The list can go on and on when talking about what's went wrong with the New York Rangers so far this season, but when you look at everything as a collective whole, there's one aspect of their game that is missing that has stood out to me the most; their identity. This year's Rangers have been far from the Black and Blueshirts squad we saw exceed expectations in 2010-11, which wasn't supposed to be the plan going into the season despite the new influx of players that were brought it one way or another. They may only be 2-2-2, but this team has not played great hockey much this season. They need to turn things around and the best way to go about executing that is to regain their identity.
Yesterday in practice head coach John Tortorella had the team work on "a little bit of everything" in preparation for their match with the Winnipeg Jets tonight. That tells me that he has seen flaws in every area of his team's game, which he should, and that everything needs work from top to bottom. That is a lot to get through the players' heads in just one practice, especially when they play the next day, and there's no way everything will just click for them in one single outing.
I think the Rangers are their best when they hit, forecheck and give that 100-percent effort throughout the lineup, much like they did last season. That was and is the foundation of their success, and in order for everything to come together as Tortorella has hoped for in these "cover everything" practices, they need to get back to the basics and instill that effort and that desire to win. The Rangers were one of the toughest teams in the league to play against last season, and that's coming straight from the mouths of other teams and their coaches. That's been far from the case this year.
I think it all must start with the second line containing Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and Ryan Callahan. This trio was the heart of the team last year and could always be counted upon for a spark of some sort. They are always working hard, getting in on the forecheck and in that way developing scoring chances. They haven't done that too often this season and that's been some cause for concern among the fan base. To me, it seems like Ryan Callahan is always going in one-on-three and being outmatched once he retrieves the loose puck in the corner. That cannot happen.
Where's Brandon Dubinsky been? I barely even noticed him during Saturday's 2-0 shutout loss to the Edmonton Oilers. That's alarmingly uncharacteristic of Dubi because he is always someone you can spot working hard out there and giving it his all. His buddy Callahan needs some support on the forecheck and as of late, Dubinsky hasn't been there to provide it. That's got to change because like I said, this line is the spark that ignites the fire on this team, and there's been no fire.
What I like about Dubi, though, is that he knows he has not been playing up to his standards. He knows he has to be better and will work towards doing so. I think this line will eventually come along, as long as Torts keeps them together since he did break them up at one point in Edmonton, but it's just a matter of when. Hopefully sooner rather than later.
But while the rest of the team leans on Captain Cally's line, they too need to up the ante a bit here. Even the Fedotenko-Boyle-Prust line has been quiet in recent games, and they are usually a very loud threesome when they are on the ice. And the fourth line, which is usually where most of your physical play comes from, is just a mess right now. Erik Christensen is a pathetic excuse of a hockey player, Mike Rupp has been suffering from a knee problem and Kris Newbury is only a few games in here.
I'm being completely honest when I say this, but the only forward I have seen some fire and emotion out of this season has been Marian Gaborik. Just yesterday he broke his stick over the glass because he missed a shot in practice. That is the type of attitude that everyone on this team needs. People have been crediting Gabby's early season success to Brad Richards, but I don't think those people could be any more wrong. Sure, Richie has helped, but Gaborik's production has been self-generated. He's been a man on a mission and I think it's maybe time for the team to look to him as an example of what they should be doing out on the ice.
It's ironic because Gaborik slumped last season when the team developed their identity, but this season, when they've lost it, in addition to Henrik Lundqvist he's been the only Black and Blueshirt out there.