Solutions to New York Rangers' Biggest Problems Early in 2013-14
The New York Rangers have finally finished their road trip and, all things considered, should be pretty happy to be 3-6.
It was an awful road trip. They lost Rick Nash and Ryan Callahan, and they let up a ridiculous 33 goals, including 20 in three games.
They scored just 15 goals, five of which came off the stick of Brad Richards.
It'll be good to get home. But they need to fix a lot of things in order to improve.
We'll break down the biggest issues for the Rangers in the 2013-14 season and give solutions to help them break out of their doldrums.
Read on to find out what the solutions are.
The Rangers have been absolutely awful in 5-on-5 situations.
They have scored just seven goals but have given up a whopping 21. That's unsustainable. The Rangers will not make the playoffs with that kind of ratio.
How do they fix it? The first key is getting guys like Ryan Callahan, Rick Nash and Carl Hagelin back. The more depth their offense has, the easier it will be to score in even-strength situations.
Until then, the Rangers need to play a simpler game. It goes back to dump-and-chase hockey, keeping the puck in the zone and forechecking relentlessly.
They need to stay with their man in the defensive zone, make smart outlet passes and win battles along the boards.
In other words, they need to get back to playing hockey. There's no need for the defensemen to join the rush on every single play. They can join when the situation calls for it. They need to be smarter in their defensive coverage and stay with their man. Way too many times, the forwards drift away from their points and allow the defensemen to pinch in.
Zone responsibility and just general intelligence will go a long way. There's no need to do anything fancy. They just need to play a simple game.
Henrik Lundqvist has not been good this season.
He is 2-4, with a 3.45 goals-against average and a .890 save percentage.
Obviously, he's been battling an undisclosed injury that has caused him to miss two games. That had to have had an impact on his play. He told Brett Cyrgalis of the New York Post that he wants to play Monday:
I’m not going hide it, I definitely want to play Monday. I want to be there and play in front of our fans. That’s my goal, but at the same time, you have to be smart about it. It’s a long season. We’ll see how I react to this. It was a good skate for me.
It's a bit odd that the team hasn't disclosed what the injury is, so it's hard to know exactly how it's impacted him. If it were his ankle, for example, then you could see how it affects his lateral movement. If it was his shoulder, you could see how it might affect his glove hand.
The biggest thing for Lundqvist is to get healthy. Cam Talbot has been absolutely fantastic in relief and he has made Lundqvist's absence more tolerable than expected.
But it goes without saying that the Rangers need Lundqvist. He needs to simplify his game and focus on keeping his movement clean. He doesn't need to handle the puck unnecessarily, and he doesn't need to get away from his style.
One of the things I've noticed about his style is that he's coming out of his net more. Lundqvist is famous for staying deep in his crease, with his skates on the goal line. That gives him an extra split-second to read the play. Most goalies come out to the edge of the crease to cut down the angle, but it also reduces their reaction time.
For whatever reason, Lundqvist is coming out to the top of the paint more. It's pretty clear it's not working. Lundqvist needs to get back to his game and stay in his net more.
I fully expect Lundqvist to rebound. He's too good not to. If he stays true to his technique, he'll rebound faster.
Derek Stepan has zero goals and five assists and is an awful minus-eight.
Derick Brassard has one goal and four assists.
Brian Boyle has zero goals and three assists.
Dominic Moore has zero goals and one assist.
In other words, the Rangers are not getting a lot of production from their centers. Head coach Alain Vigneault, before Saturday's game against the Detroit Red Wings, told Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News that the team needed more from their centers:
We need our centermen to help us out here a little bit. They’re a big part of defensive hockey and offensive hockey, and we’ve got quite a few on that end right now that are underperforming... Tonight I’m hoping that Step and Brass, especially those two – they’re supposed to be our offensive players, our offensive skill. They need to start showing some of that.
The game against the Red Wings was a good start, as Brassard scored the game-winning goal in overtime.
But one goal does not a season make. The Rangers cannot just rely on Brad Richards for all their offense. It's easy to excuse Stepan because he missed training camp due to a holdout. Eventually, it would seem, he would get his legs under him.
There's no excuse for Brassard. He had a full camp and is coming off a fantastic postseason. Remember, Brassard had 12 points in 12 games and was the Rangers' best player.
If the team can get the production they expect from Stepan and Brassard, they will rebound and make a playoff push. A trio of Stepan, Brassard and Richards is enough offense to make do until Rick Nash and Ryan Callahan come back. But it's only enough if the two centers pick up their game.
The best way for them to break out of their slump is to keep putting them out on the ice. They need to play on the man-advantage and on the penalty kill. If one of them needs to be shifted to wing, then that's what has to happen. Alain Vigneault needs to do anything he can to get them going.