Tuesday, May 28, 2013
By Steve Kallas (posted by Rick Morris)
So what happened to the New York Rangers? Did they take a step back this year? Well, coach John Tortorella says no, but the correct answer, from goalie Henrik Lundqvist, is yes.
LUNDQVIST PLAYS GREAT
You can’t put a lot of blame on world-class goalie Lundqvist for the Rangers’ defeat in five games at the hands of the Boston Bruins. At times, even in losing efforts, he was brilliant. After a performance for the ages in Game 6 against the Washington Capitals (facing elimination) and a second consecutive shutout in Game 7, Lundqvist was great against the Bruins. He played out of his mind in Game 1 (a 3-2 loss in OT), in game 3 (a 2-1 loss) and even in the game 4 overtime win despite surrendering three goals.
At times, Lundqvist looked like he was the target in a shooting gallery, reminding old-time Ranger fans of poor Gump Worsley, who often seemed shell-shocked playing goal for the Rangers in the 1950s-early 1960s (before becoming a four-time Stanley Cup champion and Hall of Famer with Montreal; more on this later). It says here that the Bruins could have scored almost twice as many goals as they did in the five games if not for the great play of the King.
SO, WHO CAN YOU BLAME?
Well, there’s plenty of blame to go around.
Here’s the coach after the defeat: “Some of the responsibility falls on me. It’s a big part of my job to get your top players to play consistently, and I couldn’t do that. We tried, and so I need to take some responsibility and try to get them in those spots to help us here. I thought that hurt us a little bit.”
The problem with being an offensive player on the Rangers is this: It seems like many of them are looking over their shoulders and playing scared – afraid to make a defensive mistake because they know they will be relegated to the fourth line or benched or even a healthy scratch. So young players like Chris Kreider or star (or former star) veterans like Brad Richards or Rick Nash (or, previously, Marian Gaborik) often seemed to play cautiously, afraid to make a mistake.
This also translated to the woeful power play (about 15% in the regular season down to an almost unbelievable 9% in the playoffs). It seems to this writer that scoring, like hitting in baseball, is contagious with the converse of that also being true. So it snowballed on the Rangers this year and even frustrated their goalie (after the Game 1 OT loss to the Bruins, Lundqvist said, “Can I score? No.”).
And it wasn’t just scoring goals. In the pivotal Game 3 (Rangers down 2 games to none, but with Games 3 and 4 at the Garden), with 3:47 left in regulation and the score tied, there was a key faceoff to the left of Lundqvist. It was Derick Brassard against Bruins center Gregory Campbell of the Bruins. When Campbell gets thrown out of the faceoff and tough winger Shawn Thornton in to take the draw, you have to like the Rangers chances of winning the faceoff and controlling the puck. But Thornton wins it as clean as you can win one, the Bruins keep the puck in the Ranger end and score what proves to be the weird game-winner (and series-ender, in effect) 16 seconds later. That should never happen.
So it’s the coach, it’s the offense (including the offensive system, which includes the power play), but it’s also, to a lesser extent, the goalie. Why? Well, the King, now 30-37 in the playoffs, including a poor 4-11 in OT playoff games, seems to be frustrated in the long-term and the short-term. Now speaking in the past tense about the Rangers (“You know, I had such a great time here in New York”), Lundqvist may have had enough of having to perform miracles in net to stay even or get a little ahead.
You could clearly see his frustration in game 5 against the Bruins when, after giving up the go-ahead goal, he skated 30 or so feet out of the crease, almost, it seemed, realizing that the game and the series were over (Boston would later get an empty-net goal to win 3-1 and eliminate the Rangers) and banging his stick against the crossbar when it was over.
In the days of Gump Worsley where, in the six (and then 12) team NHL, there was a dominant team like the Canadiens, a great goalie like the Gumper could go and get his due (and his Cups). Would the King, with one year left on his contract, consider going to a top team with a better offense to win his Cup?
Ranger fans can only shudder at the thought.
SO, WHAT ABOUT THE COACH?
Well, what about John Tortorella? He long ago alienated the media, but that’s pretty much irrelevant. The question is, do the players still listen, care and perform under his “tough” coaching?
The answer, at least with respect to scoring goals, is a resounding No. In addition, throwing players under the bus, like with his public comments about Carl Hagelin’s ability on the power play (“he stinks”), even if true, isn’t going to win him any fans in the locker room (even if Tortorella thinks, in 2013, that his comments would somehow motivate Hagelin and/or the rest of the team).
The other big question is, what about the goalie? Quiet and soft-spoken but a big star both on and off the ice in New York City, his future is the future of the Rangers.
The future of the Rangers does not depend on the coach.
So Tortorella, with one more year as well on his contract, has one more year to make a deep run in the playoffs.
Otherwise, there’s a very good chance that he won’t be back after that. And, if the goalie leaves and the coach stays, it will be some lean, trying times for the New York Rangers.
By Rick Morris
Now that we’ve fully established The FDH Lounge YouTube channel, we’ll be uploading classic segments from the history of our program. When we do, we’ll embed them here.
Up next: our conversation with Fox Business Network host Liz Claman.