With less than two weeks remaining in the regular season, there is the temptation to look at the big picture -- standings, first-round match-ups and the like – but the Rangers are doing the opposite.
With a middling 5-5-0 record over the last ten games, the team has turned its focus inwards, honing in on the small details instead.
The coaching staff devoted almost an entire video session before Monday’s practice on the group’s worrisome back-checking effort – a problem that was glaring in a 4-1 loss to Buffalo Friday. And while they did not allow odd-man rushes as generously in Saturday’s 4-3 shootout win against the lowly Leafs (“it was good at times, it was terrible at times,” coach John Tortorella said), the issue needed to be addressed.
“That’s something we want to try to cleam up,” Tortorella said. “That one sticks out to me a little bit because there have been too many of them of late. We’re really trying to concentrate on that part of our structure.”
“The odd-man rushes are something we need to get better at, something we need to correct,” said captain Ryan Callahan.
Of course, the Rangers have that luxury of time to refine their game heading into the post-season rather than years past, when they’ve had to make a frenzied scramble to squeak into the playoffs on the last day. New York became the first team in the Eastern Conference to clinch a playoff berth last week. Atlantic Division foes Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have since secured their spots as well.
Beyond the team’s structural concerns lies some personnel issues as well, particularly on defense.
Can rookie Tim Erixon hold his own if asked to shoulder significant minutes in the playoffs? Will inconsistent blue-liner Anton Stralman make his way back into the lineup?
And what will the Rangers do up front? Keep the Carl Hagelin-Brad Richards-Marian Gaborik line intact, as it was for practice Monday? Or opt for a different permutation that provides the team with more balance?
“We haven’t been in this situation before, getting in with this many games left. We still have some work to do to get where we need to be, and we still try to win every game, but also, we have some questions as far as, ‘If we remain healthy, what is our lineup going to be when you get to the real stuff?” Tortorella said. “We do have some evaluation. We’re going through that right now with the pairs on defense and some of the line combinations.”
Those are questions that have yet to be answered.
“Have we got all the answers?” Tortorella asked rhetorically. “No, so that will continue.”