This has been a trying season for much of the league. Many teams such as the Dallas Stars, New Jersey Devils, and Buffalo Sabres to name a few, have had to endure weeks long stoppages of play in this COVID-19 short season.
Other teams have had a better run of it. Most have been able to play fairly continuously with the absence of players here and there as they enter the COVID Protocol List.
Unfortunately, the New York Rangers have had some of this plus plenty more to deal with, putting them in a pretty unique situation. But with everything that has occurred in New York roughly half way through the season, where do we draw the lines between our analysis. Do we chalk most of this season up to COVID and bad luck? What about coaching and poor play? In this rollercoaster of an unconventional season, with which lens are we to critically analyze the play of the Blueshirts?
New York Rangers got off on the wrong foot
From night number one, the Rangers were off to a discouraging start. After weeks of build up and excitement over a roster poised to take its next step, the Rangers failed to show up in an opening night manhandling by the cross-town rival New York Islanders.
Despite a win two days later on the back of an Alexandar Georgiev shutout, the tone was set, and the Rangers have failed to find a consistent positive energy yet as this season draws on.
The Rangers early struggles were perpetuated by the teams inability to produce enough offense and hold leads. Close games ended with the same punch to the gut night after night. A blown lead here or a late goal there started to mount.
One of these specific incidents happened to occur in a very competitive overtime matchup against the Penguins. A miscommunication between Tony DeAngelo and Alexandar Georgiev led to a loss. What happened afterwards sent Rangers universe upside down as DeAngelo and Georgiev had a postgame scuffle.
This led to last season’s 4th leading scorer to be waived and sent home. As for Georgiev, his struggles in net has only gotten worse.
Rangers struggling to turn the corner
Soon after the battle against theatrics and misinformation, the team was able to move forward into a new day. Things seemed to get much better as the team was able to grab a few wins in a short span. Enter the familiar foes out on the island. After a second heartbreaking shut out at the Garden, the teams offense continued to dry up like droplet under the Saharan sun.
But just as it seemed things couldn’t get any worse, the Rangers traveled to play a depleted Philadelphia Flyers club at their home in the City of Brotherly Love. While closer than it should’ve been, a resilient shootout win behind the strong play of the Georgiev renewed the teams spirit.
That is, until it was squashed by the likes of Russian political hit piece. A false accusation against Rangers star Artemi Panarin forced his indefinite departure. And while the team was able to impressively get hot, winning 6 out of 8, the mood was obviously dimmed by the worrisome episode befalling The Breadman.
These are just the major events. But how can one not mention the injury absences of Jacob Trouba, Filip Chytil, and most recently the neophyte standout in goal Igor Shesterkin. Or how about the multiple game absence of Kaapo Kakko under COVID protocols. Also notable is Mika Zibanejad’s inability to get anywhere close to mirroring his production in last season’s campaign. Even the coveted rookie Alexis Lafreniere’s slower than expected start contributed to the Rangers troubles.
More rocky road ahead
Now New York enters the tail end of this week having lost two straight to the Pittsburgh Penguins and another loss last night to the Boston Bruins with another against them tomorrow. Good news does have Artemi Panarin skating again and the injured soldiers back on the frontline. Things are looking up.
Fans are extreme and like to take criticisms to another level when things are going south. New York Ranger fans are a prime example. This is not meant as a slight towards Rangers fans. In all honesty, I have similar tendencies.
But this season is unlike any season that has ever occurred. If you want to draw a comparison to the 2013 shortened season, that is the closest you’ll get. But that season wasn’t threatened by a pandemic and schedules weren’t against the same eight teams.
The first 24 games of the Blueshirt’s season has undoubtedly been a rocky one, and the remaining games are likely to follow suit in some way, shape or form. It is really easy to go head over heels as a fan when your team is hit with the boatload of adversity that the Rangers have faced.
But after all, this is not only still a rebuilding team, but yet another developmental year. The past two seasons, Head Coach David Quinn has stated that the team’s ultimate goal is a playoff berth. Of course he is going to say that but in all actuality, the goal is development and it always has been since February of 2018.
Seriously, what is he supposed to say? “No, our goal is not to make the playoffs.” That’s like going to college and when asked to declare a major, deciding you don’t want a degree but not leaving.
I think this has raised the expectations of Rangers fans a bit too high. Playoffs are a nice goal that every teams obviously strives for, but in the midst of a rapid rebuild, development and learning are paramount. As New York sports fans and after having experienced the Rangers dominance of the previous decade, it is understandably difficult to tolerate the struggles of this early new era.
Hard to remove emotions as a fan
This is why we need to look at this rebuild and specifically this season with a new lens. We already know this season is unique and filled with adversity. Let’s start to analyze the game and not the result. The Rangers have had some disappointing losses and games where they failed to show up at all, but the vast majority of games have displayed a team with effort and grit.
I don’t love David Quinn. I think his decision making is questionable and he is the reason for some of the issues the team has faced on the ice. That said, who better to scapegoat as a fan than the head coach. This is why we need to be analysts more so than fans.
It is human nature to remember or be more impacted by negative events than positive. That is a proven psychological phenomenon. So of course, when applied to sports, we’ll go crazy over the negatives and call for coaches’ heads. But it is unfair to only focus on the bad, even if it stands out more in our minds.
Trying to remove emotion from it all
There has been a lot of toxicity associated with this season. As a fan, you’re passionate. It’s easy to look at things with tunnel vision or accept a negative viewpoint that most easily supports your beliefs when things are going poorly. By becoming an “analyst”, you can still be a fan, but you see both sides of the coin. You accept the positives and negatives equally and give credit where it is due. And to be frank, reframing how we watch the remainder of this season in the way I just described will lead to a much more enjoyable and enlightening experience.
I hate losing so much. I hate it as much as anyone in the world. But we are still developing and will shortly be moving onto the next stage. Patience, while sometimes excruciating, is key. Sit back, relax, and enjoy some hockey. Reframe how you view these New York Rangers. Watch the youngsters blossom, admire the good, reflect on the bad, give credit where credit is due, and just try to trust the process.
Taking a more all-inclusive analytical fan approach as opposed to a passionate and demanding approach will make you happier and will show you that this team is not as bad as they may seem on some nights. The Rangers’ time is soon, so learn from this experience and try to focus on the visible positives. They’re there, you just don’t need to see through the dark clouds.