Right Wing Conspiracy – 25 Oct 2013
Right Wing Conspiracy is a weekly column about hockey, with the odd hockey-related conspiracy theory thrown in for good measure.
Are the New York Rangers Evolving or Devolving?
The New York Rangers underwent a major change over the summer, dismissing fiery head coach John Tortorella and replacing him with the much more laid-back Alain Vigneault. On the player personnel front, the Rangers made minor changes, signing forward Benoit Pouliot and blueliner Justin Falk, along with a handful of depth players to stock their minor league roster. Almost one month into the 2013-14 NHL season, how are the Blueshirts responding to the offseason changes? Let’s take a look:
NEW YORK: 8 GP, 2-6-0, 4 pts., 12 Goals For, 31 Goals Against, 7th (of 8) in the Metropolitan Division
Though the season is still young, those numbers are not at all what you might expect from a team just two seasons removed from the Eastern Conference Finals and a few months’ removed from the Conference Semi-Finals. Much more alarming than the Rangers’ 2-6-0 record is the fact that they’ve only scored twelve goals. Consider this Tweet following Thursday’s 2-1 loss to the woeful Flyers:
With Richards getting the only goal tonight, the Rangers still have just three forwards with goals this season. –Kevin DeLury (@TheNYRBlog)
By comparison, the Dallas Stars have just four regular forwards who haven’t scored a goal.
The Stars are an interesting comparison for the Rangers, as they, too, underwent major offseason changes. Just for contrast, the breakdown of goals by Dallas forwards, from 1st through 4th line, is 9-7-2-1. For New York, it’s 8-0-1-0.
Why aren’t Blueshirt forwards (beyond the top line) scoring? Without question, injuries are a factor. The Rangers began the season sans speedy winger Carl Hagelin and heart-and-soul team captain Ryan Callahan. Just as Callahan returned to the lineup, superstar Rick Nash was sidelined with a concussion. Hagelin won’t be available before the October 29 game vs. the Islanders. Callahan is out again, this time for 3-4 weeks with a broken thumb. Nash is out indefinitely. The net effect of these injuries is to push most wings up in the lineup, giving them playing time and situations which are out of their depth.
Compounding the Rangers’ problems, free agent signing Benoit Pouliot has been a bust thus far, dragging creative winger Mats Zuccarello down with him. Taylor Pyatt hasn’t been much better. Top line center Derek Stepan deserves a share of the blame, too, as his prolonged holdout (when, as an RFA with no arbitration rights, he had no leverage whatsover) caused him to miss training camp and preseason and put him behind the curve for adapting to new head coach Alain Vigneault’s system. Only now is Stepan’s game beginning to round into form.
Derick Brassard’s play this season is, in some ways, as worrisome as Nash’s concussion. While Brass has been healthy, he hasn’t been himself. After coming to New York from Columbus in a trade deadline deal last spring, Brassard blossomed, putting up 5-6-11 in 13 regular season contests and 2-10-12 in 12 playoff games. Over the summer, one assistant coach added to AV’s staff was Scott Arniel, who was head coach in Columbus for 1 1/2 seasons. When the Blue Jackets’ 2011-12 season imploded with an 11-25-5 start, Arniel was fired. By that time, his relationship with Brass was described in some corners as “toxic” and Brassard’s agent was calling Arniel out via Twitter. Though the Rangers’ 2nd line center insists he and Arniel have mended fences, his statistics so far (8 GP, 0-4-4, -2) do make one wonder if that not-so-old animosity is a distraction for Brassard.
The struggles of the defensive corps to shift from a zone-type system to a man-to-man system are well documented and have certainly contributed to the Rangers’ reduced scoring. Also, with the exception of a shutout of Washington, King Henrik hasn’t been his dominant self in net, forced to adjust to smaller pads and deal with a minor undisclosed injury. Last, but not least, Coach Vigneault’s hands-off approach has apparently left a leadership void in the locker room, as the players were accustomed to John Tortorella’s take-charge style and must now assume unfamiliar, enhanced leadership roles. All in all, October has (thus far) seen the Rangers beset by a multitude of plagues, the magnitude of which would severely test any team. Will they emerge from this trying time a better, stronger team, or will they simply implode? Are the Rangers evolving or devolving? The next few weeks will tell the tale.
Follow Matt Pryor on Twitter: @BigTex1926