The New York Rangers have proven to be a competitive, scrappy team, but they must continue with the plan established last February and not hunt for a playoff spot.
The New York Rangers started the season knowing the journey ahead would be filled with highs and lows. The playoffs were not a consideration and that was fine with the organization—the fan base, too.
An incredible month of November allowed the thought of playoffs to creep into everyone’s mind. This mind trick can only hurt the development of the Blueshirts.
The problem with thinking the team can make the playoffs is that it changes the entire philosophy of the end game. It’s already occurred in small portions.
The play of Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad and Kevin Hayes along with Henrik Lundqvist has given everyone false hope. The team has recently seemed like the playoffs are the end game, which I can tell you, it is not.
This season was a development year. It was to serve as a launching point for the youth of the team with assistance from the veterans. The thought was to play solid fundamental hockey, learn from a rookie head coach who is great at teaching the game to young players and to be competitive in every game.
So far, so good.
The Rangers began to get pulled into the thought that making the playoffs was possible, even necessary. Looking at some of the roster moves proves that very issue.
In training camp, the team sent Lias Andersson to Hartford saying it would be better for him to get more ice time in the AHL. Then he was called up a few weeks later, averages around nine minutes per game and then sent down in December.
What did Andersson learn in that time? How did he progress? A poor move, all around, by the team.
Filip Chytil is the example the team should have followed with Andersson. Chytil played the majority of last season in Hartford, this year he has played in every game with the team until Monday when he was a healthy scratch for the first time.
At 19-years-old, he is expected to see the press box several times. The coach, himself, understands that but the trap of success probably has kept Chytil in the lineup up a little more than he should be.
Quinn is taking chances that have been delaying players to develop on the power play. The five forward power play that has been used in the past few games is an example of what not to do. The head coach has been using two forwards on the point for the first power-play unit. Going with this unit also hinders the development of some of the more offensive defenseman in the team since they are only seeing second unit minutes.
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Kevin Shattenkirk was signed as a free agent two summers ago with the skill to quarterback the power play and the same can be same for defenseman Anthony DeAngelo. Tony D came over in a trade from Arizona. He was touted as a power play defenseman, but he is rarely used with the man advantage (when he is in the lineup at all). Brady Skjei, who has shown signs of offensive brilliance after struggling all of last season, also sits the bench when the first unit is in the ice.
Is this the frustration of a bad power play or is it the learning curve we have spoken about? Tough to tell, but I cannot see how sitting these offensive defensemen is helping the man advantage. It may really cause damage if opposing teams began to score shorthanded goals.
Sometimes, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Stop pressing a bad power play team and establish a power-play unit that will be productive, or at least create some momentum.
The Kids Feeling the Weight of an NHL Schedule
The grind of the NHL season seems to be taken its toll on the rookies. The schedule has favored the Rangers as they have had long stretches of days off and few long road trips. That will change as 2019 has arrived, they have the bye week just before the All-Star Game, then the schedule picks up the pace with great intensity.
Brett Howden, Chytil, Neal Pionk have all slowed down. The growing pains of a rebuild. The team has to keep focused on its priorities. These players will learn how to cope with the full schedule, the hard hits they take, and the emotional roller coaster that comes with being a professional.
This is where Quinn needs to excel. As was the case with Chytil, playing every game is not the winning move at times. Watching a game and seeing how things transpire from the stands can be a valuable learning tool. It has worked for veterans this year like Pavel Buchnevich and Shattenkirk.
The organization will be making moves as the trade deadline approaches. Decisions on the future of Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello will be determined along with the long-term plan of Chris Kreider who has one year left on his he contract.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint. The needs of teaching the players the new style of the head coach, the way he wants the game played including breakouts, backchecking and power play formats are more important than getting to the playoffs this year.
You’re unsure of this? Well, ask yourself this question. Do you see this Rangers team winning a seven-game series against teams like Pittsburgh, Toronto, Winnipeg, or Nashville?
The truthfulness may sting, but this is how it is done. Finding the team’s identity is the first step and they are in their way with that.
The Rangers are a team that takes accountability on and off the ice. They play with passion and pride regardless of the score. The never-give-up attitude is contagious and will lead to more wins and playoff hockey in the long run.
For now, the team needs to get away from how important the playoffs are. Expectations were made that the team wouldn’t be in the playoffs this season, and maybe even next season. A hard pill to swallow, but if it gets the team back to the Eastern Conference Final and the Stanley Cup Finals then this tough time would be so worth it.
The era of win now is over at the Garden. Aside from 1994, it never worked. The game plan laid out last February should be continued no matter how close the team gets to a playoff spot.
The future is more important than the present.