Monday, October 14, 2013

Grantland weekend wrapup: Rangers, Flames, Sabres

The New York Rangers: Still Marginally Better Than the Giants

On Saturday, the Rangers gave up five goals and lost, and it was considered a massive improvement.

That’s how bad things have gotten in New York, where the Rangers have started the season 1-4-0. And that record may even be flattering, since their -16 goal differential is the worst in the league by a large margin (the -11 Panthers are next worst), and their back-to-back blowout losses earlier in the week were as bad a two-game stretch as any team has had in more than a decade.

New York did manage to hang tough with the undefeated Blues for a period Saturday, but gave up three goals on five shots in the second period, despite largely dominating the play. Ryan Callahan’s second goal of the night made it 4-3 in the third and marked the first time all season that the Blues have given up three in a game, but it wasn’t enough. Vladimir Tarasenko restored the two-goal lead midway through the third, and the 5-3 score would hold up as the final.

So what’s wrong with the Rangers? There’s no shortage of theories, most of which can summarized as "just about everything."

New coach Alain Vigneault hasn’t made radical changes to John Tortorella’s defensive system. But he has introduced some tweaks, and so far, the Rangers have looked lost. This was expected to be one of the league’s better bluelines, but normally dependable players like Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi have struggled badly. Up front, Derek Stepan, who missed most of training camp while waiting for a new contract, has five assists but has yet to score and owns an ugly -7 rating.

And while you can’t exactly blame this mess on goalie Henrik Lundqvist, he certainly hasn’t been able to bail his teammates out often enough. His 4.21 goals against and .887 save percentage aren’t the sort of numbers we’ve come to expect, and certainly not what he was hoping for as he seeks a record-setting contract extension.

Throw in that their best player, winger Rick Nash, is out indefinitely with a concussion, and that renovations to Madison Square Garden have forced them to start the season with a brutal nine-game road trip, and things start looking exceedingly bleak.

There’s still hope. Although it seems like a lifetime ago, the Rangers did beat a very good Kings team on the road on Monday. And while that game resulted in their only two points of the season, it’s not like the rest of the Metropolitan Division is running away from them. The Caps and Flyers are also stuck at just one win apiece, and the Devils don’t have one at all.

That may not add up to much in the way of optimism, but it’s just about all the Rangers have right now.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

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