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The New York Rangers 3-3-3 record to start the season leaves much to be desired. Worse yet is that the level of play on the ice isn’t even worthy of that mediocre record. The Rangers are lacking a lot of things on both ends of the ice to open the season, but beyond the offensive and defensive problems they seem to be lacking any sense of leadership within the group. The lack of scoring consistency or secondary production offensively and awful turnovers are things that Rangers’ fans are used to witnessing, but the lack of desire to put forth effort for a full game is disgraceful. To lose games because players have off nights or the other team is simply more talented is one thing, but to be outworked goes against what fans expect of the Blueshirts.
The question for some becomes where does the responsibility for that consistently being the case reside? Is it on the coach who is paid to get the best out of his players, on the players themselves who should have their own internal pride of performance or on the leadership within the locker room?
There is no question that some of it is clearly on the shoulders of coach John Tortorella, but the players, especially the leadership are getting off too easy from many of the supporters in terms of "blame" for effort. Following each game, especially the losses, you see those who are presumed to be leaders, either by being team captains or vocal presences in the locker room say the right things to the media. They talk about how the team has to play a full game and how unacceptable different aspects of their game on that particular night were along with knowing they have to fix it. Yet, the Rangers are now nine games into the season and have yet to put 60 minutes of hockey together even once. No denying the coaching staff shoulders responsibility in that, but on another level, at what point do you start looking at the “leadership group” on the club and asking when they do something about what is going on?
To listen to Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan admit following the collapse against Ottawa that they relaxed when they went up 4-1 is unacceptable. To watch this team play lifeless period after lifeless period is deplorable. Where is that leadership group standing up in the room and calling people out? Where is that group doing something about it on the ice themselves instead of just giving lip service to the media after the game ends?
Callahan was named captain this season because he was said to have the respect of the room and performed well as the de-facto captain last season. The room is not showing the same level of fire playing for him with the 'C' that they did when he had the 'A' a year ago and part of being the head guy is demanding that effort. Placing the full blame at his feet would be wrong, but it goes with the title that he should be one of the first places you look when the team consistently lacks the effort he himself has been known for throughout his career. Even more disappointing is that he himself has had a number of games this year where he would not have met his own standards before, though to his credit he has owned up to it and is getting back to his type of hockey. Now he has to demand that of everyone else in the room.
In talking about the new locker rooms at Madison Square Garden, Captain Ryan Callahan said that the shape of the room was important because it allows all the players to look each other in the eye and breads more accountability. That level of accountability to one another does not seem apparent thus far this season. Last year this team had the feel of a team that fought for one another and did whatever it took to win a hockey game. This team has the feel of a club that is willing to do as little as possible to get the result they want.
You do not win in this league without hard work for a full 60 minutes and this team has not been willing to make that kind of effort once this season. They have three wins on the year, but there is not one of those games where the team played for 60 minutes or you could argue, outside of the goaltending, they outplayed their opponent for the majority of the contest. That itself should be seen as an indictment on the leadership of a club.
The thing that made last season’s club enjoyable to watch and gave such hope for what was to come was the level of intensity they played with each night. They certainly had lousy periods, mainly opening periods, but they fought and achieved despite being the less talented team on many nights. You cannot blame the start this season on talent as the Rangers went out and spent the money on the biggest fish in the free agent market, Brad Richards, and both he and Marian Gaborik have produced while Lundqvist has been Lundqvist in net, minus some soft goals against Toronto.
The loss of Marc Staal has certainly hurt, but the Rangers issues on the ice are based more on compete level and desire than talent. The idea that Sean Avery needs to be called up to give the team life and a spark is both a statement on Avery and a negative reflection on everyone else in the locker room. Some will argue that the Rangers are playing lifeless because Tortorella has lost the team, which could be true, but if they believe in their leaders they will run through the wall for them regardless of feelings on the coach. The Rangers are not doing that right now and instead are being consistently outworked by the opposition game in and game out. The time for placing the entire blame on Tortorella’s shoulders needs to come to an end and players like Callahan, Richards and now Girardi need to take control of the leadership of this team, demand better and accept nothing less. They cannot control the results and performance of each player, but they can require the effort.