Three games into the New York Rangers’ 2013-14 season, the only word appropriate to describe how things are going is interesting.
Game one saw the Rangers continue to struggle offensively, with their only goal coming off the stick of defenseman Marc Staal on the power play. And, as was the case in all six preseason games, the Rangers failed to record the first tally.
The second match was drastically different. The Rangers came out flying against the LA Kings and scored the game’s first and second goals. The offense created a plethora of quality scoring chances, and the team as a whole was able to maintain a high level of play. As a result, the Rangers cruised to a 3-1 victory.
But game No. 3 saw the Rangers take several steps backward. Rookie Tomas Hertl and the San Jose Sharks ripped the Rangers limb from limb in a 9-2 pounding. Completely outplayed in every facet of the game, the Rangers proved that there is still a lot of work for them to attend to.
As is the case in the NHL, and any sport for that matter, a winning team needs its top players to perform. And looking back at the Rangers’ first three games, we see that the script was written by the team’s top stars. Some have showed up and contributed nicely, while others have failed the make an impact.
So, for more insight after the jump we’ll take a deeper look at how the Rangers’ big guns have fared in the wee hours of the NHL season and what kind of effect their efforts have yielded.
Read on for more.
Marc Staal was the Rangers’ top performer in the preseason, and he’s done a good job of carrying that momentum into the regular season.
In the tune-up matches, we saw two things from Staal: first, a willingness and eagerness to join the rush and contribute offensively. It came somewhat easy for the 26-year-old thanks to his enormous stride and pure hockey smarts. Staal may not be the fastest skater around, but he’s one of the better skaters in the league at his height (6’4”).
Pair that ability with a natural understanding of the game, and you’ve got yourself one dangerous defenseman.
The second positive we’ve seen from Staal in the preseason—and now the regular season—is his desire to use his body. He’s the Rangers' best bodychecker on the back line, but there was a question as to whether or not Staal would go through a feeling-out process to start the season after his devastating eye injury in March.
But Staal has pleasantly surprised the Blueshirt’s faithful and is back to his old self. He’s easily been the Rangers’ best defenseman and has been the only one of the group to successfully make an impression offensively since the start of the regular season.
Ryan Callahan missed all of the Rangers preseason and the first game of the regular season, and those facts should be taken into account when taking a look at what he’s done thus far.
The positive concerning Callahan through two games is his aggressiveness. In his first shift against the Kings on Monday night, Callahan stepped onto the ice and b-lined for Robyn Regehr near the far boards and blasted the veteran defender. The laymen would have never guessed he was a player who just missed five months recovering from shoulder surgery.
Unfortunately, Callahan’s physicality is the only aspect of his game we can praise right now, and that’s all right. The man missed all of the team’s formal preseason training.
When he’s conditioned and caught up to the speed of the game, there’s no doubt he’ll be an offensive force yet again.
Sometime last week I wrote that the Rangers offense this season will go as Rick Nash does, and we’ve already seen evidence of that mantra three games into the campaign.
In the first contest, Nash struggled. He was still searching for his confidence and never got it going against Phoenix. Although he picked up an assist, he just wasn’t enough of a force. Ironically enough, the Rangers struggled to create any consistent pressure and lost by the score of 4-1.
In game two, Nash was a dynamo. LA had no answer for his speed and puck-handling ability, and as a result, Nash created two goals and could have bagged a couple of his own. Final result: Rangers win, 3-1.
Then there was Tuesday night. Nash, again, had trouble getting to the net and creating time and space thanks to San Jose’s high-octane attack.
But for Nash there were other factors at play. Not three minutes into the game, the Brampton native took an elbow to the head courtesy of Brad Stuart. Nash played in the remaining 17 minutes but did not return for the second and third periods. It was revealed after the game that Nash was experiencing headaches.
Could that have had an effect on the way Nash performed the rest of the first period? Definitely, but three games in, Nash still has a lot of work to do. He’s got to get more physical and take the puck to the net more. He also needs to find a way to get the puck to the back of the net.
I think it’s safe to say nobody saw this coming.
Brad Richards has been a monster in the Rangers’ first three games. He—dare I say it—resembles Brad Richards of old, the way he’s carried the puck into dangerous areas, opened up defenses with his passes and, I can’t believe I’m about to say this, actually shot the puck with purpose from the point on the power play.
Three goals through three games is a great sign for Richards, as he looks to erase the miserable 2013 season from his and the fans’ memories.
And as great as it is to see him playing well right now, there’s still some things to work on. Richards still seems to be in the habit of making his patented behind-the-back flip pass while straddling the blue line on the power play, which almost always results in fans throughout New York simultaneously scratching their heads in confusion.
But if he keeps building off what he’s done well—which hasn’t come strictly in the offensive zone, Richards has also done a good job backchecking and breaking up plays in both the neutral and defensive zones—he’s going to be successful this season.
But the question will always remain: What exactly does he need to do this season to keep him in New York next season?
For Henrik Lundqvist, 2013-14 was always going to be a learning process. The Rangers aren’t coached by John Tortorella anymore, the man who preached tight defense and compulsive shot blocking.
Alain Vigneault introduced a new approach, one in which he encourages all of his players, offense or defense, to join the rush. What that means for Lundqvist is he’s bound to see more odd-man rushes and defensive breakdowns.
But I don’t think he was expecting to see as many as he did in the first three games.
In Phoenix, the defensemen were to blame for a couple of the goals, whether it be via deflection or missed coverage. In LA, the Rangers did well to forecheck and create offense, and as a result, Lundqvist didn’t see much work but performed well regardless.
But Tuesday in San Jose was just ridiculous. If it wasn’t for Lundqvist, the Rangers would have been down 5-1 or 6-1 in the first period alone. Despite allowing four goals and being pulled in the second period, Lundqvist actually played well. If the team in front of him was competent, maybe Lundqvist could have stolen a point.
But I still don’t think Lundqvist is playing at the top of his game yet. And that’s okay; we’re only three games in. So that’s why he gets the B grade. He should be firing an A level in no time.