The New York Rangers entered the lockout-shortened 2013 NHL regular season as one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup. After just two games the hype has all but turned into nerves after the team dropped their opening two games to the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins; two teams that many consider to be the two best in the Eastern Conference. It wasn’t just that the Rangers lost their opening two games; it’s that in those two games the Rangers have looked flat, out of sync, and for many stretches of play, just downright awful. The Rangers first two games were filled with the entire team making too many mistakes, both on the ice and in their heads, while taking way too many penalties to kill any momentum they may have found.
As many people have pointed out, this is why they have pre-season games, for teams to work out the kinks and get the mental mistakes out of the way.
Back when the season was supposed to start in October, Head Coach John Tortorella said the Rangers would not use the lockout as an excuse, something that Tortorella has done before. Prior to last season, Tortorella sent a letter to all his players stating that nothing the team would go through this season, beginning the season with a nine game road trip that began in Europe and included a trip to Western Canada, the HBO cameras following the team around for 24/7, or the Winter Classic, would be an excuse for a lack of performance.
But the truth of the matter is, the lockout IS going to be a major obstacle the Rangers are going to have to overcome this season, but not for the clichéd reasons you hear in the media. As much as the Rangers have said they will fix their mistakes and re-create their magic from last season on the fly, it was all the distractions that made the Rangers who they were last season.
Due to the renovations of Madison Square Garden the Rangers were forced to open up the season last year in Europe. It was during this weeklong trip that the team was taken away from their families, and spending time just with each other. The players all got to know each other, and made the integration of new players far easier.
It was during the trip in Europe where off-season acquisition Brad Richards introduced the “Broadway Hat,” an (ugly) fedora that was worn by the player of the game chosen by the previous wearer after a win. While the hat’s style was loved by some and hated by others, it was worn with a smile and a laugh by all.
Upon returning home, things were still far from normal as the Rangers did not get to play a home game until the end of October. By the time they finally got settled into their new renovated digs, it was time to open up all of their doors for the HBO cameras and inside-access show 24/7. It wouldn’t be until January when the Rangers could finally begin and maintain a sense of normalcy, and by then they had moved into first place in the Atlantic Division, and would not look back.
During the 2012 playoffs the Rangers style of play of everybody laying out and sacrificing their body to block shots was highlighted during the playoff run. When asked about the style of play, the players all had the same answers; each player was not sacrificing so that each player could win, or so that each player could win a cup, they were doing it for each other, for the person next to them, because they knew that person would do the same for them.
The quality that made the 2011-2012 Rangers so special was the closeness of the team and how everyone wanted to win for each other. It was the trip to Europe and the constant distractions during the first part of the season that brought the team together and made them as close as they were.
While the Rangers added firepower this season in Rick Nash, one of the most underrated losses was forward Brandon Prust, a third line grinder who left it all out on the ice but did even more than that. In the locker room Prust was loved by each and every one of his teammates, a “glue” guy as Tortorella called him, someone who helped keep the team together. While the rangers have brought in new players to replace what Prust did on the ice, it remains to be seen if they could replace what he gave to the team off the ice.
The shortened training camp will have an effect on the Rangers usually stellar conditioning, but that is something that every team will have to deal with. The real loss for the Rangers was the early season camps and trips to bring the team even closer together. After a very poor first two games, the Rangers have said it is too early to panic and that they will fix things, they just better be able to re-claim their magic and fix things quick, otherwise this could become a very disappointing season.