Successful NHL teams have a sense of balance. They temper offense with defense. Even defensive teams need some offense, and offensive teams need some defense.
You're not going to win consistently at the NHL level without some kind of balance running through your team.
The New York Rangers are striving to find that balance.
Winners of their last two, with a combined 14 goals, the team seemed to have learned that getting to opposing teams' nets leads to scoring opportunities. More importantly, with the Rangers forwards tying up opponents down low in the Rangers offensive zone, the defense was freed up to take chances.
It made the Rangers tough to defend, providing defense through strong offense.
In other words, the Rangers, who prior to their two-game winning streak had scored just one goal in the previous three games, had finally found some balance.
Going into a penalty-fueled game against the Flyers Thursday night, the Rangers were once again without balance. Their forwards couldn't set up down low. Without that down-low pressure, the Flyers could attack the Rangers defense. That attack turned into scoring chances for the Flyers. And the Rangers ended up losing, 2-0.
The Rangers lost their balance. The offense flailed, causing the defense to fail.
The Rangers are not a deep team. They have one skilled offensive player in Marian Gaborik and a plethora of interchangeable role players.
You can't tell me you can tell the difference between Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan. Are Christopher Higgins and Chris Drury all that different? They even have the same first name. I'm not convinced they're even different people. There's a good chance they're some kind of CGI effect, or perhaps it's a trick done with mirrors.
But with the Rangers so thin in terms of talent, and with a very young, inexperienced defense, there are a limited number of configurations that will allow them to win games.
In their huge wins against Montreal and Tampa Bay, the Rangers committed to a configuration that's proved successful in the past, using a balanced attack in which forwards provided defense and defensemen provided offense.
As a result, they were able to score because they proved so tough to defend.
It's the same strategy that helped them win at the start of the season.
On Thursday night against the Flyers, forwards pressed for offense, shooting the puck in on goal before anyone had a chance to get position on goalie Ray Emery. This forced the defense out of the offensive play and caused the Rangers to look off-balance.
It's sad that the Rangers look so unbalanced when the forwards assume the traditional offensive responsibilities and the defensemen assume the traditional defensive responsibilities, but it's their lot given the way the team is constructed.
Rangers coach John Tortorella needs to remember the formula that's helped the Rangers win. And then, he needs to remind his players of the formula. Whenever the Rangers have deviated from offense through defense, they've lost.
Until the Rangers find a way to consistently play a balanced game, they're never going to be much of a threat to other NHL teams. Their offense and defense might be turned around, but they've managed to occasionally make it work for them.
If they want the wins to continue, they need to make balance more than an occasional event.
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