With the NHL season heading toward the half-way point in 2013, the New York Rangers are struggling to break out of a mould of mediocrity in a time when expectations were so high for the club. The squad has undergone many changes since last season, and to date has struggled offensively, has not found the scoring touch, and have been more than underwhelming in the defensive zone.
Last season, the Broadway Blue Shirts knew who they were – a gritty, tough, and hard-nosed squad that would fight until the last second to win. In the 2012/13 season, win or lose, the Rangers were a tough team to play against, the opposition knew it, and the Rangers certainly knew it.
It was that style of play that let to memorable goals such as Brad Richards 0.1 second winning goal against the Phoenix Coyotes. It was that level of play that got New York to the Conference Final in last year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, and it was evident in their first and second round matchups against the Ottawa Senators and Washington Capitals that spanned seven games apiece.
But aside from Ryan Callahan, who put on an amazing performance both offensively and defensively in Tuesday night’s home loss to the Winnipeg Jets, the Rangers are but a glimmer of what they were last year and what they could be this season, and a great deal of that has to do with the identity crisis in which the Boys in Blue currently find themselves entangled.
On one hand, the Rangers want to remain the dangerous, hard-hitting, and pugnacious squad they were in 2012, but much of that sandpaper walked out the door with John Mitchell, John Scott, Brandon Prust, and Michael Rupp. Although the team has acquired selfless role players in Arron Asham and Darrell Powe, the team has undergone a shift from a Brian Burke-esque squad with equal levels of “pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence,” to something entirely different.
Love him or hate him, on the February 23, 2013 Hockey Night in Canada broadcast, long-time gossipmonger Don Cherry suggested the New York Rangers “are never going to win like you did last year with a team like this,” referring to New York’s lack of toughness this season. “Nobody,” he said, “has a fear of (the) New York Rangers anymore” and he is right, noting that the Rangers have fallen significantly in fighting majors from 1st in the NHL last season, to 20th in majors this season with only 9 minutes.
By another token, the Rangers had prided themselves on being a team with four diverse, but equally talented lines in 2012. On any given night, Head Coach John Tortorella could send out any combination of players or lines to bang away and get the job done. While some teams, such as the Boston Bruins boasted of having four number one lines, the Blue Shirt Brotherhood’s claim to fame was having a platoon of four solid, rugged checking lines.
Again, losing a player like Brandon Prust, along with fellow cast offs Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov, the Ranger culture has changed dramatically. Secondary scoring has diminished within the club and young standouts Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, and Carl Hagelin are finding it difficult to form consistent grooves, causing the Rangers to look towards Colorado’s Ryan O’Reily or even bringing back Mats Zuccarello Aasen once his KHL contact expires. Likewise, Gaborik and Richards have both expressed their lack of confidence this season, which was a non-issue or them in 2012.
Essentially, the Rangers have to make a conscious decision and concerted effort to make their way in the future. The team must either embrace their new visage as an offensively minded team or return to their aggressive, no bull ways of yore, but they simply cannot have it both ways.
The Broadway Blue shirts certainly have a plethora of talent in the lineup, but until the team finds themselves in the tumultuousness of a shortened season, the Rangers’ struggles will continue under the reign of Sather and Tortorella.