Few people are as knowledgeable, passionate or honest about the New York Rangers than ESPN Radio’s Don La Greca.Whether you know him from his work on “The Michael Kay Show” or as the New York Rangers‘ backup play-by-play radio announcer, Don La Greca is no stranger to New York sports fans.
He took some time out of his busy schedule to talk Rangers hockey with me on Monday night, and as someone who loves to remind us that he wears his heart on his sleeve, he had some brutally honest things to say.
He shares the same sentiments that many Ranger fans have when it comes to the offensive woes.
“What’s going on with [Kevin] Hayes? What’s going on with [J.T.] Miller? What’s going on with [Rick] Nash not getting any offensive production?” These are the million-dollar questions that remain unanswered. Like the rest of us, the longtime broadcaster didn’t have the answers, either.
“Zibanejad’s line is the only line producing,” La Greca said. He was, of course, referring to the line of Chris Kreider–Mika Zibanejad–Pavel Buchnevich, which has delivered 11 points in the first six games of the season.
“The team believes they have the right players,” he remarked, “but can’t seem to find the right combination.”
As I spoke with him, you could feel his concern, not as a broadcaster, but as a fan from a distance (as a diehard New Jersey Devils fan). I could feel the frustration in his voice because it’s the same frustration that all Ranger fans share.
He wasn’t all that concerned with the team’s defense, which may surprise some people. But he wasn’t wrong when he said that the team “has not given up a ton of goals; they just aren’t producing offensively. They can’t complete a pass coming out of their own zone.”
The same held true for Kevin Shattenkirk‘s lackluster play in his own end. “He was brought on for his offense, I can live with the mistakes he might make defensively.”
‘A Lack of Chemistry’
Of all the things we spoke about, that quote was the one that he said he’d want me to use above all others. It’s a term many fans have heard so often since the season began. I asked him whether he felt the lack of chemistry had to do with the team not playing together all that often during the preseason.
“I think there’s something to that,” La Greca replied, adding that with “so many kids playing” it was hard for the current roster to have a chance to develop any real chemistry.
Speaking of the kids, he wasn’t all that impressed with the team’s ballyhooed 18-year-old rookie who was recently sent down to the Hartford Wolfpack in the AHL. “Filip Chytil didn’t work out, [he was a] bit overwhelmed,” sentiments that most Ranger fans would agree with.
But he had his own questions about this team.
“When will the guys start to gel? What are they? There is so much unknown about this team. Who is Chris Kreider? Can he score 30 goals this year?”
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All excellent questions—none that are easily answered.
Speaking of questions, I asked La Greca about Alain Vigneault and if he thought the head coach was on the hot seat. “Rumors with [Lindy] Ruff on the bench, I would think that he has a little leash, not long ago they gave him a contract extension,” he said. “He has won six playoff series in four years, I have no indication that he’s on the hot seat”
More than anything else, his point about the team’s play at Madison Square Garden really stood out. After all, this is a team that has always wanted MSG to be an intimidating place for the opposition to play.
“Going back to last season where the Rangers won the first eight of nine home games, they went 14-18-4 in the last 36 home games. That’s inexcusable to me.”
We all feel the same, Don.