A large part of the New York Rangers identity last season was being a hard/tough team to play against. The reason for that emphasis was because the Rangers knew that on many nights they would be the inferior team in terms of pure talent, but effort and hard work would carry them through in many situations. Chris Botta at Slap Shot wonders what has happened to that identity of toughness early this year.
Down: Rangers’ Toughness – So maybe Sean Avery has lost enough of his edge for the pesky wing to no longer merit a job as one of the Rangers’ top 13 forwards. But something is amiss with the Blueshirts. It’s one thing to be winless in three games to start the season; it’s unacceptable to be an easy team to play against. The Rangers need to upgrade their toughness quotient or opponents will continue to skate into their end without a care in the world. Calling up Kris Newbury and demoting Mats Zuccarello to the minors, as Glen Sather did after the loss on Long Island, is not enough.
If Botta is referring directly to the need for more enforcer/goon types, then I am going to disagree with that as the issue here. The Rangers do have been an easy team to play against to start the season and it is not because of a lack of enforcer type presence as Prust and Rupp can be that in terms of fighting. The problem has been their inability to use their strength on the forecheck to punish teams and wear them down. The only game they did this with any real consistency was against the Kings and you could see the impact as the game wore on. Part of the problem in establishing the forecheck has been the constant penalties which disrupt any rhythm and momentum that could be built at even strength.
The other part is that the Rangers seem trapped between wanted to exploit the abilities of skilled players like Gaborik and Richards while trying to remain as they were last season and they have failed to find that balance. That part of the problem should be alleviated to some extent with Stepan showing early returns on the top line and allowing Dubinsky to go back to playing with Anisimov and Callahan while Fedotenko returns to Boyle and Prust. Those two lines were the ones that were responsible for forming the Rangers toughness identity last season as they hit all that moved and used the forechecking style to create their offense. Getting back to a dirty work type game is exactly what the Rangers need to do for their own offense and to be tougher to play against.