Monday, February 21, 2011

Have Rangers Lost Their Identity?

The New York Rangers are at a crossroads right now where they must decide who they are and define what the result of this season will be.  The thing that made the Rangers first half so special was not the record or how they overcame the vast number of injuries they were plagued with.  What made the first half so special and this team different from previous Rangers clubs was that they had an identity.  This team was never going to be pretty or flashy, but they were going to outwork their opponent and by staying together with the system they would in the end find a way to get the win.  Playing that way got the Rangers out to a 29-19-3 record through 51 games despite playing undermanned and without their full complement of pieces the whole way.  Since that point, one game before the All-Star break, the Rangers have played to an abysmal 2-7-1 record that leaves them at 29-26-4 overall.  Can the Rangers regain that identity to let the original version come back out or is this who they really are deep down?
During the struggles the team has the feel of someone who has lost their way, their core if you will and they cannot seem to get back to their center.  The team does not forecheck with the same intensity or consistency.  They do not have that next man up mentality in the same way.  They do have a new hero every night in the same way they did before when things were going well.
Part of all of those things is because certainly players have hit the wall, along with others having underperformed and also the incorporation or reintegration of others back into the lineup has changed some of the mentality the team plays with.  The team seems to lack a sense of urgency right now about how important each game is.  Even worse they have an utter lack of focus.
So are the Rangers the team that was 29-19-3 or are they more the team that after going 2-7-1 is 29-26-4?
Unfortunately the answer is that they are both and neither at the same time.  This team when they play a focused game can play with any team in the NHL.  The problem is they have not gotten the memo that 60 minute efforts are what it takes to win in this league as they have built up this false sense of security that they can always rally in the third period.  That might have worked in the first half of the season, but it does not work as teams tighten up even more down the stretch while scratching and clawing for every crucial point. 
The breakdowns have been in all phases of the game and with nearly every player on the roster.  With the deadline quickly approaching and other teams making moves there is a sense of urgency for New York to make a move, but the best move they can make is trading this unfocused identity that fails to convert, takes bad penalties, loses defensive coverage, does not successfully forecheck and bringing back the other identity they had built the first 51 games.  The players were good enough then and they are good enough now, so it about playing the way they know how and with the urgency they did more than anything else.