NHL lockout negotiations made last season’s playoffs seem like a distant memory. Despite a lengthy layoff, for many New York Rangers fans the disappointment of last year’s playoff run as the top seed in the Eastern Conference still lingers. With the NHL lockout finally over and a new CBA on the way, we can turn our attention to the shortened 2013 season and perhaps offer a reprieve by suggesting the NHL lockout will in fact benefit the Rangers immensely.
The Rangers improved their roster after taking the top spot in the Eastern Conference last season. They added an elite scorer in Rick Nash and the remainder of the team stayed intact. With a better team and arguably the best goaltender in hockey, it’s hard to imagine the Rangers struggling this year despite a condensed schedule. A shortened season certainly means every game is much more important, but the Rangers are unlikely to slip into a lengthy losing streak. The Rangers won’t miss the playoffs; Henrik Lundqvist is too good, the defense is too strong, the roster is too deep, and the system is too consistent. When the Rangers finally get to the postseason things will be different; they will actually be fresh.
After a dominant regular season in 2011-12, it is impossible to deny that the Rangers faded into mediocrity during the playoffs. The top seed in the East stumbled down the stretch and squeaked past the 8th and 7th seeds by grinding through two seven-game series before the New Jersey Devils eliminated them in the Eastern Conference Final. Lundqvist looked slow and far from invincible as overtime and the grind of a full season took its toll. The offense sputtered, the defense battled injuries, and the Rangers were a shadow of the team that cruised to the top seed in the conference.
Coach John Tortorella runs a defensive system marked by self-sacrifice and blocked shots. His system exhausts and injures his players over the course of a full season. While shot blocking is a valuable skill and integral part to a successful defense, the Tortorella system consistently puts even the best Rangers players in harm’s way. As players break down and become exhausted over an 82-game season, it is difficult for the Rangers to maintain high levels of play throughout the entire season. Last year, Tortorella’s system was likely part of the problem as the Rangers faltered down the stretch. This year, the Rangers will be more able to endure a short season under Tortorella and more likely to enter the playoffs healthy. The system that may have been behind some of the fatigue that ended the their season early, could be the source of consistency that carries the Rangers through a lockout-shortened season.
After fatigue seemed to significantly impair the Rangers during the playoffs, it seems that a shorter season can only benefit the Blueshirts. After improving on last year’s roster, the lockout could help them break a nearly two-decade drought without a Stanley Cup.