Rangers Need More Talk (Therapy) and Less Chalk

New York Rangers right wing Ryan Callahan (24) during the game at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Rangers 1-0.

Psychology is an interesting aspect to sports. You can’t really quantify it, so you have to kind of leave it to the side, even though psychology is a huge part of just about any competitive game.

The psychology of the New York Rangers is a complex thing to try and understand, though. They’re a team that seems to be pretty tense. The only time the tension is released is when they get on a goal-scoring roll. And then, they partake in goal explosions.

Obviously, there was yesterday’s win over Philadelphia, a game the Rangers won 7-0. Prior to that, the Rangers had scored seven goals in their past three games combined.

It seems that the Rangers often only click when they’re numbers begin to get gaudy. The Rangers have had a few games like that this season:

  • An 8-2 win over the Oilers November 14
  • A 7-0 win over the Capitals December 12
  • A 7-2 win over the Islanders December 27
  • A 7-0 win over the Maple Leafs January 19
  • A 6-0 win over the Capitals February 25
  • Sunday’s 7-0 win over the Flyers.

Those Rangers blowouts represent six of the 68 games played by the Rangers up to now. But the Rangers also have a bunch of one-goal games: 33 of them, to be precise, which ties them for fourth place in terms of one-goal game appearances. Their record in those one-goal games is 17-12-4, which is basically middle of the pack for the NHL, win-wise.

The data gets a bit more interesting if you look at two-goal games, though, where the second goal against can often represent an empty-netter. In those two-goal games, the Rangers are 6-12. And the Rangers have eight empty net goals against and have scored five. So a chunk of those 18 two-goal games are actually one goal games with an empty-netter.

Finally, there are three-goal games. The Rangers have appeared in an NHL-least 17 three-goal games, with a record of 12-5.

So we see the Rangers are a team that’s played in a lot of tight games all season, for the most part unable to really get the drop on opponents. But those few times they’ve managed to get on a roll, they seem to relax and become a very effective team.

Much has been made of the Rangers awful home record, where they’re just 15-16-3, compared to 20-13-1 on the road. But it’s interesting to note that five of the six Rangers blowouts this year have been at home in Madison Square Garden.

When you look at the data, it doesn’t really make sense, which makes me suspect a lot of the Rangers’ struggles are mental. Perhaps they tense up at home, which is why their home record is so awful. But those times they’re able to relax and execute their game plan, they have tremendous results.

The team seems to feel pressure to score, which is natural, given the number of close games in which they appear, but that pressure seems to hold the Rangers back from actually scoring.

It seems fairly obvious to state that a team plays better when they score more goals, because when a team scores more goals, they must be playing better. But for the Rangers, it’s the way they seem to relax when they begin to pile on a team that’s most interesting. They can’t get away from teams very often, but when they do, they become almost a different team — confident, physical, and more aggressive.

Coach John Tortorella’s job is to figure out how to keep his team loose enough to come through with the scoring they have in so many blowouts this season, while keeping them alert and disciplined enough to continue to win those one-goal games.

It might mean putting away the whiteboard and breaking out the couch, but if it means the Rangers might make it out of the first round of the playoffs, I’m sure Tortorella won’t mind.