Friday, December 3, 2010

Rangers Split Personality: Which One Is Real? Do They Even Know?

I am sure you are all familiar with the following cliché: “I would rather be lucky than good.”  I am sure you are also familiar with the sentiment that no matter how it happened the W is all that matters.  I am having trouble reconciling the two when it comes to the Rangers in the sense that I cannot tell on many nights if what they are showing, or at least the results are from luck or being good as I am left with the sense that they played mediocre hockey but got a W.  I am all for getting the ugly win and everything that goes with it, but when every win right now feels like that ugly win that could have easily flipped the other way, especially against teams they are supposed to be better than it is tough to fully grasp what this team truly is.

It seems like just about every game, especially of late, there are two different versions of the Rangers team that are on the ice during play.  One version looks like it could be a contender if all went right in terms of how they can impose their style; how their style can create chances and frustrate opponents; how they block shots, kill penalties and stifle chances for their opponents either with their D or with their goaltending; how they fight through adversity from game to game and within the game; and finally how they can stand toe to toe with anyone in the league for long stretches of a game. 

The other version is a lethargic team is one that: cannot complete a pass; gives up odd-man rushes like a spigot; hands the puck to the other team anywhere and everywhere on the ice; misses the net on chance after chance; is burned by speed in all phases; gets pushed around in front of their net and doesn’t look like it could compete against an AHL caliber team.  This leads me to two different questions today: Which version of this multiple personality team is the dominant one and When does the fact they cannot control the one that gets them in trouble start to really bite them against the bad teams too?

There are a lot of teams in the league that cannot put together a full sixty minutes at peak performance, but what is troubling about the Rangers is that there is very little middle ground with them.  They either roll at full steam or they are literally out of gas and this happens against the both the good and the bad teams they face with the main difference being against the mediocre or bad ones they can seem to find their game long enough to get the result where the good ones bury them too deep to dig out.  The other part that is troubling as someone following this club is when you are less talented you have to be more sound, more consistent than your opponent to have a chance.

Last night against a bad team the Rangers played 19 excellent minutes dominating the game and being up 2-0 on a team they are supposed to crush before surrendering a late goal to end the first, coming out flat in the second and having a team that had won 1 of 15 games dominate them for 12 minutes and suddenly they were down 3-2.  Luckily for the Rangers the goalie change flipped the split personality switch and they decided to play again getting two quick goals to retake the lead heading into the third.  In the third they would blow another two goal lead only to be bailed out by the skill of Marian Gaborik and escape with a 6-5 win.  Even with the skill and show that Gaborik put on if not for the two goals the Islanders scored on themselves the Rangers might still lose this game.

This pattern is not something that is new to the game against the Islanders.  In just looking back at the last five games in every game there have been peaks and valleys to the version of the team on the ice.  Against Pittsburgh they blew the game based on an awful 12 minute stretch in the second period which otherwise they played a reasonably close game.  Against Nashville they were dominated the first half of each period and then dominated the second half.  Against Florida they played an awful first period, but would rebound to win the game 3-0 and we all know what happened against TB where they thought one good period might beat a quality team like the Lightning.

Is this the team that played the first 19 tonight, the first period against Pittsburgh, the second halves of periods against the Predators, the last two periods against Florida and the third against Tampa or are they the other?  The real problem might just be if they are exactly what we see which is caught in a purgatory as they are both at the same time.  If they are the better version then they have the chance to make the playoffs and do some damage.  If they are the lesser version then the fans should start thinking about next year, but if they are the middle ground the roller coaster is not ending and there will be no peace of mind for the followers until it mercifully ends.

It has become obviously that the middle ground way is not good enough against the best teams in the league, or at least the best the Rangers have played to this point in the season and their standing in the standings is almost solely the result of beating up on the lesser among them.  How long does the luck of being “good enough” last where they can rely on Gaborik to net 3 to bail out the defense or Henrik can win them two games in Florida in Nashville virtually alone?  I understand those guys are the superstars they are because that is there job, but that kind of luck as I am calling it will run out because it simply is not sustainable for a full season.  Even if that luck could hold there becomes a point where you just run out of games against the weak opponents because as much fun as their 10 wins against the worst 7 teams and 12 against the worst 11 teams in league standings have been they just cannot play them every night and all you are proving is you are good enough for middle of the road.

I think this team realizes how lucky they have been in a lot of these games and hopes that they are good enough to take that next step forward, but I do think they or we know if they can.  With any luck the Rangers will decide that they want to be the better version of themselves and that 60 minutes a night is truly what it requires, but until then as much as we cheer the wins in the back of my mind the focus will be on how lucky it feels waiting for the other shoe to drop dreading another race for 8th.  Maybe that just makes me too focused on how they play and not if they win, but at some point how has to matter more because for me it indicates the likelihood of it happening with any consistency.