It is hard to recognize when good times are past and hard times are coming. It is human nature to ignore the slow but steady transition from success to failure. It is easier to sugarcoat the marginally smaller victories than to worry about a drop productivity. But this naivety and self-deception only lasts until everything collapses and there is nothing to do but accept that the good times are over.
They should have realized earlier. It began with a shootout loss to he Islanders. They were, and still are, one of the coldest teams in the East and the game should not have been close. However the Rangers won the second game of a home-and-home rather easily and any alarms that had been set off were quickly deactivated. The next game against Boston was terrible. The Bruins had surrendered 10 goals to Washinton and 8 to Toronto yet the Rangers could not score one in regulation or overtime. The Rangers needed to go to a shootout to break a scoreless tie just days after their offense had been producing 5 goals with ease. They had the same problem against Buffalo and could not gain a big lead as they had during the prior 10 games. That game too was decided by a a shootout and by then, it should have been apparant that something was not right with the Rangers. However, when a team increases their point streak to 13 games, it is hard to find fault and criticize the their performance.
Now it cannot be ignored. The Rangers 10-0-3 recent record turned into a 2 game losing streak. First, the Panthers outplay the Rangers in a 3-2 Florida win and on the next night, the lowly Lighning blank the Rangers by a score of 3-0. It can no longer be denied. The Rangers are in serious jeapordy of going on a cold streak and possibly, though unlikely, falling out of playoff position. The last time the Rangers had a good string of wins, they went ice cold. The same thing is in the process of happening right now. At this point in the season, a cold streak is deadly and will kill the Rangers either before the postseason or in its early stages.
The key at this point is to identify the solution. I don't mean to improve their lack of effort, determination or consistancy; those are just words to describe flaws but do not provide the solution. Right now, we are looking for the solution and to find it, we must look not at failure but at success.
When the Rangers were at the high point of their winning streak they were in control of the game from the first minute to the last. They won by large margins and were never in a situation to lose. This happened and can happen only because of their play in the first period. The Rangers came out of the gate flying, put up 3 or 4 goals before playing smart defensive hockey for the remainder of the game. This gives the team control of the flow and tempo of the game, and allows them to produce at optimal level and play whatever style the situation demands. This has been lacking in the last few games the Rangers have played in. In fact, in the last four games, the Rangers have managed only 2 first period goals. They have looked flat early and have not been able to pick themselves up. Now they need to correct this and play well in the first period.
It is much easier to keep momentum up than to get it started. The key is therefore to begin with the momentum and never relinquish it. The first period is crucial to success. The Rangers need to realize that as soon as possible. It is time to analyze past success. After all, if we can learn from history's mistakes, we can learn from its victories as well.
10 games to go.