Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Rangers Have Found Meaning of Team Thus Finding Better Results; Consistency Next?

Consistency is a buzz word that has surrounded the New York Rangers the past few seasons and the search to find it not just in the results, but also in the process.  My penchant for focusing on the process as much as the results themselves can tend to make me come off more pessimistic than some others might.  For me the reason the process is so important is because using the right process and getting results makes those results more likely to be repeatable on a consistent basis as opposed to when you can escape with the result even if you did not really earn it.

For me in order for a team to be consistent it needs to first have an identity (system/style) and a common purpose.  One of the reasons this organization has failed to garner consistent results the last few seasons is they have lacked a team identity.  When it has come to Rangers over the last few years when speaking about the team it felt as if “team” was more appropriate because it really was a collection of individuals all collecting their checks from the same place and having no common purpose. 

This season the Rangers have done a much better job of developing their identity as a team that is hard to play against, works the forecheck and cycle games, blocks shots and hits.  What this sense of identity or at least a consistent style for the team has done is allowed them to have a different mentality within games.  From the preseason there were differences in this team that were noticeable in the way they competed especially when they would fall behind in games and continue to battle where in those situations a season ago they would have cashed it in for the night.  This sort of mentality change has been evident for most of the season as the Rangers even in their up and down phases have rarely had whole games where they just did not show up.  There have been quite a few times especially leading up to the Washington game where they had significant lapses in their focus, but rarely the clunker they mailed it in on.  Having a system you are always trying to get back to gives a team a foundation to build from and a goal to push towards in each game.

Beyond just the system itself though there must be a common purpose and a collective identity in the room in order to truly be a good team.  This is one of the areas the Rangers have improved in the most as they have consistently stood up for one another, filled in for each other and stepped up in the absence of others in doing what has been necessary for the team first.  Part of the change might be that there was a whole offseason with a guy like Brandon Prust around because he certainly showed a willingness to do all those things in his stint to close last season or maybe it is the addition of Michael Sauer from the minors who defends his teammates and bring a toughness that can be contagious.  I cannot honestly say there is one player this season who on the ice has acted as if they were bigger than the team or the sweater as all have sacrificed their body for hits, blocked shots and to make plays.  Obviously some have done it more than others, but all have shown a willingness to do it and that makes it easier to believe and build upon.  I also think that guys like Prust or Boyle or even Sauer doing it is one thing as for them that is a role they can play but when your teams best player this season, Brandon Dubinsky, is constantly scrumming and scrapping for his mates it sends a message on a totally different level.

Last season thru 32 games the New York Rangers were 14-15-3, while this season they are 18-13-1.  On paper the Rangers are not much different than a year ago as they have the same coaches; many of the same players; approximately the same overall talent level.  For me what accounts for the difference in the results is just what I have described they have a more consistent system in not lines and they have an identity not as individuals but as a unit.  As sad as it is going to sound the difference might be as simple as it seems they care more not just about the results but each other; the mentality of the club is different.  Obviously on many nights a team with superior talent will win out, but as was evidenced in the game against Washington when you can mix your talent, whatever amount it is, with a collective purpose you can be a lethal combination, especially against a until that has talent but no cohesion. 

It is refreshing after the past few seasons to see the Rangers actually playing as a team and to this point they are being rewarded in the standings.  The next key for the Rangers is to apply the differences in their team this season on that consistent basis not just from game to game, but within games for the full sixty minutes and once they do that, then the process will be complete and on most nights the results will take care of themselves.  Only time will tell if this year is the time when that combination comes together or if this is just another foundational year building for the future, but either way the signs among the team are good because they are pointing in the same direction.