The Difference Between Being Tough To Play Against (Fighting) And Tough To Play Against (Skill)

Bruce Bennett

Tough to play against because of physicality or skill. They're two different ways to be successful in the NHL. Right now, the Rangers are neither.

There's been a big enormous debate recently about the New York Rangers' struggles compared to their toughness. A lot of people (again, mostly not here, but in places) seem to think the Rangers aren't winning games because they're not a tough team to play against. I agree, but it has nothing to do with their physicality.

See, there are a few ways to be successful in the NHL. One of the ways the Rangers were successful under John Tortorella was their in your face, grinding style that made opposing players wary about going into the Rangers' zone and saw New York going into the dirty areas and outworking the opponent in the corners. It hid the fact that the team had scoring issues, and ended up working in the team's favor.

The other way an NHL team can be tough to play against? Scoring goals. And a lot of them. A lot of people point towards the Boston Bruins as the prime example of why the Rangers need to get more tough. The Bruins, however, are a special example. Their roster is littered with players who are big, tough AND can score. That's different than bringing in guys like John Scott, it just is.

Believe me when I tell you, goons don't "give the star players more space," or "stop other teams from taking liberties." That's not the NHL anymore. You have to be able to play the game, too. The only thing a goon does is force the coach to dress a player with limited skill.

Here's a list of team's fighting majors so far this year:

Chicago (47 points, 1st in the NHL) - 6

San Jose (43 points, 2nd in the Pacific) - 11

Anaheim (45 points, 1st in the Pacific) - 13

Pittsburgh (41 points, 1st in the Metropolitan) - 13

Rangers (31 points, 4th in the Metropolitan) - 18

Boston (42 points, 1st in the Eastern Conference) - 18

St. Louis (41 points, 2nd in the Central) - 18

That's a pretty good look at teams all near the top of the standings and their respective fighting majors. Now let's take a look at those teams goal scoring so far.

Chicago (47 points, 1st in the NHL) - 116 goals

San Jose (43 points, 2nd in the Pacific) - 101

Anaheim (45 points, 1st in the Pacific) - 101

Pittsburgh (41 points, 1st in the Metropolitan) - 96

Rangers (31 points, 4th in the Metropolitan) - 69

Boston (42 points, 1st in the Eastern Conference) - 84

St. Louis (41 points, 2nd in the Central) - 98 goals

Noticing a trend? Maybe other teams are tough to play against because they, you know, actually score a lot of goals. The Blackhawks have six fighting majors (the third lowest total in the NHL) and yet they're the best team in hockey right now. Why? Because they have scored an NHL-high 116 goals. Not because they're going around and punching the hell out of the opposition.

In fact, here's the other side of the coin. When you have the puck a lot (and any team that scores 116 goals in 32 games has the puck A LOT) it's impossible to be physical. What's the point? You have the puck.

So while many are lamenting for a goon type player to "protect" the Rangers' top line stars, others are begging for a little more skill to enter the lineup. To be fair, there's something to be said for having a guy who can fight AND play the game, but they're rare, and the assets it would take to acquire such a player probably makes it not worth it.

The point? Fighting doesn't win games. It doesn't give your star players more space, if for no other reason than the fact that enforcers don't play with star players. Think about it, it makes no sense.

So before you start making wishes for Christmas, think about what you really want. You might get what you wish for, and it might not be what you need.

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