By Dubi Silverstein
One day, when everything is going your way, you win a game you didn't particularly play well, and you say, that's what good teams do: win games even when they're not on top of their game.
Ten days later, having won another of those not-so-great games and then losing one, you reach the inevitable next step in the cycle—losing a game you played well enough to win.
One bad game followed by one bad period followed by one bad goal equals a two-game losing streak that forces you to file away the recently-ended seven-game win streak in the "hot start" folder.
You can connect the dots in a straight line:
- Dominating Anaheim but remaining scoreless into the third before pulling out a win you earned.
- Routing woeful Toronto in the third period after letting them stay too uncomfortably close through two.
- Beating another hot-start team, the Kings, despite being outplayed, thanks to the goaltending of The King.
- Cruising to another win over the fallen Leafs despite what everyone thought was an uneven performance.
- Then the blow-out loss to the Sharks after grabbing a 2-0 lead and letting down.
- And now losing a game on a bad bounce.
"This is when you start finding out about your club, when you go through situations like this," head coach John Tortorella said. "It is a long year, but these are the type of situations where you play your next game, [you see] how some guys react."
And how they react will go a long way toward answering the question that was asked—and easily dismissed—during the winning streak: Was it just a hot start, or can this team sustain its record?
The Rangers crafted that gorgeous winning streak out of the gate thanks to the scoring of Marian Gaborik, their stopper Lundqvist, and clutch power play goals. They got all three in a 4-2 loss to the Devils that started raising these questions—Gaborik scored the power play goal that ignited the Rangers' second period comeback and Lundqvist making every save he could except for the doubly deflected game winner.
They have even gotten some secondary scoring from Ales Kotalik and Mike Del Zotto, mostly on the power play, but also at even strength by Kotalik on the tying goal against the Devils. Sean Avery, Artem Anisimov, and Enver Lisin have contributed in limited playing time.
But they've gotten nothing from the second line that started the season, Christopher Higgins with no goals and two assists through 10 games, Ryan Callahan with almost all of his scoring on special teams, and Chris Drury struggling for a third straight season as a Ranger, struggling even worse than the past two seasons.
"I know I had a tough start," Drury said after the loss to the Devils. "It’s just one of those things. Sometimes you need to get in a rhythm, get your timing down and know what the other guy’s doing."
Having already called Higgins on the carpet, Tortorella called Callahan out before and after the game against the Devils. But he let Drury, their center up until the last game or two, off the hook, even though he is faring worse than Callahan and has his role as leader to live up to.
"Dru is a guy that’s working hard but is coming up empty," the coach said. "In my mind he’s a little bit different than the other two because I think Dru’s been more involved."
Involved in what? Against the Devils, Callahan led the team with six shots on goal. Drury had none, fanning on his one opportunity.
"For some reason it’s just not happening for him," Tortorella said of Callahan. Maybe it's because he has to do it all by himself without help from his center? Callahan and Higgins both looked a lot better later in the game when Tortorella inserted Brandon Dubinsky as their center.
Maybe that's the ticket: keep Gaborik and Vinny Prospal, a successful combination, together on the first line, with Prospal moving to center, let the speedy hard-working Dubinsky, Callahan, and Higgins see what they can do as the second line, and leave Drury to be what he's been for most of his Ranger career, third line center.