Admit it, when the Rangers broke out of the gate on fire this season, we all still had this flicker of doubt about whether this team was for real or not. Memories of last season’s fast start tempered our enthusiasm somewhat. But then we were all convinced that this team was different. They were scoring goals and converting on the power play; things that last year’s edition struggled mightily with all year. We had a legitimate offensive stud in Marian Gaborik who would carry the squad offensively and on to victory while fellow new additions, Ales Kotalik and rookie Michael Del Zotto would run the PP to continued success.
Unfortunately, the warning signs that future struggles were right around the corner were right there in front of us. Despite being among the better teams in both goals scored and PP conversion rate, too much of that production was coming from too few players.
Now the Rangers have literally hit the skids. After a tremendous 7 – 1 start, the Rangers have cooled of considerably going just 4 – 8 – 1 over their last 13 games. The biggest culprit in their recent slide has been their offense, or rather lack thereof.
The Rangers scored 49 times in 14 October games; an average of 3.5 goals-per-game. In November, the Rangers have tallied just 14 times in 7 games or just 2 goals-per-game. The power play, which was clicking at a rate of 25% in October (14 – 56), has slipped to a 17.2% success rate in November (5 – 29).
So what’s gone wrong exactly? Well it hasn’t been Gaborik, that’s for sure. Gabby is tied for the NHL lead in goals scored with 15 and is on pace for something like 58 or 59 goals this season. Veteran forward Vinny Prospal has also been good; he is averaging a point-per-game (5-16-21). What the Rangers are really struggling with (as many other Rangers fans have pointed out) is getting some consistent scoring from other sources.
Entering this season, I identified 8 veteran forwards that I felt had a good chance of hitting the 20 goal plateau (Gaborik, Prospal, Drury, Callahan, Dubinsky, Kotalik, Avery and Higgins). And that didn’t include a couple of young players, Anisimov and Lisin who also have the skill to put up those types of numbers in a full season. Six of those 8 had already achieved that level of production at least once in their career while Dubinsky and Avery have the ability to score in that range assuming they could stay both healthy and productive. So far, only two of those players are on pace to record 20 goal seasons (Gaborik – 58.6 and Kotalik – 23.4) Prospal is on the cusp; he is on pace to tally 19.5 goals.
As for the rest of the forwards, here is what they are on pace for:
Dubinsky and Callahan – 11.7 goals
Higgins, Drury and Avery – 7.8 goals
At a combined cap hit of around $15.5 million, minimal production like that is just not going to cut it. In fact, all of those players are being out-produced by a rookie defenseman (19 year-old Del Zotto), another rookie (Anisimov) and defenseman (Dan Girardi) who are all on pace for around 15 – 16 goals; all for a cap expenditure of around $3.5 million. The Rangers 6 defensemen have combined to score 13 goals which is 1 more than what the 5 forwards (Drury, Avery, Higgins, Callahan and Dubinsky) have scored. That’s both surprising and disappointing.
Look I realize that there are other ways to contribute besides just scoring goals. But the main point of the game is to score more than your opponent; a thing which the Rangers aren’t doing very well of late.
Callahan and Higgins are playing hard, there’s no doubt in my mind of that. Neither one seems to have found their groove offensively though. Drury and Dubinsky are both hurt of course but their best work has been done on the penalty kill and that’s not what Torts was expecting from his top 2 centers. Avery has just not played with the edge that he needs to play with. When he is being a pest and drawing penalties, that is when he is contributing. He just hasn’t been that “in-your-face” yet.
Kotalik’s stats are somewhat misleading too. Of his 17 points, 13 have come on the PP. He is a -9 at even strength in only 21 contests this year thus following his career trend of being a below average, 5-on-5 player. He has helped to improve our PP but let’s face it; he is a liability at even-strength.
I do think that the Rangers aren’t as bad as their play of late suggests. Nor are they as good as they looked while compiling a 7 – 1 record to open the season. They are somewhere in between and will need to work hard to qualify for the playoffs again. Once there they do have the type of goaltender that can get hot and carry a team. They also have a dynamic forward that can also get hot and carry an offense for a series or two.
The big question is whether or not this team is on the right track for the long haul. Is this team destined to struggle to make the playoffs every year or is there a chance that more help (likely from young players as Sather has mishandled the cap situation) can make this team a legit Stanley Cup contender? As fans, we aren’t content with making the playoffs and then maybe winning a round. We want to win the Cup. How far away is this roster from being a Stanley Cup winner? I guess the answer to that will have to come down the road as we see how well the kids develop.