Monday, December 6, 2010

Rangers 16-12-1 Record Due to Who They Are or Who They Played?

In all sports the ultimate goal for each team and their fans at the start of a season is to win a championship.  Obviously if teams and fans are realistic about their actual goals many will realize the ultimate goal is not in the cards for them in that season and they have secondary goals whether it be making the playoffs or just making sure you leaving it out on the field/court/ice each game.  For many New York Rangers fans the realistic goal for this teams coming into the year was a run at the playoffs with a seeding likely in the 6-8 range as the better end of the expectations while maybe pushing the right matchup in a first round series.  Those expectations though have a tendency to change most dramatically at the beginning of years based on hot or slow starts.

Where the Rangers are concerned the 2009-2010 season was one that had fans in the first 10 games handing them the Stanley Cup and it ended with the Rangers missing the playoffs in heartbreaking fashion.  In 2010-2011 the Rangers did not get off to the same start right out of the gates and had their ups and downs on a rollercoaster that had them hovering mainly within striking distance of .500 for the first 20 games.  In the nine games since a loss at Colorado November 19th that dropped the Rangers to 10-9-1 the team is an overall 6-3 and has had 3 consecutive 2 win 1 loss mini streaks along the path.  The question becomes though is the Rangers run of late and overall record a product of who they are or just who they have played?

For the last few weeks I have watched this team gain ground in the standings and on the .500 mark by getting victories over some of the worst teams in the league and yet there was nothing in those games to make you believe the team was for real.  The best team they beat in the stretch was probably Nashville and the best game they played would like be the one in Minnesota after being embarrassed by Colorado.  Only one of those wins, Nashville, was against a team currently above .500, but only one of the losses was against a team below .500, yesterday’s to Ottawa. 

Over the stretch, especially since the Calgary game there has not been one 60 minute performance by the team in terms of playing their game, and not having huge lapses in effort and execution.  In reality the Rangers were getting away with things and escaping with wins not because of how they were playing in a good sense but because of who they were playing.  The Rangers tried that again yesterday, but this time against a team that came in struggling mightily both on the scoresheet and in the win/loss column over their last 10 and yet the Rangers would fail to win despite their play.  The reality is this team if it had not played the Islander the two games prior to the Senators game is probably on a four game losing streak and if you take it back further the games against Florida and Nashville were not exactly award winning performances so the skid could be longer.

The Rangers have been some teams that were good last year in Buffalo twice and New Jersey twice, but both teams are down to start this season.  They also beat some teams that were hot when they played them like Toronto but have since come back to Earth.  All told 11 of the 16 wins the Rangers have are against the teams that currently have the worst 7 records in the league and they only have 3 wins against the top 10 teams in the standings.  Obviously the Rangers are sitting in a position right now that shows them in 6th in the East so maybe this team is good enough to get in the playoffs as they are, even if it means being just good enough against the worst teams in the league and sneaking in the backdoor to the playoffs, but realize the schedule will naturally get tougher from here. 

In the 29 games the Rangers have played thus far this season they have played 13 against teams that currently have winning records and are 4-9.  Contrast that somewhat favorable opponent schedule to the fact they will play 13 games against teams currently over .500 in their next 18 games and you will understand why coach John Tortorella considered this an important game.  Going further and obviously much will change before the games ever fully get played because of up and down stretches but just looking at the rest of the season schedule as of right now 32 of the final 53 games will be against teams .500 or better. 

So before fans go changing their expectations and getting all excited about the team they see in front of them remember who it is they have played to get there and that on any given night the Rangers can play down to their opponent but haven’t really shown they can play up to the best ones; at least not consistently.  If the Rangers truly want to make people believe they are for real first as a playoff team and then as something more this next month would be a great time to stop escaping against bad teams and start beating some of the good ones or they will be where they were come playoff time last season; home.