Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Rangers Continue To Struggle In Final Period

Last season when the Rangers had their first full training camp under head coach John Tortorella one of the things that was stressed the most was how much Tortorella’s conditioning drills would pay off for the Rangers in 3rd periods and in back to back games.  It does stand to reason that the best conditioned team would have an advantage later in games.  Last season this theory played out to a very impressive 32-1-5 mark when they had the lead after two periods, but an awful 1-25-2 mark when they trailed after two periods, which means they were also 5-7-4 in games in which the score was tied with 20 minutes to go. 
In stating the obvious the record when leading after two was excellent and speaks to the ability to hold a lead and the quality of the goaltender that Henrik Lundqvist is.  The record when trailing speaks to the limitations of the offensive skill the Rangers had, but also that they simply were not a great team because good teams find ways to win in games they are trailing after 2 at least more than 3% of the time.  Also to be a mediocre club when tied after two in only winning 31% of the time shows why the Rangers failed to make the playoffs a season ago. 

Coming into this season the biggest talking points were about creating a home ice advantage and being tougher within games while camp once again built up these great conditioning tests that would prove valuable when the games counted.  Obviously the home struggles have continued as they are now 2-5-1 and while the toughness within games has been shown in the continuing to battle and respond most nights to adversity, I cannot buy that this “conditioning” really manifests itself in the standings.  I say that because last night was just the latest failure of this team to come up with the necessary plays in a 3rd period to get a W. 

If you are an opponent the reality is your main goal against the Rangers right now is to survive the 1st period as the Blueshirts have outscored their opponents 15-8 in the 1st period this season.  If you are playing against New York and you come out of the 1st either tied or ahead you have to feel you are way ahead of the game.  The records illustrate this beautifully as they are 5-1-1 leading and 0-2-0 when trailing after the 1st.  Going further the Rangers are 6-0-0 this season when they lead after two, but they are 1-7-1(1-4 tied; 0-3-1 trailing) when they are tied or trailing and that simply is not good enough if they want to be a playoff team.  In 3rd periods this season the Rangers have been outscored 18-11 in their 15 contests, equating to losing 3rd periods by an average margin of .5 goal a game.  For a team that was supposed to be in the kind of condition that would aid them in the 3rd period of close games the reality is if they do not lead after two the likelihood of points coming from the game is minimal. 

So what leads to a team being so good early in games and when they have a lead and so lousy late in games or when they fall behind.  On the positive side the Ranger style of fore-check, cycle on offense can lead to opportunities to jump on a team early in the game while the opponent is trying to get into a rhythm and the blocking shots along with very good goaltending can help a team that is focused on maintaining a lead until the final buzzer.  On the negative side the system the Rangers are forced to play missing some of the more talented and creative players does not lend itself to huge creativity in making a comeback.  The last two games are prime examples of that in that the Rangers down 1 late in the game continually dumped the puck in even when no one was in to get the puck on the fore-check instead leading to easy clearances for the opposition.  To me there is also a level of it on the coaching side that this team fails as much if not more than any other team I have seen to make adjustments within a game.  Obviously I do not mean switching up the lines because Tortorella is more than accustomed to dropping that on the table as if he was in Vegas at the roulette wheel.  So we have a skill deficiency both when healthy and injured, a failure of adjustments and a system ill equipped to drive the comeback.

The hope that the Rangers and their fans have to cling to is that when they get the reinforcements of a healthy Gaborik, Prospal and Drury some of the negative statistics will improve both in terms of being able to create goals to get them back in games, but also getting the big penalty kills to either hold on to a game or keep the team tied or close enough for the offense to change the outcome.  I don’t know how much that really will happen because the cast the Rangers are missing were critical last season when the numbers were similar, maybe it is simply a reflection of the talent as much as the culture and this club just is not good enough to win those games they fall behind in or pull out the even ones in the critical parts of the game.  Being only fifteen games into the season equates to a small sample size, but what has been shown so far is not encouraging and if it doesn’t improve the fate of this year’s club will conditioned to be the same as last year; a regular season with no playoff payoff.