Mason, Flyers catch a break against the Rangers
Vinny Lecavalier checks Anton Stralman in the Flyers' 2-1 win over the Rangers. (USA Today Images)
Who would have thought that both the Flyers and Rangers would be in the tank this early in the season?
As bad as things have been in South Philly, it’s been even worse up on Broadway, even though the Rangers have been seeded ahead of the Flyers.
While both of these clubs are starved for goals, the Rangers have been starved for bodies to replace key players:
• Carl Hagelin has been out since last offseason’s shoulder surgery.
• Rick Nash has been out with a concussion that led to San Jose’s Brad Stuart being suspended.
• Ryan Callahan’s been out with a broken thumb.
• Henrik Lundqvist has been out with a mysterious minor injury that forced head coach Alain Vigneault to use Cam Talbot in his NHL debut against the Flyers.
And that is just the tip of the iceberg that has sunk the Rangers thus far, including their 2-1 loss to the Flyers on Thursday (see game recap).
Lundqvist has always been a slow starter. His 3.45 goals-against and .890 save percentage are horrific, but in the past he was able to manage because the Rangers' defense saved him. Not in October.
Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh have been brutal -- a combined minus-11 on the ice. Marc Staal? He’s minus-8.
With the Rangers' defense having a rough go of it under a new coaching staff and system, there hasn’t been much margin for error in goal.
Yet the bottom line is, when you’re missing a Hagelin, Nash and Callahan, you’re missing a sizeable portion of offense, and the Rangers’ roster -- very much like the Flyers -- isn’t deep enough with suitable offensive replacements.
Without Nash and Callahan, the team has had to pull back.
“We have to play closer to the vest -- there is no doubt about that,” Vigneault said. “In Jersey, we gave that team just eight scoring chances. That’s two games in a row, as far as scoring chances to the other team, where we played well.
“But we had no push. When we got down, we did not have a strong enough pushback offensively. With those guys out, you have to play closer to the vest in certain areas.”
Translation: You play conservatively, stress defense and avoid getting your defense caught pinching at the other end.
Yet there’s even more to this ugly picture and it has to do with their venue, Madison Square Garden.
The final phase of the Garden’s three-year, $1 billion renovation forced the Rangers to start the season playing their entire preseason on the road, plus the first nine games of the regular season.
General manager Glen Sather decided to host training camp in Banff, Alberta, where he owns an offseason home.
From there, the Rangers hit Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Las Vegas with four exhibition games in five nights, then boarded their chartered flight home for a few days before heading West again to open the regular season in Phoenix.
All that crammed travel left the club fatigued coming out of the gate. Again, all of this, so that The Garden could be completed.
And it irked many of the players, as well, who had their personal lives greatly disrupted and still haven't been with their families.
“It’s been mentioned, it’s been talked about,” Vigneault said. “At the end of the day, it was the training camp that we were dealt with. The schedule we were dealt.
“We tried to handle it the best we could. Obviously, we didn’t get results we expected. We had three good days of practice this week to get ready.”
Western clubs handle travel better than Eastern teams and have to go West to East far more than Eastern clubs go East to West. Vigneault knows that first hand from his seven years coaching Vancouver.
“That would be an easy excuse,” he said. “Traveling is traveling. We travel in a first-class environment. I don’t want to use that as an excuse.”
It’s not the total picture, but stacked with everything else, it’s a significant factor as to why the Rangers have looked bad early in the NHL schedule.
The only comfort for Flyers fans has been that, outside of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Metropolitan Division isn’t very good. In fact, a large portion of the division right now is mediocre.
Which gives both the Flyers and Rangers a chance to claw their way up the standings ladder.
Whether the top rung reaches into the playoffs, however, is another story.