clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

What Early Season Struggles Are The Most Concerning?

New, comments

While the Rangers were going to struggle without Derek Stepan there should be some concern over the top three defenseman.

Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Let's get one thing out of the way at the top: The New York Rangers were always going to struggle out of the gate with Derek Stepan's injury. That Dan Boyle happened to break his hand less than 40 minutes into his Rangers debut just made things worse.

Which is exactly why I've been banging the "10 points in the first 10 games" drum so loudly.

The problem with the injuries the Rangers are facing is they're without players who impact both sides of the puck. Boyle is a defenseman who will instantly shore up the top four (and then the bottom pairing as well since Kevin Klein will be forced back down) once he returns. He also bring an offensive look to the Rangers defense and will give New York the puck-moving defenseman its craved for years on the power play.

As for Stepan, I don't think I need to go into detail about what he brings to the table. Not only would he bring an instant boost of offense to the team, but he's also one of the best two-way forwards the Rangers have. Not having him on the top line has forced Alain Vigneault to find other lines to give tougher competition to. Once he returns, the Rick Nash - Stepan - Chris Kreider line can return to it's tougher competition matchups, which allows other lines to be a little more sheltered.

Two players who have massive roles on the team. It's no wonder the Rangers are struggling, and some struggles should have been anticipated. To be frank, it's why I would be so happy if the Rangers found a way to go 5-5 in their first 10 games. Pedestrian? Yes. Realistic? Yes.

The expected panic is coming on waves. It's October, and while the Rangers seem to be following last year's early-season struggles blueprint the fans have replicated last year's outrage as well. It comes with the territory.

Here is where things start to veer off the path a little. Last year there was a new system in place, so some of the defensive miscues and mistakes could be attributed to systemic issues that stemmed from everything being new. This year? Not so much. Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal and Dan Girardi have looked good in all the wins and atrocious in all the losses. There is no middle ground with that trio.

I hinted at this above but I really do think Boyle's return is going to help the defense as a whole. Shifting Klein back down to the third pairing with John Moore will solidify the bottom two, and Staal should see an improvement in his game partnered with Boyle rather than Klein. Girardi and McDonagh would benefit, too, since they wouldn't be required to do so much heavy lifting up top.

Believe it or not, Stepan helps here, too, since he's so good in his own zone. Don't sleep on the impact the forwards have on a defensive unit. Stepan, Nash and Kreider could pair with Klein and Moore or even Staal and Boyle and help shore up some of the gaffs that have become commonplace.

That doesn't answer the immediate concerns about what's going on with Girardi and McDonagh, mainly. Throw Staal in there, too, since he had about as bad of a game as I've seen against the Canadiens. So did McDonagh, for that matter.

The expectation was always going to be the Rangers were going to struggle defensively with Boyle out. But the expectation was the bottom four defenseman would struggle. Staal -- because Klein wouldn't be ready for second-pairing work -- and the third pairing -- because either Matt Hunwick or Michael Kostka would be forced into a role they're not ready for -- would be the main issues. Girardi and McDonagh were supposed to alleviate that pressure.

To this point, that hasn't been the case, which is an issue. Maybe things will sort themselves out -- prior to the loss to the Canadiens the Rangers defense didn't look all that bad on the three-game winning streak.

Early season struggles were anticipated. They're happening now, as we speak. Things are getting better, but the team isn't exactly in the fast lane yet.

Hopefully Stepan and Boyle coming back fixes the problem. Especially if the Rangers do go 5-5 and give them a relativity solid foundation to come back to.