After a tremendous start to the 2008-09 season, it appears the Rangers have descended from the stratosphere. The Rangers are still one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, but back-to-back losses against the lowly Maple Leafs and Islanders have left the team’s fans base feeling a little on edge.
What the Rangers’ recent lull has come down to is a lack of complete play, especially in the third period, and an inability to create a substantial amount of offense. Let’s look at these two recent losses against Toronto and the Islanders.
The Rangers generated just three goals against two of the worst teams in the league while giving up seven. In Toronto, the Rangers played a solid first two periods, arguably the best two that can be played on the road, before falling asleep and giving up five goals in just over five minutes. That is unacceptable.
At home against the Islanders, the Rangers were able to get pucks on the net but were unable to bury rebounds like winning teams would. That, coupled with another weak third-period performance, led to two short-handed goals by a very poor Islanders squad and another loss. Not just a loss, but a regulation loss in which not even one point could be mustered. That is also unacceptable.
If these Rangers are who they claim to be, they must go out there and prove that they can be winners. While still one of the elites, this team has too much talent to just go out there and put up two goals a night. Guys need to start stepping up early and put the team in a position where every game late in the season is not a must-win like it has been in recent years.
Here are some of the players I feel need to get going if the Rangers are to be a serious contender for the Stanley Cup:
The 25th captain in Rangers history has just two goals and three assists through 15 games. His numbers aren’t terrible, but he needs to find the net more and become a better leader, especially on the power play, which is second-worst in the league.
The sophomore has played in 12 games thus far and is without a doubt experiencing the dreaded sophomore slump. He has just one goal and one assist despite 23 shots on net. He’s taken some good shots, and eventually one will go through, but he needs to rekindle his accurate shot once again to become the lethal player we’ve seen in spurts.
Fredrik Sjostrom/Petr Prucha
The fourth line is never a scoring line, but if this team wants to have success, all four lines need to produce. I like what I’ve seen from Blair Betts, and Colton Orr has been the tough player he always is. However, Sjostrom can certainly improve and help the likes of Petr Prucha with his play, which has also been rusty.
It all starts Thursday night in a must-win against another inferior team, the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Blueshirts took two meeting earlier in the season out in Prague and must continue that dominance to get back the confidence this team once had and the fans once had.
The talent is there, the desire is there, but the execution is still lacking. We’ll see if this team can find it.