Three games into the new season and the Rangers find themselves 2 – 1 – 0 heading into a big early season match-up with the team that knocked us out of last years postseason. I will be watching intently to see how the new Rangers players and the Torts’ style of play compare to the offensive juggernaut that is the Capitals. In last year’s playoffs, the Capitals dominated the Rangers and only the play of Lundqvist and a couple of timely goals got us to seven games. That series is what prompted some of the off-season additions to the Rangers lineup as the team struggled to generate anything offensively.
Before tonight’s game, I’d like to look back at the first three contests and offer up my impressions on the team so far. Three games is a very small sample size and won’t necessarily predict the future performances of either the players or the team but it is enough to give us an idea of what kind of team we have here and whether the squad is moving in the right direction.
The kids on D: We expected the young guys on the blue line to struggle with their play in the defensive zone; they are just kids after all. Matt Gilroy and Michael Del Zotto didn’t earn roster spots because of their stellar defensive play. They earned spots because they can bring offense to a team sorely lacking it last year.
To date, the kids haven’t disappointed; they’ve struggled at times in their own zone just like everyone expected. They’ve lost some one-on-one battles for possession of the puck. But they’ve also scored goals. The two rookies have combined for 3 goals through 3 games including 2 game winners and a PP goal among them.
I’m willing to live with some of the defensive miscues as long as they can produce offensively like that and also as long as they show improvement in their own end. I’m pretty sure Torts will be drilling them all season on that score.
Goaltending: We already know we’ve got one of the best between the pipes in the “King”. We also know with the style of play Torts wants to implement and the inexperience on D, the “King” was going to have to be on top of his game all of the time for us to be a playoff team.
So far, he hasn’t disappointed either. He was real strong in the home opener against Ottawa and made several quality stops in the Pittsburgh and New Jersey games that kept us in the game. He hasn’t had to “steal” a game yet but that chance might come tonight when the high-octane Capitals play host to the Rangers.
Improved offensive production: I’ve already touched on the kids’ contributions but the Rangers, after finishing just above the Islanders in goals scored last season in the Eastern Conference, needed big-money newcomer Marian Gaborik to prove he’s healthy and to start producing points quickly. Through three he has 4 points (2 goals and 2 assists) and he looks dynamic on the ice.
Fellow newcomers Vinny Prospal and Christopher Higgins have also done a good job of creating chances. Higgins hasn’t been rewarded much for his efforts but his time should come if he continues to play as well as he has. Prospal has a goal and two assists so far and the top line of Dubinsky centering Gaborik and Prospal has clicked to the tune of 5 goals and 11 points so far.
The Rangers really need more production from the third line of Anisimov, Kotalik and Lisin as they have combined to score just 1 goal (Kotalik on the PP). These three have the skill to be key contributors offensively for the Blue Shirts. Now it’s time for them to produce.
Turning the Power Play into an advantage instead of a disadvantage: The Rangers flat out sucked last year on the power play converting at a paltry 13.9% clip. Not only did the team finish next to last in power play efficiency they also gave up the second most short-handed goals (14) in the entire league.
To put it bluntly, I used to hope that the referee wouldn’t call a penalty against the opponent because I didn’t want to see the putrid Rangers power play. I was afraid that the Rangers would just upset me by giving up a shorty instead of converting themselves. Last season, the Rangers PPG for versus SHGA ratio was 48 – 14. That’s a +34 goal differential. The league average was nearly +57. Only Columbus had a worse differential finishing +29.
So far, the Rangers have converted 2 of 15 chances; which computes to a 13.3% success rate. That’s even worse than last year. Of course three games isn’t enough to use success rate as a useful statistic. At this point the power play does look better creating chances for and limiting chances against. Del Zotto clearly will be a force on the PP while Ales Kotalik and his hard shot are a welcome sight after seeing so many shots passed on by Rangers point men last season. All signs are at least encouraging on the power play.
I like the way the team looks so far. They will be a lot more exciting than past Rangers squads. The high pressure attack will surely create more scoring chances; both for and against. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that there will be times when a rookie screws up or a vet makes a bone-head play or maybe Gaborik gets hurt. I can deal with that. As long as I’m seeing a commitment to some of the younger guys and as long as the up tempo game yields more goals for us. With Lundqvist in net I’m confident that we’ll have a good year if we can just score more goals.
Follow me on twitter tonight as I post updates throughout tonights contest. “Gkmkiller”