Rangers Can’t Bank it all on Hank
A generational goalie, four scoring offensive lines and a sub-par defense is the embodiment of the New York Rangers right now. With nine games of five or more goals, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement, until the (inevitable) flaws surface.
A Strong Sense of Deju Vu?
At a glance, it’s easy to think that this team is going the route they did last season. They came out on fire with a 17-6-2 record at the end of November, and then went on a downward slump that even Hank couldn’t save them from. The difference between this season and last is that Henrik started off at his usual slow pace and built up momentum, instead of coming out hot like last year and masking serious flaws in the lineup.
Does this mean there aren’t any flaws? Definitely not. While Jeff Gorton was able to make some decent trades (Derick Brassard for Mika Zibanejad, anyone?) and add speed, he didn’t do anything significant on the defense, which is where the Rangers really struggle. Nick Holden and Brady Skjei are the new blood, while Kevin Klein seems to be regressing. Adam Clendening sits far too often in favor of seasoned, yet hindering, veterans. I’m not going to turn this into a player-bashing session because I have entirely too much respect for the players, but it’s plain to see where the gaping holes lie.
Players are Only Human
So far the team has been exciting to watch, that is, until they’re frustrating. Rangers fans know this feeling all too well. Players have off-days, games go awry and we’re left sulking in front of the TV (or worse, at MSG) wondering what the heck just happened.
Speaking of off days, even the King is entitled to one, as we saw during the Sabres game this past Thursday. With each goal he let in, you could see the anger building up. It was evident in his stance, when he lay sprawled out on the ice after Buffalo scored goal number 4, and also during the last 59 seconds of the game, where he watched from the bench cursing the entire time (oh how nice it is to be a speech reader). While he wasn’t his best, it’s certainly nothing for fans to worry about. Off days happen to everyone, but one thing you can always count is a strong follow-up, as we saw on Saturday when they bested the Hurricanes for win number 17 on the season.
So Good They Love to Hate
If you’re an avid social media user, you’re likely to see hundreds of complaints about Henrik Lundqvist, mostly talking about how he’s washed up or just not very good. It comes from fans who consider themselves couch coaches and trolls alike. As a generational goalie, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Even in his 12th season with the Rangers, he’s still putting up very good numbers. Even more than that, he’s breaking records consistently—not the mark of a washed-up goalie. Hank still has plenty of years left in him, albeit at a decreased workload.
Despite his skill and work ethic, however, even he can’t mask the problem and it’s not fair to expect him to. But we do, because he’s just that good. Allowing breakaways and making bad turnovers has got to stop, particularly on the blue line and in the neutral zone, where it’s all too easy for the opposing team to take advantage.
It’s a Team Effort
While Lundqvist is one of the best out there, if not the best, it’s still important to realize that goalies don’t win games. The Rangers need to stop relying on him to cover up their mistakes, particularly when the defense flubs. They need to evaluate the times they dump and chase, without actually chasing and those critical blue line turnovers that have led them directly to the loss columns.
The bottom line is this team has the potential to go all the way. It’s a matter of making the necessary adjustments, and I don’t mean Vigneault playing the line dance shuffle every game. I’m talking about tightening up the defense and letting chemistry rule the ice.
When I say they can’t bank on Hank, I don’t mean they can’t or shouldn’t trust in him. I mean, they have to help him out more, rather than rely on him to cover their blunders. If they can correct the underlying issues, they have a chance to go all the way this season. And that, my fellow Rangers fans, is something you can take to the bank.