The 2013-14 NHL season isn’t even a month old, but the New York Rangers are already finding life difficult under new head coach, Alain Vigneault. The Blueshirts currently sit seventh in the NHL’s new-look Metropolitan Division, and were only able to tally one victory by the close of their west coast road trip to start the campaign. Star forward, Rick Nash, is out after taking an elbow to the head, backup goalie, Marty Biron, has already been waived, and first-choice netminder, Henrik Lundqvist, doesn’t look like a happy camper between the posts at the moment. Despite the hectic start to the season, and late nights on the road, we caught up with MSG Network Rangers Studio Analyst, and former Ranger, Ron Duguay to talk about what the Rangers need to do to right the ship, and who he thinks is going to be playing for Lord Stanley’s Cup come this June.
Interview by Adam Silvers (@silversurfer103)
What do you make of the Rangers rough start to the season?
If you go back to the game in Phoenix, they looked disorganized. They looked out of sync as far as lines, and a lot of that I felt was a continuation of what I saw in training camp. Training camp was not very good. They weren’t winning, and coach decided he wanted to look at a lot of the younger players. The reality is, for an outsider looking at the Rangers schedule, and the whole environment with the new coach, new players, etc…, their season was on the line within the first two weeks with all these difficult road games. When you look at the new structure of the league in terms of playoff format, it’s going to be harder this year to make the playoffs if you’re a team that’s kind of on the bubble.
I felt like that first game in Phoenix, they had to find a way to come together and be in sync, which they weren’t. I felt really concerned that if they don’t figure this thing out quick, they’re going to be in a big hole. Then they end up in Los Angeles, and it was magical. I never would’ve bet on them winning that game, Los Angeles being as good as they are, but they came up with this near perfect game. Then San Jose happened, and right out of the gate they drove them down to the ground and overpowered them. Then Nash gets hurt, and it’s just downhill really, really, really fast from there. It’s hard to really put a finger on it, other than defensively they just look confused. A new system on how to defend just shouldn’t be that hard to figure out. Last year they were a hardworking team, blocking shots. They were hard to play against, not necessarily full of skill.
Do you think Coach AV is already on a short leash?
I would think that his leash is a lot longer than a road trip, Slats (GM and Team President Glen Sather) has to give him some time. He’s a quality coach who’s won, that’s why they brought him in, that’s why they passed on Messier. Slats is not the type of guy who’s going to hit the panic button. AV had a very difficult job out of the gate. He had to figure out his players, get a new system in place, and oh by the way, your first nine games are on the road. A tough order.
Is Henrik Lundqvist growing a little stagnant in net right now?
He’s looking really frustrated. He doesn’t like how things are breaking down in front of him, that teams are getting these real quality chances against him, and the puck is going in. In the past, the Rangers have been very helpful to Lundquist to keep the shots down, and now he’s kind of getting left hanging to make these great saves that he’s just not making. And that happens, no matter how good you are sometimes the puck just finds a way in. The roof is caving in a little bit, and he’s not getting any help.
If Nash is out for a while, where are the goals going to come from?
Through teamwork, not just relying on one guy, and creating chances. It’s what we saw in Los Angeles, putting the puck on net, driving to the net, just ugly goals.
What are the keys to success for the 2013-14 New York Rangers?
First thing is to get in sync with what the coach is trying to get them to do. Offensively, defensively, the lines, that has to change real quick. They want to play a speed game, they want to have the puck and keep the puck. Control the game, we saw it in Los Angeles, that’s key. Lundquist has to be at his best, and they can’t be taking stupid penalties that puts them at a disadvantage. I guess what I’m trying to say is special teams are very important. Don’t take stupid penalties, get yourself on the powerplay, and be effective on the powerplay.
Who is going to be the biggest surprise this season?
From what I saw in training camp, I thought that Mats Zuccarello has been playing well but he hasn’t been scoring. I thought that he might be someone who can chip in 20 goals and 50 points, and it would be a nice surprise on that hustled second or third line. He looks comfortable in the NHL now, Zuccarello is the player I thought would be a nice surprise.
I know it’s early, but who is going to the Stanley Cup Finals?
I’m telling you, these west teams look good. I first would’ve said Los Angeles, but now after watching San Jose and Anaheim, then Chicago, it’s up for grabs. You don’t want to go against the Stanley Cup winners, especially when they haven’t really changed their team. I think I would have to just go with the favorites, Chicago. It’s going to be so close, those four team are so evenly matched, even St. Louis looks really good. In the East, the obvious favorite is Pittsburgh. I think they are going to dominate the regular season, it’s just going to come down to can Marc-Andre Fleury play playoff hockey.
Do you prefer Romeo of the Rink, Broadway Joe Namath on Skates, or Mick Jagger on Ice?
[Laughs] Ya, I like Broadway Joe, I’ve gotten to know him and he’s a good man. He was more my
The way they appreciated me on the ice, they appreciate what I’m doing on the air. It makes me feel special.
What’s the best part about working at MSG and covering the Rangers game in and game out?
I’m treated so well working with MSG, it’s the best place to work. It’s within my comfort zone because I have a connection to the Rangers having played here. Although I only played seven years, I felt very appreciated by the fans, and going to work at the Garden, I continue to mix with the fans. The way they appreciated me on the ice, they appreciate what I’m doing on the air. It makes me feel special.
What are some of your favorite memories from your playing days, and of New York at that time in general?
It was a combination of being a New York Ranger, playing at Madison Square Garden, having some success on the ice, and then having the opportunity to experience being a professional athlete in New York City. That opens doors to various great restaurants and clubs, and just getting a lot of attention. Being a celebrity in New York is different than being a celebrity in Minnesota.
Do you still get together with the guys and sing a few lines from ‘Hockey Sock Rock’ every once in a while?
I run into Phil Esposito occasionally and we’ll kid around about that experience. I’m trying to get him to do the new version. I’ve been talking to him about it, but nothing has happened yet. I would love to do that video in the new style of making music videos, with a different sound. I think it would be a big hit.
How is the game different now?
The athletes are different, they train year-round. When we played it was very seasonal, we stopped playing and we did other things. Kids nowadays they go year-round, they have private trainers, they have power skating instructors, they do travel hockey, they’re just in better shape. The equipment is also much better, and just just like football, these guys are machines now.
Where are the Rangers going to be when the playoffs roll around?
I’m going to say they’re going to be in the playoffs, because I really want them to be in the playoffs. There’s no better time in New York as a hockey fan than Rangers playoffs. There’s such an excitement, it’s just elevated 10 times. I have to believe they’re going to make the playoffs, just by the skin of their teeth.