With a rare two days off until their next game – a Winter Classic rematch against the Flyers on Superbowl Sunday – the Rangers dedicated a 40-minute session to their ailing power-play Friday.
If consistency has been paramount to the Rangers’ success, the anemic special teams unit has been the most glaring footnote.
Converting only 23 of 168 opportunities through 49 games, the Rangers rank 26th in the league with a 13.7% success rate. Three of the four teams beneath them -- Phoenix, Tampa Bay and Montreal -- are not even vying for playoff spots within their respective conferences.
The Rangers tallied a huge, game-winning man-up goal in their 3-2 OT win against Boston January 21 – their first power-play goal in eight games – but have not converted on nine opportunities since.
The bright side for the Eastern Conference-leading Blueshirts?
“The great thing is we have a ton of room to improve,” said alternate captain Brad Richards. “I look at it some days as, there are a lot of guys that aren't firing and we’re still finding ways to win games. We have the attitude that we know we have to do it, we know we have to make it better. We’re not saying, ‘Oh we’re winning, so it’s okay.’ We’re always talking about it and figuring it out. It’s a good sign that we’re winning games and it could be a lot better.”
Even with a woeful power-play, the Rangers are three points ahead of the Stanley Cup Champion Bruins in the East. They lead the Atlantic Division by three points as well, and their plus-36 goal differential is tied for third best in the league.
Coach John Tortorella is reluctant to ram the obvious facts down his club’s throat. Poised to make a playoff run, the power-play needs to be better. Much better.
“It certainly doesn’t help me or help our team, me running it down,” Tortorella said. “It’s something we need to get better at; the players know that. I think they need to just relax and play. We don’t want to over-coach it.”
Tortorella recently described the power-play as “robotic," and while the absence of creativity is concerning – especially given offensive talents like Richards, Marian Gaborik and Derek Stepan – the one basic need supersedes all else: more shots on goal.
“It has to be simplistic,” Richards said. “The reason a power play can be creative is because [penalty killing units] respect them. We’re not getting respect right now.”
It may not take much. A goal or two could make a huge difference in boosting the beleaguered corps. With a little extra time to focus on the fundamentals Friday, the Rangers hope they can reverse their fortune soon.
“Good news is, I don’t think it can get any worse,” Richards said with a dose of sarcasm. “It can only go up.”