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How New York Rangers Can Improve from Slow Start to the Season

Coach Tortorella and the Rangers have struggled early on.
Coach Tortorella and the Rangers have struggled early on.Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Josh CohenCorrespondent IIJanuary 25, 2013

No one can deny the New York Rangers' talent, but they have some schematic issues to address after a slow start.

This Rangers team has all the makings of a serious contender.

There's Henrik Lundqvist in goal, of course, though he's been harried by opposing offenses so far. In the first four games of the season, Lundqvist has allowed 13 goals on 114 shots, giving him a lackluster .886 save percentage.

Making matters worse, the Rangers haven't given Lundqvist much help on the offensive end, either.

Even with the ballyhooed addition of Rick Nash, New York has been mostly inept in terms of scoring.

The Rangers have notched just nine goals this season.

That would've been more acceptable if Lundqvist were his usually stonewalling self. Considering New York was supposed to raise its offensive game to match its defense this season, the beginning of the season has been a major disappointment for the Blueshirts.

So how can coach John Tortorella and his squad turn things around?

Fortunately, the issues on both sides of the puck have identifiable root causes. It might take a bit of time to fix them, which is worrisome in a condensed season, but the Rangers are fully capable of doing so.

 

Cover the Passing Lanes

Lundqvist wouldn't be getting bombarded in net so much if his defense would step up and stop the puck movement.

The Rangers' defensemen have a reasonable tendency to clog the area around the net.

That ought to be the highest-priced real estate on the ice, since that is where opponents have the best shot at scoring. In recent years, New York has been able to get away with that strategy due to Tortorella's emphasis on shot-blocking, which has impeded outside attempts from reaching Lundqvist at all.

Two problems have come up when the Rangers employ this tactic, however.

First of all, New York leaves the point free when its defense concentrates around the crease. That allows shooters to load up and fire on net, making the Ranger skaters exert themselves to block their heavy shots and forcing Lundqvist to work when the attempts get through and reach the net.

Of course, that's a foreseeable drawback, allowing the long shot in exchange for cutting off the short one.

On the other hand, that defense becomes self-defeating when the Rangers can't wrest the puck away from the opposition.

If there's one thing more tiring then sacrificing your body to block shots, it's doing so more than is absolutely necessary.

The Rangers have not been able to stop opponents from getting second attempts and cycling the puck around. Their defense is not built to take away the puck, but the skaters can't stop shots if they're exhausted.

Forced to chase opposing scorers and continuously cover the net, fatigued Rangers have been prone to close shots as well. With his protection faltering, it's no wonder Lundqvist hasn't put up his usual numbers.

If only for the sake of conditioning in this sprint of a season, Tortorella needs to adjust his defensive philosophy.

The Rangers have lost early by letting teams possess the puck in New York's end, and the Rangers will lose often if they don't make a change.

 

Shake Up the Line Combos

The attacking lines Tortorella is using right now clearly aren't working.

Sure, it must be a coach's dream to play Brad Richards, Marion Gaborik and Rick Nash all on the same line. That said, it's less about what the three superstars are doing and more about what the other nine forwards aren't.

Richards, Gaborik and Nash have combined for 11 points thus far, just a tick shy of a point-per-game pace. However, the rest of New York's skaters have combined for just 11 points themselves.

Notably, 2012 postseason wunderkind Chris Kreider is free-falling straight into Torts' doghouse.

Katie Strang of ESPNNewYork.com reports that Tortorella would be willing to send Kreider back to the AHL if he doesn't pick up his play.

I've seen players ruined because you put them in a situation and they just struggle and they don't succeed and they never come out of it, they're done, they're out of the game. I do not want to see that happen to him. He has too many assets, but he has not played well. And he knows that, so we'll see where we go.

That's a valid argument that Tortorella is making, but he's also overlooking an important factor: When you put a speedy sniper like Kreider down in the bottom six of your rotation, defenses are going to have free rein to key on him.

Maybe the issue isn't that Kreider is unfit for the pros; he certainly looked it on the biggest stage last postseason. Tortorella might just have to put his players in better positions to succeed.

It could mean something as small as tinkering with the bottom lines, but it also might be worth considering breaking up the superstars and spreading them around.

With the structure of this NHL season, the Rangers will have to adjust on the fly. The good news is that they have the talent to do so.

As long as New York plays with more discipline on the defensive end and can create some chemistry on the attack, this team is going to be just fine.

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