On July 23, 2012 no New York Rangers' fan foresaw the team getting off to a bad start after the team landed elite power forward Rick Nash, but the reality of the situation is that the Blueshirts currently sit fourth in the Atlantic Division with a 4-5-0 record with only the Philadelphia Flyers behind them.
This start is similar to last year's start as the Blueshirts went 3-3-3 in their first nine games of the 2011-12 campaign.
The 2013 NHL season to date can be described as something straight out of the Twilight Zone as the Rangers' poor start is not an isolated occurrence
Who though that after nine games that the Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs, the four worst Eastern Conference teams in 2011-12, would be ahead of a New York Rangers team that had one of the best rosters on paper?
This is not to insult or discredit these teams' performances to date, but none of this was really expected by anyone.
After nine games, the Rangers sit 10th in the conference with eight points, and this can be seen as a huge disappointment, but when five points separate them from fourth in the conference, it isn't as big a deal as it may seem.
Power Play Weakness Can Be Turned Around to Be Key Strength
In the Rangers' most recent game alone, 8:00 minutes of power play time was squandered and the team's overall success rate continued to dip to a league worst 8.6 percent, or three out of 35 total chances.
There is no other word to describe a power-play unit that features seemingly talented offensive players in Nash, Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik up front, and budding offensive-defenseman Mchael Del Zotto on the back end.
Simply put, the failure to execute is the difference between the team being 6-3-0 instead of being the current 4-5-0.
Despite the foibles and failures up to this point, Rangers' bench boss John Tortorella feels, "they are correctable". (Andrew Gross of The Bergen Record)
These corrections can include rookies J.T. Miller and Chris Kreider. Kreider returned from injury and scored his first career regular-season goal, and Miller had a solid first NHL game.
Very impressed with JT Miller's first NHL game: 14:25 ice-time, 2 shots, strong on puck, +1, made things happen...only 19 years old— Jim Cerny (@JimCerny) February 6, 2013
These players looked aggressive, hungry and very determined, and it is this type of work ethic that will allow the Rangers to get back on track.
Competition among players will foster better play, because no one wants to be a healthy scratch on a team as talented as the Rangers.
"They're probably going to take some people's jobs"-Torts on rookies Kreider and Miller— Jim Cerny (@JimCerny) February 6, 2013
The speed, tenacity and style of play of Kreider and Miller is something the Rangers need to get back to doing. If these players can contribute consistently and add to what forwards like Taylor Pyatt and Carl Hagelin are doing, things will start turning around.
The power play will not be this bad all season long, because it is something that can't be ignored. Changes will be made one way or another because there is too much potential in this season.
Practice will ultimately make perfect because the talent is there.
Rediscovering Team Identity Is Key
Chasing down loose pucks, forcing plays along the boards and winning the battles ultimately was a strength of the team last year. Not having Ryan Callahan right now certainly hurts the team but the new additions should really make a difference moving forward.
Blocking shots is something the team has done less of as well. The team is currently 21st in the league with 123 blocked shots after finishing fourth in the league in 2011-12.
These little things can ultimately add up when you look at the things the Rangers need to do forward.
New York Rangers' Big Moves Similar to NBA's Miami Heat's "Big-3"
When you look at the Rangers' 4-5-0 start, it is obviously disappointing considering the hype associated with the team . The Rangers were pegged to be Stanley Cup champions by many outlets after adding Nash, but this team hasn't lived up to the hype thus far.
Is this the first time this has ever happened in professional sports? No, and it terms of a team struggling off the bat after making big moves, the Rangers are in good company.
How easy was it for fans to laugh at the Miami Heat's "Big-3" after they struggled early on in the season after LeBron James decided to take his talents to South Beach?
In a similar way it is easy to get on the Rangers and point out how the Rick Nash acquisition has worked out so far. Many have pointed out that Nash is overrated and not worth his salary, but he has been one of the team's best players through nine games.
It would help if he and the team were scoring more goals, but that will come with time as history shows.
The Miami Heat's "Big-3" did get it together after they started playing games together, practicing together and getting familiar with each other. At their peak during LeBron's inaugural season, the Heat were a powerhouse not to be reckoned with.
In due time Nash, Richards and Gaborik will be one of the league's most dominant lines, and the rest of the lineup will fall into place as they adjust to their new linemates as well. Although hockey and basketball are different sports, the comparison remains true because so much work is done away from the puck and ball in order to help generate offense.
It takes time for everyone to learn their role and adjust to the structure of a team, but once a team starts clicking, they can become unstoppable, as illustrated against the Boston Bruins on Jan. 25 at The Garden.
