Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 10/13/13
No one said it would be easy. The New York Rangers opened the season in the teeth of the Western Conference, miles away from home and, apparently, miles away from ready. They completed the swing with four games in six nights – three against legitimate Cup contenders – with the final one coming last night in St. Louis against a polished Blues team. Brad Richards was one of the long bright spots for the Rangers out west. Well, no one was wrong. The western road trip was many things for the Rangers, but it was certainly not easy. They come back east with just one win and two points to their name, with four more games separating them from the Madison Square Garden ice. Perhaps the Eastern Time zone will do them some good, but Alain Vigneault and the Rangers need to adjust far more than their watches and mental clocks. A good place to start? How about the defensive zone. In 5 games, the Rangers allowed a whopping 25 goals, consistently neglecting their goalies like a band of timid sentry. That’s right; with The King in net the infantry fell limp, surrendering 179 shots on the path from Phoenix to St. Louis. Consider these averages – 5 goals and 36 shots against per game – and the mind inevitably recalls the Blueshirts of the early 2000’s, a string of teams that looked at defense like some impenetrable cypher. Those teams, of course, we’re so undermanned the NHL almost hid them away in a bedroom under the stairs. Mike Richter was battling concussions and nearing the end of his line, the blueline outfit was simply a giant masquerade, and the forwards played the type of 1-way game none of them were good enough to justify. So Ron Low and Bryan Trottier can be somewhat pardoned for those porous Ranger teams. Alain Vigneault has no such alibi. The Rangers are a fully-loaded team, with the best goaltender in the universe. They boast arguably the deepest set of defensemen in the Eastern Conference and – notwithstanding injuries to Rick Nash and Carl Hagelin – have plenty of skill up front to put the puck in the net. For a team that was tagged as a Cup contender this summer, the Rangers look shockingly average. And that might be generous. But for now, at least, they deserve the benefit of the doubt. For if Vigneault can’t point to a lack of personnel, he can surely point to a lack of time. He has been molding this team – the one he took out West – for less than two weeks. And his baptism as Rangers coach came by crackling fire, as he led his troops from one Western Conference stronghold to the next. Early on, it was clear the team was struggling with the new system. And who could blame them? Most of the guys in New York sweaters had been so conditioned to play one way under John Tortorella – some of them for the past four years – that they seemed unsure of themselves in a new operation. Where Tortorella asked his teams to be physical and direct, Vigneault encourages a more creative, free-flowing style of play. And suddenly afforded more freedom on the ice, the Rangers have balked at the responsibilities that come with it. This has been no more evident than in the team’s defensive coverage. Vigneault employs an overload system in both ends of the rink, meaning that the Rangers press all five players toward the location of the puck. The idea is to outnumber the opposition on one side of the ice in hopes of generating a turnover and creating an odd-man situation. This is the same system Vigneault used in Vancouver, where he turned the Canucks into a perennial Western Conference juggernaut. The flaw in this philosophy is that the weakside of the ice is left exposed. If the Rangers lose, or fail to gain possession of the puck and the weakside forward cannot block the cross-ice passing lane, two things will consistently happen: odd-man rushes coming out of the offensive zone, and backdoor/point chances coming in the defensive zone. In Phoenix, San Jose and Anaheim, the Rangers fell victim to such breakdowns time and again. But in Los Angeles it clicked. The result was a 3-1 win and the only game of this young season in which the team allowed less than 30 shots on goal. And last night in St. Louis, it kind-of sort-of clicked again. Had it not been for a poor performance from Martin Biron (4 goals on 17 shots, two he most definitely wants back) and an empty fuel tank in the third period, the Rangers may well have skipped out of town with a 3-2 win. Instead of condemning their defensive flaws and 5-on-5 struggles, we would be praising the team’s efficient power play (!!!) and the rejuvenation of Brad Richards (4 goals in 5 games). Instead of ruing an ugly 1-4 start to the season, we would be praising the Rangers for salvaging this Western Conference swing with a gritty win. But as Henrik Lundqvist noted last night, though the Rangers were close, “close doesn’t get you points.” While it’s a positive sign that the team looked more comfortable last night, more sure of themselves, the fact is they lost. Unless they can begin converting strong performances into wins, a tight 5-3 loss to the Blues means nothing more than a rotten 9-2 loss to the Sharks. If they can build on last night’s effort on Wednesday against Washington, then it will mean something. But for now, they should simply be happy they are coming home.
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Bright future for Minnesota Timberwolves

Eli and Archie Manning say Peyton won’t likely leave Denver if he plays in 2016

NCAA mulls changes to graduate transfer and targeting rules

Cavs active in NBA trade market, covet Jared Dudley

Roger Goodell expectedly dodges Patriots-related questions at Super Bowl

Baltimore Orioles acquire starting pitcher Odrisamer Despaigne

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

USC athletic director Pat Haden to retire in June

Report: Browns owner ‘frustrated, emotional’ about Johnny Manziel

Raiders and Texans to play MNF game in Mexico City in 2016

Goodell wants to keep Raiders, Chargers in home markets

Deadly shooting breaks out at Dublin boxing weigh-in

Mike Shula vs. Wade Phillips: The best story of Super Bowl 50

QUIZ: Name every NFL regular season MVP

WATCH: Avery Bradley nails buzzer beater to beat Cavs

WATCH: Jimmy Butler taken to locker room in wheel chair

Klay Thompson's first five years in historical context

WATCH: Cubs' Kris Bryant went swimming with sharks

Sports Authority taking steps to file for bankruptcy

Major League Baseball threatens to disassociate from DraftKings

NFL considering moving Pro Bowl to Australia

Joe Montana warns NFL players about potential long-term damage after retirement

Report: Two people fired for leaking Jason Pierre-Paul information

‘Crying Jordan’ photographer had no idea it existed until this week

NHL nightmare: No Canadian teams in the NHL playoff hunt

Seven unheralded players set to make major impacts in SB 50

NHL News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

The 14 biggest plays in Super Bowl history

Five outrageous predictions for Super Bowl 50

QUIZ: Name the winning starting quarterback from every Super Bowl

The top six matchups that could decide Super Bowl 50

Seven unheralded players set to make major impacts in SB 50

10 underrated performances in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest

X-factors in Super Bowl 50

NHL nightmare: No Canadian teams in playoff hunt

QUIZ: Name the Super Bowl halftime performers since 1991

Manziel's father fears for QB's life

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker