What Is Behind the New York Rangers' Bad Start?

Jonathan WillisNHL National ColumnistOctober 14, 2013

Sep 26, 2013; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault is welcomed by Vancouver Canucks fans befoe the start of the first period at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports
Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Spor

This could not have been how general manager Glen Sather envisioned the season starting for the New York Rangers. When the Rangers fired John Tortorella, they saw it as the next step for a team that had been eliminated in the second round in 2012-13 and the third round the year prior. As Sather told ESPN’s Katie Strang:

Every coach has a shelf life. I've told every guy I've hired, that at some point in time this is going to change. Our goal is to win the Stanley Cup, and we didn't achieve the goal this year. I had to make the decision, and so I did.

Instead of looking like Stanley Cup contenders, the Rangers have struggled early on, posting a 1-4-0 record under new head coach Alain Vigneault. A four-game swing through the Pacific Division saw the team outscored by an embarrassing 20-6 margin, including a 9-2 defeat at the hands of the Sharks and a 6-0 loss to Anaheim. Veterans Aaron Asham and Martin Biron (786 and 508 career NHL games, respectively) were waived on Monday in a roster shakeup. So what has happened?

The answer, as it usually is, is a combination of things.

Oct 8, 2013; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks left wing Matt Nieto (83) celebrates after scoring a goal against New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) during the second period at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY
Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

The goaltending has been bad. Biron had a wretched 0.763 save percentage through two games, but perennial Vezina candidate Henrik Lundqvist hasn’t been much better, with a bloated 4.21 goals-against average and a 0.887 save percentage. Teams don’t win many games with that kind of play between the pipes.

The team hasn’t made its shots. So far this season, the Rangers are scoring on just 4.2 percent of their shots five-on-five. Some of that may be system-related, but the worst team in the NHL during its last 82-game season (the Los Angeles Kings) fired at a 6.4 percent clip, more than 50 percent better than the Rangers are managing right now. Pucks just are not going in.

The schedule has been tough. New York is five games into a nine-game road trip; four of the teams they have played so far were playoff clubs in the tougher Western Conference last season. The combination of good opponents and being away from home for so long is a tough one to overcome. 

The Rangers have been outshot badly. The situation is especially bad with the team’s top defensemen on the ice. The Rangers have been outshot by at least a 3-2 margin with any of Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal or Michael Del Zotto on the ice; given that, it isn’t a surprise that overall New York has been pummeled five-on-five.

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 07:  Rick Nash #61 of the New York Rangers skates on the forecheck in the third period of their NHL game against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on October 7, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. The Rangers defeated the King
Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

Injury. Rick Nash has missed most of three games so far thanks to a head injury; he has also headed home rather than continue accompanying the Rangers on their road trip. New York has been outscored 18-4 in the eight periods since Nash left the team.

Some of these things will fix themselves. With Henrik Lundqvist in net, the Rangers’ goaltending is bound to recover sooner or later. The team’s shooting percentage should rebound at some point. The road games will stop; with any luck Nash will be ready to return to the team by the time they do.

What Alain Vigneault really needs to figure out is why the Rangers are getting thumped so badly on the shot clock. They weren't a year ago, and Vigneault’s Vancouver Canucks have also traditionally been pretty solid in that department, so it’s something that should be correctable. If New York hopes to contend for the Stanley Cup, that correction needs to happen sooner rather than later.