The New York Rangers, a team many a pundit have picked to go as far as raising Lord Stanley’s Cup this year, are as far as they can be from that today: two games, two losses.
Both losses have come against sure rivals for that cup: the Boston Bruins and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
What has gone wrong with a team believed to be destined for greatness?
1. Two Cup Threats in a Row are Tough To Beat
To be the best, you have to beat the best. The Rangers are not doing that right now, but those teams are among the best for a reason. If you are not playing your best against them, you will be expected to lose.
2. Sloppiness on Line Changes
At least two scores have come at the expense of a mistimed or slow line change. These things have a flow that the Rangers have not had time to work on with the lockout. The problem is no one has. Another underlying issue is making this worse.
3. Lazy Defense
Coach Tortorella has railed on some of his players for not being in the right place, for not setting up on defense correctly, and for not making contact. Some of whom he has called out are Michael Del Zotto, Chris Kreider, and Stu Bickel. It is one thing when a rookie with two regular season games behind him is doing that, it is another when 1/3 of your blue line is at fault.
4. The King is Rusty
Henrik Lundqvist is making plays. He is also excused a bit for the porous D in front of him.
But he has let up some suspect goals. Proof of that? Torts pulling him halfway through a game. Lundqvist did not get pulled a single time last year; he lasted 1 1/2 games here. Torts is not pulling him unless there is a good reason.
Great goalies around the league are struggling so far, so we can be assured that a measure of consistency throughout his career, which Henrik is, will be able to come back quickly from this. But in order for them to reach the levels the Rangers hope to this year, it will have to be soon.
The Blueshirts have a rematch against the Bruins tonight, this time at MSG. There is no need to be hitting the panic button yet, but a deficit of 0-3 in a shortened season is a handicap no team wants to have.
Tuukka Rask comes into this game at 2-0 with a .958 save percentage and miniscule 0.96 goals against average. He has given Boston a non-existent drop in performance from usual starter, Tim Thomas, who is sitting out the season.
For the first time this season, the Rangers will need to score early or Rask will continue building his momentum. He has far too good of a team around him to have any shot at winning if he is playing this well.
The main two lines of the Rangers, including Marian Gaborik and especially Carl Hagelin, have to start contributing more, or instead, we’ll be seeing more of the same Wednesday night.