I touched on this last night in reviewing the game, but I feel the need to touch on it and maybe even expand on the idea today. It is easy to focus on the offense and whatever struggles it is likely to have with Gaborik, Prospal and Drury on the shelf because it is a storyline everyone relates to and understands from prior seasons. I would rather skip that discussion, assume it to be a fact on most nights we are going to only get 1, 2 maybe 3 goals and move on to how we survive this stretch and it does include going back to principles this team used to employ under the so called boring hockey of Tom Renney.
I never fully understood the hate that fans had for Renney at the end other than to say if we were going to struggle we would rather do it playing 5-4 games than 2-1. I guess there can be more excitement in the high scoring game, but I have never been drawn solely to the goal scoring games or the home run in baseball as to me a goalie battle or pitcher’s duel where the first mistake matters so much is just as exciting. The problem for the Rangers right now knowing you are only going to get 1 or 2 on the board you need to have a defensive foundation to fall back on and we don’t. We do not cover in our own end, we don’t clear our crease and we don’t get the puck out when we have chances to do so. This doesn’t even account for the fact we aren’t playing our best defensive d-men at the moment. Part of it is that we have drilled into these guys that the D must get involved in offense and we are making them think too much instead of react to the play, and they get caught in-between, but the rest is just lousy D and marking your own man. Right now it seems there is no personal pride in each guy stopping his guy. We seem to be playing more of a zone type D where we guard an area and not a guy, which can be ok, but we are not closing on the gaps in the zone.
The area that really troubles me right now other than the D in general is the penalty kill. For the last couple of years the penalty kill is something that the Rangers have taken great pride in, hung their collective hat on. I know that we are missing Drury who is a great penalty killer, but we have enough quality penalty killing forwards to cover up for that better than 70%. The Rangers still have Dubinsky, Callahan, Boyle, Anisimov, Prust as capably forward PK men. Over the last 3 years we have ranked 7th, 1st and 6th respectively with percentages of 84.3, 87.8 and 84.6 percent kills. Yes, it is 4 games, but I think it speaks to a larger problem. Part of that is the turmoil in the d core and frankly not having a lot of faith in the guys we stick out there, especially when Staal keeps taking penalties himself. With Staal the ice they really only have 3 guys they trust to kill penalties in Staal, Girardi and Rozsival. There is no faith in MDZ, Gilroy and Eminger gets put out there because they need a 4th. I think Sauer can help the PK, but it is still a problem when you basically have 1 pair to kill penalties.
The other thing in getting back to basics for me is to have some actual accountability on this team. We have a coach who talks about consistency and accountability to the media all the time but displays none himself and requires even less from the club. Some guys make mistakes they get benched, scratched and other guys get no punishment or rewards. I’m talking about awful coverage, bad penalties, lousy effort; all of it. You want to admit there are different standards for certain guys fine, but until then let’s stop pretending that some don’t get away with a lot more than others. The best motivator in my opinion for a professional if they have pride in their job is to make them watch someone else do it and prove to them if they don’t do it the right way they just don’t play. The talk all camp was about competition and how it would make everyone better, well when no one who does badly gets accountable how are we raising standards and having competition matter? An effort like last night to start the game, and the 3rd period is something that is on the whole team and the entire team should be made to pay for it whether it be harder practice, tough skates, not rewarded with the day off practice.
Finally as bad as our D has been and how little many of our forwards have helped in the defensive zone, Henrik must be better as well. He has shown a lot of signs the last two games, but in the end he still gave up seven goals and is not moving as well this year. As the old cliche goes your goalie must be your best penalty killer and he has not been to this point. Maybe it just will take him a few to really get into the flow of the season, but whatever the problem is, he needs to fix it because Gaborik or no Gaborik this team rises and falls at the throne of the King.
I am not at all suggesting the Rangers go into a shell game where we play D the entire game and only look to counter, but we have to get back to the basics of d-zone coverage, staying out of the penalty box and when you get a penalty killing it off. Get back to taking responsibility and the challenge of marking your guy and if he leaves an area switch with someone else for the guy coming in. We also need to go back to when a guy screws up, plays selfish hockey he gets to sit and watch for a little while, no matter who it is. If that happens to be the whole team putting on a dismal effort then we need to make like Todd Richards in Minnesota and skate the crap out of them to send a message that it is unacceptable instead of just talking about it to the press and repeating the same behavior in future games.