In 1851, writer John Babsone Lane Soule wrote the now epochal sentence, "Go West Young Man."
One hundred and sixty-four years later, the 2015-16 New York Rangers are penning a directional creed of their own:
"Go South, boys."
Unlike Soule though, theirs is a directive that does not portend well for the present or the future.
The Rangers return home from their Western Canadian trip a team in a state of disarray, having dropped all three games to Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary by an aggregate 14-10 margin.
“We’re in a rut,” Marc Staal told Newsday following the 5-4 overtime loss to Calgary on Saturday. “We’re not used to this."
Entering Tuesday’s home game against the Oilers—who chased Henrik Lundqvist in last Friday's 7-5 win—the Rangers have dropped three in a row, five of six, and eight of nine.
Their nosedive coincides with a concurrent rise from their newly-minted inter-borough rival, the Islanders. Including Sunday’s 4-0 win over the Devils at Barclays Center, the Islanders have recorded points in 10 straight games, and have passed the Rangers for second place in the Metropolitan Division.
Washington leads the division with 42 points, followed by the Islanders’ 41 and the Rangers have 40. Despite the skid, the Rangers still have a six point lead on Eastern Conference eighth seed New Jersey, and lead ninth place Pittsburgh by seven.
Still, for a team which harbors Cup aspirations, the Rangers are facing a crisis they’e unfamiliar with.
Specifically, an inability to defend.
Against the Oilers, the Rangers’ defensive zone coverages were uncharacteristically ghastly. On Lauri Korpikoski’s second of three goals Friday night, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Rick Nash were caught below the goal line. Later in the game, three Rangers were on the right hand side of the ice, which ceded a wide open slot to Darnell Nurse.
Korpikoski and Nurse scored in both instances.
“It’s like we’re too tentative to start,” Staal told Newsday. “It’s causing us to second guess our coverage. When we fall behind, we start playing like we need to score and stop thinking about it. We make plays to get us back in the game. We need to find that looseness like we’re behind with the conscious effort of defending well. We can do it but we’re not defending well enough to be able to take those chances early on.”
So what can be done to correct what head coach Alain Vigneault termed “correctable” mistakes?
In the short term, there should likely be a renewed emphasis on defensive zone coverages. Significant roster changes probably won’t happen until Derek Stepan (broken ribs) and Kevin Klein (oblique) return to the team, despite the protestations of fans who used Twitter to demand Girardi and Staal be scratched or demoted to the AHL or traded during the losses to Edmonton and Calgary.
Even if management were considering demoting or trading one or both of the defensemen, Girardi and Staal have no-movement clauses in their contracts. So it’s unlikely that either will be shipped out. The Rangers did make a minor move on Monday, placing fourth line center Jarret Stoll on waivers.