The New York Rangers are currently eighth in the Eastern Conference, and if they want to contend going forward, then there are five changes that coach John Tortorella must make.
The Rangers have shown flashes of the talent that made them a preseason favorite to win the Cup, but it hasn't been consistent. Consistently playing at a high level is essential for the Rangers to be contenders.
What are these five changes? And how will they be best implemented?
Read on to find out.
The Rangers have the 28th-ranked power play in the league.
They are converting on a paltry 10.8 percent of their chances.
For comparison, the St. Louis Blues have the top-ranked power play and convert on 36 percent of their chances.
It is a truism of hockey that you need a good power play to compete. In the playoffs, the effectiveness of a power play can be the difference between a win and a loss.
Power plays are so important because they have the unique ability to change momentum. There are so many times when a team is playing badly, then they get a chance on the man advantage, score and take off to win the game.
But without a decent power play, it's impossible to recover from those miserable starts.
So, why is the Rangers power play so awful? It's due to a few reasons.
Any good power play needs movement. That means everyone needs to shift, particularly the players on the half wall. That means you, Marian Gaborik. That means you, Rick Nash.
A stationary power play does no one any good. You need to be able to catch the penalty killers out of position.
The Rangers need to move around more. It's that simple. Nash and Gaborik need to make their way into the slot more often.
Brad Richards and Michael Del Zotto need to take control from the point with more shorts to the net and more chances for rebounds.
The Rangers have far too much talent to have a power play this bad. Making sure they move around is the job of John Tortorella. If they don't, then they're in trouble.
I'm a firm believer in that lines need to be consistent in order to get the most out of them. Constant shuffling does nothing for chemistry and leads to a state of chaos.
In search for offense, the Rangers have had a number of different line combinations. None of them have really worked.
What's the best combination of lines? The top two lines have to be balanced, but need to put the players in the best position for success. Ideally, John Tortorella would structure the top two lines this way:
- Marian Gaborik-Brad Richards-Rick Nash
- Carl Hagelin-Derek Stepan-Taylor Pyatt
Let's start with the top line. While some might think that spreading out the lines is better policy, I disagree. I think if you have the horses, you have to ride them. It's better to load up on offense, than spread it out and diminish it.
The Gaborik-Richards-Nash is the Rangers best option to consistently score. It's nearly impossible to defend them. Either, you load up on Nash, and Gaborik scores. Or, you load up on Gaborik, and Nash scores. Or, you try to force Brad Richards to beat you and then, well, he does.
This line will score big points. Tortorella has to keep them together.
As for the second line, I think it combines speed and grit with some deft passing. No one on this line is a natural finisher, but I think they'll be able to get enough chances to score some goals.
We'll get to the bottom six in the next slide.
What's the best composition for the bottom six?
The bottom six forwards should combine energy, grit, defense and a little bit of scoring to keep opponents honest.
How should John Tortorella arrange his lines? This would be a nice start:
- Chris Kreider-J.T. Miller-Ryan Callahan
- Darroll Powe-Jeff Halpern-Brian Boyle
I believe, as I'll write in the next slide, that the Rangers should keep Kreider and Miller, and pairing them with Callahan has worked well, so far. This was the best line against the Islanders, and Miller has shown tremendous potential in his first two games.
Admittedly, the options for the fourth line are not great. Halpern will be there no matter what, as will Powe. The choice for the last spot came down between Arron Asham and Brian Boyle.
I chose Brian Boyle, if for no other reason than he's a much better penalty killer than Asham. He also has much more offensive upside.
These two lines, I think, are more balanced. There's plenty of energy and grit here, and the third line could probably be a second line for most teams.
J.T. Miller should stay in the NHL.
If he plays more than five games, he'll burn up the first year of his contract and go to free agency a year early.
It's a risk, of course. You would love to have him for that extra year. It's also possible that he'll go through an inevitable slump.
That said, Miller has shown incredible skill and gives the team a boost of energy and skill. He can play on the power play, can kill penalties and can play all three forward positions.
Great teams need youth. Miller, and of course Chris Kreider, provide that. Both of these players have elite talent. They will go through growing pains.
But, they need to be up in the NHL. That's where they belong. Their talent is, quite frankly, wasted in the AHL.
The first two pairs of the defense are set. Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and Michael Del Zotto are mainstays.
Anton Stralman is a mainstay on the third pair. He's actually been quite good this season and has shown much more offensive upside than last season.
That leaves the sixth defenseman. There are three candidates for this spot—Stu Bickel, Steve Eminger and Matt Gilroy.
Bickel is a horrible defenseman and a huge liability on the ice. That said, he is one of the best fighters in the league, and if Tortorella takes my suggestions and benches Arron Asham, then there will be no one else to drop the gloves.
I'm not a fan of Steve Eminger, and I think many observers can agree. He's all right, but does nothing very well. He's the epitome of mediocre.
Matt Gilroy has been a pleasant surprise in four games this season. He's added speed and a bit of offensive upside to the mix.