Final Grades for the New York Rangers' 2013 Season
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With the New York Rangers’ 2013 season in the books, it’s time to take a good, hard look at their campaign as a whole.
The shortened season began as a disaster for the Rangers, as they seriously stumbled out of the gate, but a late season push—thanks to trade-deadline retooling—in the final 13 games saw New York finish sixth in the Eastern Conference.
Their dramatic first-round victory over the Washington Capitals in Game 7 had fans believing the Blueshirts could replicate their impressive playoff run of 2011-12, which saw them reach the Eastern Conference Finals. But instead they were bounced in five games by the Boston Bruins.
In truth, their sixth place finish and Eastern Conference Semifinals appearance could be viewed as a fairly successful season, but the results don’t necessarily tell the story. 2013 was supposed to be the Rangers’ year, but it’ll forever be remembered as a season filled with inconsistency, and no aspect of the team’s game—offense, defense, goaltending, power play, penalty kill and coaching—was innocent.
We’ll grade those areas and try to shine some light on how the Rangers came up short in 2013.
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For years now, offense has been the Rangers’ Achilles' heel, and 2013 was no different. For the first three quarters of the season, the Rangers were one of the lowest scoring teams in the league.
Marian Gaborik found himself in a scoring slump more times than not; Brad Richards was playing the worst hockey of his career; and though Rick Nash and Derek Stepan were lighting it up, when two of your top three forwards are not producing, the offense as a whole is bound to struggle.
The trade deadline brought changes, as Gaborik was sent to Columbus for Derick Brassard, John Moore and Derek Dorsett. Plus, nearly a week before the deadline, the Rangers also brought winger Mats Zuccarello back via free agency. These moves gave the Rangers extra depth down the middle and on the flanks; and as a result, the team surged from the bottom of the barrel in goals-for to all the way up to 12th when the season drew to its end.
But the Blueshirts were back to their old tricks in the postseason. Of the eight teams that qualified for the second round, only the Los Angeles Kings have averaged fewer goals per game than the Rangers.
Their lack of formal goal support was ultimately the reason the Rangers were eliminated from the postseason. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was performing near the top of his game, and the offense simply wasn't able to provide ample goal support.
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The Rangers were once again amongst the league leaders in terms of goals-against in 2013. Their 112 was good for fourth, only bested by the likes of the Chicago Blackhawks, Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins. Although Lundqvist deserves a large slice of the credit for that number, the defense is due some praise as well.
They, for the second straight season, soldiered on without their best defensemen in Marc Staal for half the year. Despite their coach’s insistence on net-front collapsing, and the group’s tendency to run around in their own end, the defense did their job, and well, for most of the year.
You’d be hard pressed to find a group of players willing to sacrifice their bodies as recklessly as the Rangers’ defensemen. It’s that passion and determination that renders them successful, even if they’re not the most talented in the league.
In Round 1 against Washington, the defense was stellar. Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom scored just two goals combined in the seven-game series, and the team’s second unit was just as ineffective.
But Round 2 was disappointing. The Bruins’ deep, aggressive forwards physically dominated and exasperated the Rangers defense. The result: Boston scored three or more goals in four of the five games in the series.
As disappointing as that was, the defense was, for most of the season, not the team’s biggest problem; and on more occasions than not, the team could count on the defense to perform well.
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If you ask me, Henrik Lundqvist is the best there is in terms of goaltending.
There’s just simply not a goalie in the world—that I’m aware of, at least—who has the ability to steal games for his hockey club like Lundqvist does on a nightly basis. And he did it for nearly all of 2013.
In truth, he was a bit shaky coming out of the lockout. I suppose we should have expected that considering he didn't play during the work stoppage. Although I've never played goalie, I would imagine getting reacquainted with the speed of the game is very difficult for a netminder.
But it wasn't long until Lundqvist was back on top of his game. He finished the regular season with a league-leading 24 wins, and added a 2.05 goals-against average and .926 save percentage. His work saw him recognized, for the fifth time in his NHL career, as a nominee for the league’s top goaltending honor, the Vezina Trophy.
Lundqvist then took his game to a different level in the first round of the playoffs. His performances against Washington could evolve into a sort of legend amongst Rangers fans for years to come. His mouthwatering 1.65 GAA and .947 SV% was bested only by his ability to shut out the Caps in Games 6 and 7 when he and his comrades had their backs against the wall.
