By Steve Silverman
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It’s a lot more than a slow start for the New York Rangers.
The team that staggered through last year’s postseason has not improved this year. They have gotten worse.
When the Rangers added Rick Nash in the offseason, they had all they needed to become the best team in the Eastern Conference and become solid Stanley Cup favorites.
They have been unsure and indecisive through the first third of the 48-game season. They are in eighth place (8-6-2 with three losses in last four games) in the Eastern Conference, and if the season ended today they would have the conference’s final playoff spot.
That’s just how the Rangers have played this year. Not awful, but nowhere near the way they should have performed to this point in the year.
If you remember the way the Rangers played in last year’s postseason, they are following a pattern.
They held off the Pittsburgh Penguins to take the top spot in the Eastern Conference and they went into the playoffs as the No. 1 seed against the Ottawa Senators. The Rangers survived that series, but they were forced to play seven games.
The same scenario followed in the second round against the Washington Capitals.
They should have been able to dispatch both of those teams in no more than five games. Their confidence was shaken by the time they got to the Eastern Conference Finals, and they were shunted aside by the New Jersey Devils.
That defeat pained all Rangers fans and, of course, head coach John Tortorella, but the acquisition of Nash should have meant that the team was pushing forward and going all in during the 2012-13 season, which became the 2013 season because of Gary Bettman’s four-month player lockout.
But instead of rampaging when the puck dropped in mid-January in Boston, the Rangers have been unsure.
Every time they take a step forward, they take a half-step backwards.
Goal scoring is still an issue and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist hasn’t been the same lights-out puck magnet that he was last year.
Lundqvist hasn’t been bad by any stretch — he has a 2.29 goals against average and a .919 save percentage — but he has shown that he can be even better.
Nash has been a solid performer and is the team’s leading scorer with 12 points, but only three of those have been goals. They need him to put the puck in the net more than he has, and there are concerns about his health.
He has missed the last two games, and speculation has been that he’s been out because of a concussion or a groin strain. The Rangers are not providing details.
Assuming his health problems are not serious, Nash will be back in the lineup shortly, perhaps for Saturday night’s game at Montreal.
There’s one other issue that could be keeping the Rangers from competing at the expected level. It could be the hard-driving style of Tortorella.
He’s a hard man to play for under the best of circumstances. He’s a driver and a pusher who is never satisfied.
That’s his MO and it works well — up to a point. This is his fifth year on Broadway, and you wonder if some of his players are about to reach their limit.
It’s one thing to push hard with a team that is on the rise and has limited expectations. However, when it’s a well-established and favored team, keeping your foot heavy on the gas pedal at all times can wear a team down.
Tortorella is prepared and he cares as much as any coach in the NHL. But sometimes you need to ease off the throttle in order to get a team to play the way it can.
Preseason expectations don’t matter anymore.
It’s all about winning and consistency, and Tortorella has to find a new formula to get his team back on track.
Rangers fans, are you starting to tire of Tortorella a bit? How would you grade his performance thus far in 2013? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…