After what seemed like an eternity, the New York Rangers‘ grueling nine game season-opening road trip finally came to an end last night following a 3-2 overtime win against the Detroit Red Wings. They emerge from the trip with a 3-6 record, a couple of major injuries, and a lot of questions.
Their top shutdown defensemen Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh have looked lost. Michael Del Zotto has been a disaster. Marc Staal had a solid first couple of games, but has not done much since.
Their best forward, Rick Nash, is out for an indefinite amount of time; he suffered a concussion following an elbow to the head by the San Jose Sharks‘ Brad Stuart. There is still no timetable for his return. Their heart and soul, captain Ryan Callahan, broke his thumb late in a 2-0 win over the Washington Capitals, and will not return until mid-November. Mid-line winger Carl Hagelin has yet to play a game.
Those who are healthy, such as Derek Stepan, Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello, have not played to their potential or their paychecks. Stepan held out for a new contract during training camp, but so far, he has not come close to living up to his new two year, $7 million deal.
There are questions surrounding the team’s new coach, Alain Vigneault. He was brought in to be the anti-John Tortorella, boasting an offense-first system, cordial treatment of the media, and a calming influence over his players. So far, the team has struggled to adapt to his new system, especially on the defensive end. While improvements have been made in this department the last couple of games, the consistency is still not there. The jury is still out on Vigneault after nine games.
And then there’s the franchise goalie. Henrik Lundqvist has not played up to Vezina Trophy form. He posted a shutout in Washington and beat the Los Angeles Kings; besides that, he has looked mediocre at best. Following an embarrassing performance against the New Jersey Devils in which he allowed four goals on 15 shots, he has been sidelined with an “undisclosed injury.” Whether it is a “bruised ego” or a physical issue, Lundqvist needs to be healthy and at his best in order for the Rangers to succeed.
Despite all the issues and questions, there have been positives. Brad Richards has resurrected his career. He is the team’s leading scorer with five goals and three assists. He looks more calm and confident on the ice, which will be key to the Rangers’ success going forward. New backup goaltender Cam Talbot has looked poised and calm in his first two NHL starts. He has made Lundqvist-like spectacular saves, and appears to be capable of starting 20-25 games for the Rangers this season. Before the season, Vigneault was adamant that his backup goaltender would start a lot of his team’s games, especially in an Olympic year. So far, Talbot appears to be the answer.
While the 3-6 record looks bad right now, the Rangers have 73 games remaining to fix their problems. The new Metropolitan Division has looked mediocre so far, and the Rangers have plenty of time to turn things around. In order for this to happen, they need to get healthy, key guys need to step up, and Henrik needs to be Henrik. If that happens, expect the Rangers to make noise.