Published February 08, 2013
| Sports Network
Philadelphia, PA – The New York Rangers aren't the only expected contender off to a slow start in this lockout-shortened season.
The Los Angeles Kings' Stanley Cup hangover has lasted longer than a Peter Jackson trilogy and the Washington Capitals' inability to score goals is more confusing than a tweet from Donald Trump.
The Rangers, though, can still be viewed as the biggest disappointment this season.
New York responded to last season's ousting from the Eastern Conference finals by trading for forward Rick Nash, a seven-time 30-goal scorer. Nash's addition gave the Blueshirts one of the deeper offenses in the league to team with a solid defense and world-class goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist.
But through 10 games, the Rangers sit at just 5-5-0 and ninth overall in the East. They have strung together consecutive wins just once and are tied for 20th in the NHL with 2.4 goals per game.
The biggest struggle for the club has come on special teams, specifically a power play that has seen a bigger outage than the Superdome. New York has scored only four goals on 37 chances with the man advantage, ranking 28th out of 30 NHL teams heading into play on Friday.
That is shocking given that the Rangers can throw Nash, Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards out on the same power-play unit.
One factor could be the lockout wiping out an extended training camp, depriving head coach John Tortorella time to mesh the new-coming Nash in with the unit. Instead, it has been a work in progress on the fly and the forward has yet to score on the power play.
Tortorella, though, dismissed the lack of chemistry as a reason for the struggles.
"No. I think we need to make some plays," he said post-practice on Wednesday.
Nash's struggles haven't just come on the power play, either. The 6-foot-4 sniper has just two goals and seven points through eight games, which would put him on pace for fewer than 20 goals in a full 82-game season.
Nash, of course, isn't alone in the blame. While Richards and Gaborik are tied for the team lead with nine points each, neither has scored on the power play. In fact, two of New York's four goals with the extra man have come from captain Ryan Callahan, who recently returned from a three-game absence caused by a shoulder injury.
It isn't shocking that New York went 0-for-11 on the power play in the three games that Callahan missed, including an 0-for-5 effort in a loss to the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday.
Tortorella pointed out after that came that he felt some of his skaters were playing timid and scared.
While the coach didn't back track from his words after Wednesday's practice, he admitted that perhaps "scared" wasn't the right word. Instead, he said players need to try to make a difference on the ice instead of testing the water.
"We need some really good players to make some really good plays, and we're not getting really good plays from our really good players consistently enough," Tortorella said.
The coach was also perhaps a little annoyed that his two best players in Tuesday's loss seemed to be a pair of rookies in Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller, who was making his NHL debut. Tortorella said after the Devils game that those two could take some jobs away, another statement he expanded on the next day.
"There are different things you can do," he said. "Again, I'm not trying to -- I don't want to do it with this group. I think it's a good group of guys. I'm not trying to threaten them. It is what it is. If I have 23 men on the roster and I've got them all healthy, three guys are going to sit out and it doesn't always have to be the same people. And having said that, even if you're playing, you may not be put in the same situations you're always put into.
"I need to make the right decision for guys who are playing now because we're a quarter way through the season I would think, almost in a few games here, and we don't have time to work through it all."
The first ax to fall on Thursday was Brian Boyle being made a healthy scratch due to the return of Callahan ahead of that night's game against the New York Islanders. Boyle went into the game with just one point in nine contests and a minus-3 rating.
The Rangers responded with a 4-1 win over the Islanders and scored once on two power-play attempts. The tally came from Miller, who capped a two-goal performance when he took an outlet pass from Ryan McDonagh and broke ahead of three Isles skaters before going five-hole.
Two of New York's other four goals came at even strength before McDonagh capped the scoring with an empty-net tally. That seemed to prove Tortorella's assessment on Wednesday that his team was getting more consistent 5-on-5, where they have scored 16 goals while allowing 15 this season.
"But bottom line is I think we probably have two or three more wins if our special teams -- not just the power play but the penalty kill also -- if they were more consistent," Tortorella had said a day earlier. "As we continue to try and improve as a team, those are two areas that stick out and we have to try and figure that out."
The Rangers held the Islanders scoreless on their five power-play chances, boosting their penalty-kill rating to 80.4 percent.
But with over 20 percent of New York's schedule already in the books, the consistency needs to come sooner rather than later for the Rangers.