Expectations were high for the Rangers this season. The influx of highly talented players (including the number one pick overall in the 2020 entry draft) was supposed to make this an up and coming team–a team to watch, perhaps even a playoff contender. The changing of the guard in net was supposed to be seamless. This raised expectations, which remained quite high, until last night. As of this morning, after 5 games, the team is 1-3-1, for a total of 3 points. This not only has the Rangers in last place in the East Division, the team is tied for last place in the league (with Ottawa). Predictably, this morning, there are questions “what is wrong with this team? Fire the coach. Make a trade.” etc. etc.
But, let’s look at the reality. This team is less than three years into a complete rebuild–and I mean complete. A lot of the pieces are here; but not all of the personnel that will compete for the Stanley Cup are in Rangers’ sweaters yet. To expect nineteen and twenty year old players to coalesce and carry the club from the start of the season (especially when the training camp was short and there were no pre-season games) is incredibly unrealistic. And to expect two very young netminders to have immediate success with a struggling defense in front of them and the loss of Henrik Lundqvist coaxing them along and coming in when necessary is foolish when you think about it.
It will take time for this team to get really good, and everyone has to take a deep breath and let the kids play into their games. It is some of the veteran players that must change for this team to get into winning ways. Players like Ryan Strome, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider have to produce; and Jack Johnson and Tony DeAngelo need to play to their roles.
Although Mika is adamant that he has no ill effects from his bout with COVID, it is hard to believe that he is 100 percent and has completely made up for the lack of training camp time. Remember, we are only two weeks from the end of camp, and Mika only had a few days on the ice prior to the beginning of the season. He may not even realize at this point that the virus has affected his play. Mika very likely will pick up his production in the coming weeks, and the story will be a bit different.
Strome, however, does not have that excuse. Strome is playing like he did before he got to New York–a player with lots of talent but inconsistent in his performance. Given Strome’s pro career thus far, it is reasonable to ask whether last year was his career year. Hopefully, he still will be able to contribute at the same level, but without some change, Strome may not remain on the second line with Filip Chytil nipping at his heels.
Then there is Chris Kreider–size, speed, such talent. In the past, Kreider had the tendency to disappear at times, but last year, he seemed to have conquered that. Thus far, this season for the most part, Kreider has not been visible. It is definitely a worrisome development.
As for the two blueliners, Jack Johnson was brought in to just be a solid two-way D. However, at 34 years old, it seems that Johnson’s best days at being solid in his own zone may be a few years behind him. Rightfully removed from the lineup last night in favor of Brendan Smith, Johnson struggled in the four games in which he appeared. At this point, he should be considered the seventh defenseman, with Smith playing in the top six.
DeAngelo has been DeAngelo, without posting points for the Rangers. And that is not a good thing. Thus far, within the last month, he caused some political difficulties, and then in game 1, he took a bad penalty, in addition to mouthing off to the official who called the infraction (drawing an extra 2 minutes). The Rangers were already down 4-0 at the time, but DeAngelo’s antics were and are a distraction that this team does not need. Head Coach David Quinn sat DeAngelo for the next two games, but since his return, in each of his last two games, DeAngelo has been on the ice for two goals against and recorded no points.
Focus on Players Doing Well
No one said this season was going to be an easy one for the Blueshirts, and even though the team is at the bottom of their division, there have been some bright spots and a lot to look forward to.
The biggest bright spot has been rookie K’Andre Miller. Miller has grown with each NHL game he plays. The big defenseman is using his size, speed, stick, and grit to make things happen on the ice. He is still adjusting, but it is already obvious that he and Adam Fox will be the top two defensemen on this team very shortly. They are part of the top pairing of the future Rangers. Then think about the addition of Braden Schneider and Matthew Robertson and you will get an idea of what this team will become in the near future.
Up front, this appears to be the year that Chytil will take the step to become a top six NHL forward. With more strength and confidence in his game, Chytil has been noticeable on almost every shift. Before getting injured last night, he was one of the best players on the ice and was getting more and more ice time. As to his weak spot, Chytil continues to work on his face offs and has definitely done better over the last few games.
Phil DiGiuseppe has been on the left wing on Chytil’s line and he has the role of gritty player making room for Chytil and Kappo Kakko. What a great addition he has been. Currently with four assists, he has played his role almost perfectly.
And then there is Artemi Panarin, who continues to produce for the Rangers. Asked to play a more aggressive game this season, Panarin, for the most part, has adapted well. He is the team leader in scoring and an integral piece of the puzzle as this team retools.
Final Thoughts, Five Games In
Okay, so there is good and there is bad. And yes, there are adjustments that need to be made over the next few games. And, yes, there are players that probably should be black aces, but that the coaches will play anyway. But what this team needs more than anything right now is time. Time to coalesce. Time for the very young forwards to truly adjust to the NHL game. Time for the netminders to adjust too.
And yes, there are still a few pieces missing. But to borrow some of the words of our Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman–this team is not broken, it is unfinished.