During the offseason, we saw a strange move that is rarely seen in sports: a coaching swap. It wasn’t a straight up trade, but it might as well have been. The New York Rangers fired Head Coach John Tortorella and The Vancouver Canucks decided to sack Alain Vigneault, then both teams went out and hired the other’s coach. So now Tortorella is behind the Canucks bench (and in front of the Vancouver media) and Vigneault is teaching his system to the Rangers. It’s a good fit for both teams, as Torts lends some grit to a soft Canucks team, and Vigneault is a breath of fresh air in a very stagnant and hostile Rangers dressing room. To say the Blueshirts had tuned out Tortorella would be an understatement, and the media circus that followed him won’t be missed.
Fast forward to the first week of the season and the Rangers are getting demolished by pretty much every team they play. A 6-0 stomping by Anaheim and the 9-1 embarrassment that gave Sharks rookie phenom Tomas Hertl a 4-goal game were enough to get backup goalie Martin Biron and veteran tough guy Aaron Asham canned, but it wasn’t enough. The skid continued, and didn’t look to end, until a solid 2-0 shutout of the recent rival Washington Capitals seemed to jump start a team that was on the brink of total collapse. It was exactly what they needed, because, for the Rangers, the road ahead is going to be a lot smoother than the beginning of the season.
Call it fate, call it bad luck, call it what you like, but the Rangers had a tough go the first few weeks. A new coaching style always takes a while to adjust to, and Vigneault’s style is radically different from the “defense first, sacrifice the body” style that the Rangers were previously subjected to. Problem is, Vigneault’s powerhouse offence style requires goal scorers, which the Rangers have been without. Rick Nash, Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin have all been sidelined with injuries and surgeries, taking away three of their top six forwards. Losing Marion Gaborik and Artem Anisimov the previous season, and acquiring top center Brad Richards, only to see him be utterly unproductive has also put a dent in scoring. With Callahan returning, and the others on the mend, the scoring will return.
New York also has only had 3 home games all season (a loss and 2 wins), in the longest road trip any NHL team has ever had to endure. Madison Square Garden is being renovated, so the Blueshirts have had to live out of suitcases for the first month of the season. That wears a team down, especially when you start with an all West-Coast schedule. Finally hitting MSG ice, and at least getting some time at home with families will likely be a boost that this club needs. Another pleasant surprise has been goalie Cam Talbot, who has only allowed 6 goals total in his three outings for a .929 SV%. This has to be a relief for the generally over-worked Henrik Lundqvist, who was destined to shoulder the load with Biron being let go. Talbot provides some spark for his team, and rest for his starter.
All-in-all, despite the rotten start, there is a bit of a silver lining trying to peek through in New York. With the added benefit of being in the pathetically bad Metropolitan division, only has two teams above .500, the playoffs are not a far-fetched dream. Once this team gets firing on all cylinders, and with two solid netminders between the pipes, the Rangers have a lot of potential.
Scott Huntington is a writer, reporter, blogger, and long-time hockey fan. When he’s not watching hockey he’s doing research for Maxwell Systems or spending time outside with his family. He’s also co-creator and admin of the hockey group Soft Dump. Scott will posting his thoughts on the NHL throughout the season and you can also find him on Twitter @smhuntington