But the Team Is Still 4-5-0
Despite the poor start, should fans be overly concerned through nine games?
The short and instant answer is no. Why?
If you expected the team to click off the bat after all the changes that were made during the offseason, the lack of a proper training camp and the extended lockout, you are one of the eternal optimists left in the world.
Don't take this as an excuse for the Rangers' poor play, because they have been guilty of looking disengaged during games and playing poor hockey, but the team deserves some slack.
Bad giveaways and other mental mistakes happen from time to time, but they are things that the Rangers won't continue to do. When you look and see that these small things have been the difference between a win or a loss, it becomes more clear how the team has played.
Are you concerned with the Rangers' poor start?
It takes time for players to adjust to their linemates' tendencies. It takes times for players to fit into a new system and it takes times to find the right combinations.
When you include the recent transactions, the call-ups and the offseason transactions, the Rangers added eight different pieces to the lineup.
When you change personnel their is going to be a learning curve. In a truncated 48-game season the Rangers' don't have the luxury of time, but that is something that might be an advantage to them.
Additionally the team needs to score. Outside of the Rangers' "Big-3" scoring has been lackluster.
Derek Stepan needs to continue making strides, Hagelin will eventually break through because of his hard work, Callahan and Pyatt will produce in a grinding way but having players like Miller and Kreider add a spark would really help turn things around.
These are little problems, not huge ones and the small tweaks will stack up and pay dividends eventually.
The Rangers' don't have many big problems, they have little problems that can be corrected so there is reason for fans to be hopeful that things will turn around soon.
Why the Rangers Will Ultimately Be Fine
In the truncated season it doesn't matter if you finish No. 1 or No. 8 because making the playoffs is the only priority. The 2011-12 Los Angeles Kings proved what could happen when a team started to click and got hot late in a season.
The Kings were able to ride an amazing streak throughout the final months of the regular season into the playoffs and en-route to a Stanley Cup.
Additionally, in 1994-95 the New Jersey Devils won the Stanley Cup after finishing with a record of 22-10-8 and 52 total points.
They went 9–11–4 through the first half but a hot second half ultimately made the difference. The second half record of 13–7–4 was only slightly better and it still made a difference.
Will the Rangers' 2013 first-half record be better than the 1995' Devils first-half record?
So when you consider the 4-5-0 start, it is not out of the question for the Rangers to finish with a better first-half record than the '94-95 Devils.
Again, it also isn't so doom and gloom when you consider that five points separates the No. 4 and No. 11 spot in the conference.
Getting back to Los Angeles, entering this season the Kings were the measuring stick for every potential contender including the Rangers. If you compare both rosters, it is fair to say that they are virtually equals.
Everywhere from the goaltending position, top-four defense to forward groups, the Kings and Rangers are equals or close enough.
To stretch this comparison even more, both teams are off to a worse start then anticipated, so at least the Rangers are among good company.
Given the changes the Rangers have gone through, they could hover just above .500 until the 20-game mark of the season. Through 20 games, there is no reason why the Rangers should not be playing better.
It is nice to say that as an optimist but history has shown that the Rangers can really go on a tear. The 2012-13 roster is better than the 2011-12 roster. The team may have made subtractions, but their additions outweigh them.
There have been moments like this that show this team has the skills to be an elite team.
The Rangers' still have holes like a bottom-pairing defenseman, their lackluster power play and a penalty kill that should improve given their recent additions, but the team is simply too talented to not at least finish eighth in the conference.
The team recognized the need to add bottom-six depth, and they added Darroll Powe. The team is rumored to be ready to make additional moves, so it is safe to say that lackluster performance won't be tolerated. (The Fourth Period)
If you needed to pinpoint why the Rangers are playing poorly, you can chock it up to failure to execute on the power play and a slow adjustment to new personnel. You could pick out other little mistakes and miscues, but converting on the power play is the huge difference that would cover up and cushion those blows.
If the Rangers were converting at a decent level on the PP, they would be one of the best teams in the league. Small tweaks like coaching on the PP are things that should help turn the team around.
Right now this team doesn't look like they will finish No. 1 in the East, but they are a playoff team. No matter how bad things appear to be, come back to the important fact that the 2013 NHL season is only nine games old, and there are 39 more games left to play.
A big theme of the 2011-12 Rangers was taking things one game at a time, and that is exactly what the team will continue to do moving forward.
Fans can be mad, disappointed and upset, but take a deep breath and relax as nothing worth while ever came easy. If anything this early adversity will make the Rangers a better team, and one that is hungrier when the true prize is on the line.