Every team has their very difficult stretch where they have a particular amount of road games all at once.
For the New York Rangers, that was this most recent stretch coming out of the holiday break. It got off to a good start, with close wins over the Predators and Blues. But after going home and then going to the west, it did not look good on paper. Is it concerning after hanging around with all these good teams? Yeah of course. But at the same time, for a team this young with holes on defense they have, it was expected.
With any sport, I always believe in the “too hot theory”, which explains how momentum always has to end and teams that win are driven more on smart play and game planning more than being hot. While the Rangers weren’t necessarily too hot, they were competitive even in their losses. However, these kinds of smackdowns, especially playing against the Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche, were expected. The Golden Knights, after a month-long Cup hangover, have been one of the hottest teams in the league and are beginning to gel again. They are 8-0-2 in their last 10 games and rose from being barely out of the playoffs to 2nd in the Pacific Division. As for the Avalanche, while they have struggled after the holiday break as well, they still have two Hart candidates in Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon.
That much of an offensive juggernaut doesn’t bode well for a defense that bad with a goaltender that is talented but older playing 2 days thousands of miles apart. As for the Coyotes loss, it is bad for sure. But it is also the second of a back-to-back, which is always difficult for teams, particularly young teams. When the Rangers thrived early in the season on their California road trip, there were no back-to-backs. Running into it in this instance hurt them. That doesn’t make it excusable losing to a team worse than you, a team where young players go to die pretty much, but it still is a factor into why they lost. I don’t give them a pass for that loss by any stretch, but I’m sure the #1 team in each division will have that loss that will make you say “what” as well.
Obviously, allowing 7 goals, 6 goals, and 5 goals in consecutive games doesn’t help either. But like I said, that was bound to happen after over-performing in particular instances this year, such as beating the Sharks twice and recently beating the Predators before New Year’s. Like I mentioned in the first article I wrote, those kinds of wins and quality performances even in losses are key for a rebuilding team.
For a rebuilding team, though, you will also have instances like this, especially when the defense is that bad. However, I don’t think they are completely lacking effort like we’ve seen in the past with teams that know they aren’t going anywhere, such as last year’s Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes, and that is why they have hung tough in particular instances. They have the most overtime and shootout appearances, even though they are only .500 in those games. Because of those close games, that still shows me that those young players can produce in instances, and even so we are seeing those young players get chances even in these losses.
Sure, there have been instances where veteran players have made mistakes, such as Staal and Zuccarello. Everybody makes gaffs and errors here and there and they are no exception. The young players however are the ones making mistakes which they can and should be able to learn from. Especially when you are playing against teams in the top third of the league. Most of these have come with defense and turnovers in their own zone, which has led to less puck possession as a whole. And playing against the Penguins, Avalanche, and Golden Knights, you can’t make those kinds of mistakes. However, because of the positive samples we’ve seen against other teams towards the top of the standings, it isn’t as concerning in a rebuilding year.
Strength in Coaching
I’m not saying that an elongated losing streak is a good thing for this team either. A losing streak that gets anything past 5 games and beyond is always demoralizing to a young team. However, based on how they have played in certain other tough stretches and tough games, I don’t think that kind of thing will happen. The Rangers now luckily have 3 of their next 5 games at home before their mandatory bye week. If they are going to regroup from their losing streak, that would be the instance to do it.
David Quinn has been good so far in his short stint as Rangers coach. As a result, this has been the first demoralizing stretch of hockey where they have been absolutely destroyed. The difference between this current stretch and what last year’s is Quinn will not be afraid to make changes. Vigneault had a habit of sticking to “his system” expecting it to work. Quinn however is not afraid to healthy scratch a young player or a veteran player who has struggled. He equally will move a Jimmy Vesey or a Filip Chytil up a line if the player is succeeding.
I have always believed in switching lines constantly to give constant new looks to the other team’s defense. While it is a risk to mess with chemistry, with this kind of team I am glad it is happening. Younger players should learn how to play with different players and work on different concepts. Quinn has stuck to that kind of mentality even through this tough losing streak. Which while they have gotten smoked, proves that Quinn has guts and these young players are playing more fearless.
Overall, to what point do you give the other teams credit too? In terms of expectations of playing against top offensive teams, these kinds of games were bound to happen. Overperforming and playing close against Nashville, San Jose, Winnipeg, and Calgary early in the season eventually had to lead to this stretch to level out. The defense isn’t that good and all fans know that. While this may be disappointing now, it can lead to progress in these next 5 games. It could also have an impact coming out of their bye week.
Momentum is not something that necessarily lasts in any sport, whether positive or negative. While I do believe negative momentum lasts longer, you also have to know what team you’re dealing with. However, in the end, it was bound to happen for this kind of team. They haven’t had this kind of road trip playing 5 games in 8 days with teams thousands of miles apart. Smart Rangers fans will still know it is a rebuilding year and with a rebuilding year odds are they weren’t going to survive this season without a stretch like this, especially on the road.