John Tortorella has given new hope to New York City. He has led a team that was once labeled offensively inept to a total of eight victories in 14 games, seven of them coming via a 4+ goal night. He has coached a club that was notorious for falling behind early in games to a +10 goal differential in the first period. The middle frame had been almost as strong with the bulk of the offense, 17 goals under Tortorella to be exact, has been produced. But on problem has yet to be solved. The third period.
11 goals for. 17 goals against. These numbers cannot fully portray how poorly the Rangers have played in the final period, but they sure do give a good idea. It is bad enough to cancel out the +5 differential in the second period, and more. The Rangers used to be a great this period team, often staying in it using former Head Coach Tom Renney's defensive system and picking up a late, clutch goal to pick up a W. Now, it seems like the Rangers bear down and try to weather the storm instead of displaying the late urgency they did in third periods past. However, this sudden shift in success, from the end of the game to the start. After all, the Rangers rarely play a full sixty minutes and what Tortorella has really done is motivate the team to generate the offense earlier in the game.
We are all familiar with the adage "points are worth a lot more in March." Now this statement is completely paradoxal but for some reason human beings tend to procrastinate until the last possible moment before developing the sense of urgency needed to get enough points to make the playoffs. The same holds true for a single game. The sense of urgency displayed in the first period is nowhere near that of the thris period. What Tortorella has done is get the Rangers to be aggresive early and often in order to take advantage of the early intensity, or lack thereof, developed by the opponent. Utilizing that mentality as well as adopting a riskier and more offensively oriented system, the Rangers have found the back of the net more frequently. The falacy of this system is the late letdown, when a team that is not mentally tough tries to coast through the end game. The early cushion seems impenetrable and the leading team, in this instance the Rangers, and they proceed to ease up and get sloppy. All of this leads to more scoring chances for the opponent and once they tally the first marker the momentum shifts squarely behind them and games that should be won are lost instead.
There is no denying that having an early lead is beneficial. For every game that is blown as a result of this false sense of security, two are won despite it. But to beat good teams, to beat playoff teams, the Rangers will not be able to afford giving the opposition many opportunities to win games. Good teams can win games from two, three or even four goals down. Unfortunately for the Rangers, their remaining schedule consists of seven opponents that currently occupy playoff spots and zero that don't. Any opportunities that the Rangers decide give away will be gladly capitalized on by the likes of Pittsburgh, Boston and New Jersey. The key is for them to play aggresively at the start of the game but maintain their intensity until the final buzzer sounds. If they can do that then the road to the playoffs and beyond will be rather smooth. If they don't, an early trip to the links will be an unsavory probablity. The next seven games will define this team. But after all, points are worth a lot more in March.