, clearly looks lost and devoid of hockey sense, and has managed to have taken 20 minutes in penalties thus far. Never being a big fan of his I-Play-Good-When-I-Want-To style of play, I wonder what will have to be done to wake him up, as with the money he is being paid, he needs to either start scoring or Sather has to start looking for a new team for the egotistical “power forward”. He is the prototypical third line center being paid second line money, who has a head the size of a superstar—not really the recipe for success, is it now?

People have also blamed these losses on the injuries to defense, because of Sauer’s recent shoulder injury and Staal’s long-term concussion problems. Aside from normal nerves and a bit of shakiness in the first two games, the Rangers young defense really has not been the issue. Would I kill to have those two guys back? Of course, but I don’t see the Rangers having any wins even with them in the lineup, with the way the offense has looked so far, and the amount of penalties that have added up.

And so I ask, is it time to start worrying? It may be only three games, but the Rangers, aside from Gaborik (2 goals) and Richards (1 goal, 2 assists), have been offensively challenged. Its not even the fact that they are not scoring, but they look terrible at times. The penalties have a lot to do with that, because a team cannot develop flow when they spend nearly an entire period’s worth of playing time in the penalty box. Though there is no “reffing” conspiracy against the Rangers as some fans may tell you, there were a few calls last night that were atrocious, including a delay of game call to Brian Boyle when the puck was still moving, and a goaltender interference penalty on Callahan, who had no way to avoid hitting the goalie. That aside, the cat is out of the bag regarding the Rangers. Word is, they are undisciplined and will take stupid penalties, so you know the referees are going to watch them even closer now.

Discipline is not something a team can learn, or hopefully, re-learn overnight. This is something scarier than if the Rangers were shutout in these three games. Lundqvist has been brilliant, and is the only reason why these losses are not blowouts. But what happens when he gets a night off or has a clunker himself? Will the team just implode? Under normal circumstances, a team would welcome a four game road trip, to get out west and get away from everything; it could be a chance to refocus. But the Rangers have been on the road for about a month now, and due to their first three games, this trip is going to be anything but fun. The Canucks have always been tough opponents, and the Flames and young Oilers team will be very tough to beat. The other foe on the swing, the Jets, are still looking for their first win—will it come against New York?

The Rangers need to win two of these four games, what could be an early season-saver. Be it as it may, only mid-October, but if the Rangers drop all four games or only win one, the hole dug will be even deeper. To the people who are not alarmed, John Davidson used to say, “The points you get in October are the points you don’t need in April”. If the Rangers keep losing, playoff chances will diminish, and it does not matter what time of the season it is. At 0-1-2, the Rangers could easily be 0-3-0, so you can imagine what a poor trip out west could mean—the future is really not too bright. With the Penguins and Flyers bound to have good seasons, and the Devils and Islanders set to surprise, we may be looking at the worst team in the Atlantic this season, without a quick turnaround.

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