When the Rangers resume their season Thursday with a home game against old friend John Tortorella and the Columbus Blue Jackets, general manager Jeff Gorton and assistant GM Chris Drury will be out in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia, checking out Vitaly Kravtsov, K’Andre Miller and a good portion of the Rangers’ future at the World Junior Championships. That should serve as a reminder to Rangers fans that the organization’s priority right now is the rebuild strategy, not so much winning NHL games in the here and now.
Still, when the Rangers went 9-1-1 in an 11-game run that put them in a playoff spot on Thanksgiving Day, people got excited. The possibilities, at the time, were intoxicating.
Alas, it didn’t last. In their next 13 games, the Rangers went 3-6-4, closing their pre-Christmas schedule at 15-14-6. And as Bill Parcells famously said: You are what your record says you are.
“Yeah, we had a good stretch, but other than that, it’s been what you see,’’ goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said. “It’s still a process for this group to get to winning consistently. It’s not easy. And a lot of times, it’s not playing great — it’s playing smart. And playing smart is something you have to learn, I think. It’s not that you don’t have the skill; it’s more using your head a lot and making smart decisions. I think when we improve that, I think we’ll be more consistent.’’
During the NHL's holiday break, Newsday will analyze how the Rangers' goalies, forwards and defensemen have performed in the first 35 games and how they can improve the rest of the season, starting with the goalies.
Lundqvist, the 36-year-old face of the team, has done what he can to keep his young team alive through 35 games. He is 10-9-6 with a 2.83 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage. His backup, rookie Alexandar Georgiev, also has played well, posting a 5-5-0 record, a 3.20 GAA (swollen because he allowed seven goals in his first start, an awful 8-5 loss in Carolina) and an .899 save percentage.
On most nights, the Rangers are outshot (for the season, they’ve taken 762 shots and allowed 898, according to naturalstattrick.com). They have needed their goaltenders to play well and give them a chance.
Gorton and the Rangers' braintrust, including coach David Quinn and goaltending coach Benoit Allaire, are committed to making sure that Lundqvist gets all the work he needs to stay sharp and play at an optimal level. That’s the best chance the Rangers have of being competitive, they believe.
They’ve sought to keep the 22-year-old Georgiev sharp by sending him to the minors to get ice time, and the plan seems to be working. Georgiev recently went down for a 12-day stretch in which he played five games, then came back to the Rangers and played two games in a row, winning 3-1 against Anaheim and making 31 saves in a 5-3 loss at Toronto.
Plan for improvement: Goaltending has been the team’s strength. The best way to help improve that is to play better defense and reduce the number of shots the goalies have to face on a nightly basis.