By Steve Silverman
The New York Rangers are going to face a major handicap this year.
They are not going to be able to follow the NHL’s prescribed formula for securing a playoff spot and one of the top seeds in Stanley Cup playoffs.
If a team is going to win in the NHL and make sure it has a chance to compete in the playoffs, it’s best to get off to a fast start and let the challengers come to you.
You want to build a secure position and then take your chances of winning a division title in the second half of the season.
This may not seem like a novel concept in hockey or any of the major sports, but it is. In the NHL, a bad start is a major disadvantage.
That’s because of the large number of three-point games that are played throughout the year. When a team loses a game in overtime or a shootout, that team gets one point. Not only does it salve the wound of losing, it gives the losing team some traction in the standings.
No other sport does this. The Yankees get no extra credit for sending a game to extra innings. The Knicks won’t get anything out of losing an overtime game to the Philadelphia 76ers, even though they might have only lost because one Carmelo Anthony jump shot rimmed out.
This is not a complaint about the way the NHL does business. The league did nothing to prevent ties for many decades. There was no overtime in regular-season games until the 1983-84 season, when the five-minute sudden death overtime period was introduced.
If nobody scored, that was it. A tie went into the record books. When the shootout was introduced at the start of the 2005-06 season, that put an end to tie games. But the losers in shootouts or overtime still get a point for their effort.
That makes it hard to come from behind, and that’s almost certainly the path that the Rangers are going to have to follow this year.
And let’s not forget, due to renovations at the Garden, the Blueshirts will open the season with nine straight on the road, starting with four on the West Coast and then snaking through the heartland, then back East and then over to Detroit before coming home on Oct. 28 to face Montreal.
That’s not going to make things any easier.
The Rangers are a team that is trying to figure out its identity. Getting rid of iron-fisted head coach John Tortorella was a good thing. He wanted his team to play defense and to block shots. He required that all his players sell out to meet his demands.
Eventually, everyone got tired of his ways and he was shown the door.
Alain Vigneault gets a chance to lead the Rangers, and he has a track record of building up offense, in general, and the power play, in particular.
That’s just what team president and general manager Glen Sather wants. However, the changes are not going to happen overnight. It could take weeks or even months for the Rangers to “get” their new coach’s system.
Vigneault has a plan and he is implementing it, but it takes a while to learn. The Rangers have injuries to Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin that are slowing the learning process, but they also have years of being barked at and handled harshly by Tortorella.
It takes time to get used to being managed in a different manner.
The Rangers are a talented team and they have one of the best goalies in the world in Henrik Lundqvist. However, the Rangers have not shown much progress in training camp and they are still searching for their identity.
They will find it, but a slow start will force them to play come-from-behind hockey.
That’s not the usual formula for success in the NHL, but it just may work here.
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