Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Rangers Roadblocks To Being Legit; Can They Be Fixed?

Yesterday, I asked if the Rangers record through 25 games was legit and if it meant anything in terms of their playoff chances and if they could become a contender.  Last night’s game against the Penguins showed me again that they are not ready to be the latter for sure and maybe not even the former.  The game exposed a lot of the different weaknesses that the Rangers have exhibited at times throughout the season and so today we look at what the Rangers must fix to become a legitimate playoff caliber team.  Some of these items I have discussed at different points on over the last month so hang with me if pieces of it sound familiar.

Weaknesses of the Rangers:
Failure to establish a home ice advantage:  With last night’s loss the Rangers fell to a paltry 5-7-1 and even worse 1-6 against teams .500 or better at home.  I understand you are going to lose some games to the better teams no matter where you play them, but 1-6 is disgraceful in your own building especially when you spent an entire offseason preaching about how you had to be better in your own building.  Other than beating Chicago the best win they have at home in terms of opponent is Buffalo without Miller or Calgary with the others being NJ and Edmonton.  As of right now there is only one team in the entire league with more regulation home loses than the Rangers currently have and that is Buffalo with 8.  You cannot be a contender, a playoff team or even a good team if you are getting that little production in the standings from your home games.

Failure to beat good teams: As I spoke of yesterday the Rangers have struggled against not just the best teams but good teams as with last night’s loss they are 3-9 against teams currently in the playoffs and 5-9 against teams .500 or better.  Since the Rangers will play the Eastern Conference teams more it is important to note they are 2-6 against the .500 or better teams in the East.  It is good to feast on those beneath you, but there comes a time where you have to at least play close to .500 against the better teams.  The failure to beat the good teams is partly due to the next weakness.

Failure to play a full sixty minutes:  The Rangers have had very few games this year where they played well in all three periods and lately have gotten into a lull where against the poorer teams they get away with playing one, maybe two solid periods and getting the win.  That might work in the short term and against the weaker teams, but there is no future success for playing partial games, especially against good teams.  Look no further than both games against Colorado, Philadelphia, Tampa, Washington, and last night against Pittsburgh as signs that one bad period against a talented team and you end up with nothing to show for whatever other good you did. 

Something that is really starting to bother me on this subject is the notion from the players and even fans after some of these games of focusing on a specific period and saying, well if they did that more they would have won.  The game that comes to mind the most is the Tampa game where in trying to sugarcoat some of the performance people talked about winning the third period and how the team ran out time on a comeback.  Sorry, but for me that is utter garbage seeing as how it was 5-0 game and the other team stopped pressing the same way they were when they dominated you for two periods.  You either show up and play for 60 minutes or you don’t and there is no let me extrapolate the good periods to see what would have happened at least not that matters.

Inability to deal with speed/quickness:  The Rangers at their best this year are a forechecking team that uses the forecheck and the cycle to create the majority of their offensive chances.  On the defensive end they are a team that needs to block shots and hit to have any success.  Due to both of those facts this team has struggled mightily against teams that are fast up front because they have been beating our defenders with pace; they struggle against teams that move the puck quickly because it stretches the defense leading to odd man rushes while also limiting the ability to block shots and against quick puck moving defense they are unable to put a forecheck on meaning they generate little by way of offensive chances.  The only good team the Rangers has had real success against this year is the Bruins because they at least for the most part play a similar physical grind it out style.  The Chicago team has more skill than Boston, but does not really play a fast tempo game and the Pittsburgh game they won they were thoroughly outplayed and Henrik just stole the game.  Even against a bad team like Florida their speed players created chances if lacking the same skill to make the Rangers pay.  As disturbing as their problems in dealing with speed have been the fact they have done such a poor job making adjustments in game and even game to game is just as mind boggling. 

Lack of Consistent PP:  All the best teams in the league have the ability to consistently burn their opponent for taking a penalty; especially in a big moment in the game.  For the Rangers most times the joke is about how they should decline the penalty because the power play is going to kill the momentum they gained at even strength.  After tonight the Rangers are now 18th in the league with the man advantage and a percentage of conversion at 15.8% this season.  At home the PP is worse than those numbers at a measly 13.7% effectiveness which ranks them a dreadful 26th in the league.  The Rangers power play struggles for different reasons, but the main one is the refusal to shoot the puck, especially from the point.  They have problems with stagnation without question, but the bigger on is how they love to play catch with one another instead of forcing the defense to react, shoot the puck and look for rebounds.

Faceoffs: The Rangers have been pitiful this year on faceoffs ranking 29th in the league at 44.7% effective and if that stat was not bad enough in and of itself imagine how bad it would be if eight of the games they have played so far this year were not against other teams in the bottom eight.  Chris Drury's return should help that situation some, but when your best faceoff man is Brandon Dubinsky who the coaches keep telling you cannot be a center, but rather a winger you have some serious problems on the dot.  This problem is also one that is not going away anytime soon as the worst two offenders in the circle are likely the Rangers top 2 centers going forward with Artem Anisimov at 41.3% and Derek Stepan at 37.6%.  This is a critical reason the Rangers struggle against the better teams because faceoffs lead to puck possession and the Rangers need to at least get to a respectable level to improve their overall chances.  (Want to thank M.R.M. for his comment reminding me about faceoffs, that is what the comment box is for after all.) 

Trouble coming back: The Rangers have been a very good front-running team as they are 12-4-1 when they score first; 8-1-1 when leading after the first period; and a staggering 11-0 when leading after two.  The reverse is that they are 2-7 when failing to get the first goal; 1-4 when trailing after the first; and 1-7-1 when trailing after two periods.  The Rangers for the part this season have shown resilience in their play in coming back from deficits, but in the final tallies it does show that they are coming up short when they have to climb uphill. 

The Rangers are doing a lot of things well that put them in position to be a playoff team but each of these things individually and collectively are holding them back from actually grabbing that right now and shifting focus to being a contender instead of just fighting to get in.  Many of these things are in different ways related like a bad power play at home can lead to a failure to come back and thus a poor home record, though I could argue if you were a better home team you would not need a comeback to worry about the power play.  The only one of these that fundamentally cannot be fixed is the lack of speed overall the team has, but even that can be accounted for to a large extent by schemes.  The point is until these symptoms are cured or at least quarantined the Rangers cannot be diagnosed as a playoff caliber team.