The New York Rangers have been showcasing awful hockey for a couple weeks now. Maybe it’s time to concede the fight and lower our expectations for this team. 

By Chris Wengert

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What a fall from grace it has been for the New York Rangers and their fans.

Most of you know the story line by now.

The Rangers started the season with that impressive 14-2-2 record. Mats Zuccarello was lighting the lamp on a consistent basis, Oscar Lindberg‘s productivity was a pleasant surprise, and the Rangers goal tending was lights out.

Ranger fans were intoxicated by this start, and the giddiness was palatable. Some people were even talking about such things like, playoffs and a big silver cup.

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But it was November, not June, and the Rangers play has sobered everyone lately.

It’s officially time to lower our expectations of this team.

Does this mean fans can’t dream big? No. Should we not expect our team to make the playoffs? Of course not.

But what our fan base needs to remember is that the hockey season is a marathon, not a sprint. The success of the past few years has all of us (me included) looking straight ahead to June, and this is problematic.

Boomer Esiason has a great motto: “One shift, one period, one game.”

But we’re only human, and so we look ahead to what could be. It’s not out of reach to think that the Ranger players are guilty of this as well.

But rather than painting our Rangers with broad brush strokes, let’s take a look at at why they have been struggling.

Team Defense

A huge weak point in the Rangers play has been their defense. Not just Dan BoyleDan Girardi, and Marc Staal, but team (offensive and defensive players) defense.

The Rangers play their best hockey when they execute their defensive system as one unit. This means that all 5 players on the ice cover their defensive positions before they look ahead to the neutral zone.

When there is a break down in the system, this happens:

Rather than covering an opponent, Jesper Fast floats around in the high slot, anticipating a break out play and leaves Sven Andrighetto wide open in front of Henrik Lundqvist.

The offense are not that only players guilty of these mistakes. The defensemen have had a hard time covering opponents as well. Here we will see Dan Boyle over committing to the wrong side of the ice, leaving a breaking Chris Wagner unattended.

The encouraging part of these breakdowns, is that they can be fixed with improved positioning and tape study.

This isn’t a talent issue by any means, and fans shouldn’t buy into the whole “they’re getting old” excuse. Players like Marc Staal and Dan Girardi are still capable of being top defenders.

Team Offense

The Rangers are having similar problems on offense.

When all 5 players are involved in the cycle and keep their feet moving, shooting lanes open and scoring opportunities arise:

Here you can see quick puck movement, crisp passing, and hard work by Viktor Stalberg to get the middle of the ice. The offense are also fore checking as a group, rather than sending in one player, which leads to the goal.

Injuries and Line Combinations

While the Rangers were having many of these problems well before the injury bug started biting, it would be naive to say that the injuries to Derek Stepan and Kevin Klein haven’t hurt the team.

As a result, it’s time for Ranger coach Alain Vigneault to juggle the line combinations a bit. While he should keep the top line intact, the rest of the lines are fair game.

Tanner Glass was a breath of fresh air for the third line. His jump and physicality injected some much needed life into his line mates, and AV should experiment some more with the lineup.

Oh and please Alain, sit Chris Kreider. He looks lost on the ice right now.

So should we dissipate our Stanley Cup dreams? Absolutely not. These dreams are the reason we cheer on our team, even as they falter.

But we should adjust our expectations a bit, and rather than talking playoffs, lets talk about a victory against Ottawa tomorrow.

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