He took a step back against Boston, but by no means did the team’s elimination fall onto his shoulders. The goal support just wasn't there, and there’s only so much Hank can do on his own.
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It’s no secret the Rangers’ power play this season was a disgrace. It didn't matter how many changes they made—none of them worked.
They finished the regular season with the 23rd best power-play unit in the league, effective at only 15.7 percent. The postseason was even worse. They finished 15th out of 16 teams with 9.1-percent efficiency.
It’s amazing that a team with as much talent as the Rangers struggled so much to score goals when they had an extra skater on the ice. The thought of facing Nash, Gaborik, Richards, Callahan and Del Zotto on the man advantage must have petrified opposing teams’ coaches.
Until they realized the Rangers were completely inept.
Early in the regular season, it was clear the power play was ineffective because the players were too cute with the puck, looking to make the perfect pass. Then, later in the year—and in the playoffs—head coach John Tortorella decided his team was so bad on the power play that they should just shoot from literally anywhere. But that didn't work either, as the Rangers began shooting from low scoring areas with no traffic in the slot.
But what seemed to be the hardest thing for the Rangers in terms of the power play was just getting the puck into the zone. It was like watching a peewee hockey team at times. Opponents knew if they stood up at the blue line they were going to stop the Rangers because they simply didn’t have many players with the ability to carry the puck into the offensive zone.Of course a guy like Nash does, but when he’s the only option—and other teams know that—it’s easy to neutralize him.
In the end, the Rangers couldn't score enough goals to support their superstar goalie, and a major reason for that was their inefficient power play. From top to bottom they were a disaster, and that’ll have to change in 2013-14.
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The Rangers went nearly the entire regular season without catching any flack for their penalty kill, but in truth, it was average. Actually, you couldn't get more average than the Rangers, as they finished 15th in the league at 81.1-percent efficiency.
But their poor penalty-killing performances did not go unnoticed in the playoffs.
It was operating at 75 percent, which was 14th among the 16 teams in the playoffs, and last among the eight teams that progressed to the second round.
It was a good thing the Rangers were a disciplined team—actually the most disciplined team during the regular season—because if they would have allowed Washington more power-play opportunities, they would have been done in five games.
For me, it comes back to the net-front collapsing. Yes, penalty kills need to be conservative in nature, but they Rangers’ complete reluctance to even consider using a large-box formation on the PK allowed opponents to move the puck freely in the zone until they found the perfect shot. And at that point, the Rangers were probably in full collapse mode and in position to screen Lundqvist or deflect the opponent’s shot into the net.
Because the power play was so bad, the penalty kill was allowed to fly under the radar, but it ended up being a serious problem in the playoffs. Even a team like the Bruins, who were almost as bad as the Rangers on the power play this year, found success against the Blueshirts on the man advantage.
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There are a lot of Rangers fans out there calling for John Tortorella’s head. I get it: He can be a very frustrating coach. But all things considered, he was still able to get the team to buy into his system, and although nobody would've believed it in late March, he got the team to the conference semifinals.
But there’s still plenty to be upset about.
Tortorella can be very, very stubborn. He’s got a plan in his head and he isn't interested in deviating from it. Just because the Rangers were a tough, grinding team in 2011-12, it doesn't mean they had to be in 2013. The construction of the team was drastically different, and some tweaks, at the very least, should have been made.
Torts also isn’t very willing to work with players he feels don’t fit into his system. Mike Rupp and Marian Gaborik were traded this year because Tortorella couldn’t get them going, and youngster Chris Kreider was seemingly in transit between Hartford and New York at least once a week because Torts wasn't patient enough with him.
If you don’t play Tortorella’s way, you don’t play. It seems the winningest American coach in NHL history made more enemies this season than any of his previous years with the Rangers simply because he had no patience for anybody.
Also, the team’s poor special teams fall partly onto his shoulders. The power play has been an embarrassment since Tortorella arrived in New York; clearly, he doesn't know how to implement a successful system, and his troubleshooting is lack luster at best.
The bad-guy press conferences have grown tiresome, and the New York fans are getting frustrated. Each year, a high-profile player is brought in and expected to be the missing piece, but the team just continues to play the same brand of boring hockey, and the results are strikingly similar and disappointing.