The New York Rangers’ biggest issue this season is the team’s inability to close out a game in which they’re leading. The most recent example was the contest against the Los Angeles Kings, where despite a two-goal lead in the third period, the team got complacent and fell asleep at the wheel to let a win slip through their fingers. The reason for these losses has to do with the team taking their foot off the gas, losing key faceoffs, and getting caught watching the play happen around them.
The Rangers are currently in a good spot in the standings sitting second in the Eastern Conference, but if this issue continues it’s hard to see them going very far in the postseason
Take It Easy
The Rangers have a way of letting their foot off the gas when they have a two-goal lead against a good opponent. The problem is that once a team starts playing a conservative style they often struggle to get the offensive jump back in their game. A great example was on Thursday night when Kyle Clifford made a 3-1 game a 3-2 game. You’ll notice that Jeff Carter peels off Keith Yandle and throws the puck right past Derick Brassard whose caught checking the air.
Suddenly a game that seems like it’s well-in-hand for them is only separated by one goal; only now the Kings have all the momentum, and New York is stuck in damage control with more than 15 minutes to go in the tilt.
Derek Stepan spoke about the third period struggles after the Rangers let a game get away from them against the Detriot Red Wings earlier in the month.
Stepan: “We have to learn how to play in the third with the lead, and it’s a certain way. You’re not playing risky but you’re assertive.”
— Pat Leonard (@PLeonardNYDN) March 12, 2016
The Face-off Issue
The Rangers are currently 20th in the NHL in Faceoff win percentage which isn’t impressive. But the bigger issue is the clubs’ problem losing faceoffs cleanly late in the game, and the two best examples were in recent gut-wrenching losses for the team. Brassard lost a draw to Anze Kopitar for the game-winner against Los Angeles in overtime, and then there’s this one where Stepan is beat on a defensive-zone faceoff that prevents the team from getting to overtime for a valuable point.
Stepan spoke after that game about the crucial faceoff and took the blame.
Stepan: “I kind of choked for us in that face-off. It sucks, because the group worked hard to get back into it, & I kind of blew it for us.”
— Brett Cyrgalis (@BrettCyrgalis) March 7, 2016
Stuck in the Box
When the Rangers have a lead late, they look like a new driver who checks his blind spot 15 times before switching lanes. They have a nervousness in their game that hasn’t been an issue in past years. They do the right things and compete, but always seem to get caught making the wrong play. Larry Brooks of The New York Post sent out a tweet that illustrates the teams issues late in the game.
Since 11/18 a TB, NYR have been tied or up by 1 goal with 5:00 to go in 22 games. They have allowed GTG or GWG 13 times (4-5-4). Shocking.
— Larry Brooks (@NYP_Brooksie) March 18, 2016
This season the Rangers are fifth worst in the NHL in giving up goals in the third period. What sticks out is that all the teams around them in the category (Montreal Canadiens, Vancouver Canucks, etc.) aren’t in a good position to make the postseason.
The core of the team has been through so many battles in the postseason that it’s hard to understand why they have such trouble closing out games. Now I think that the team will come together and play their tight style when the postseason rolls around, but until they get there the club has to try shaking some things up. For whatever reason, the Rangers look shy late in the game, so maybe mixing up the personnel could provide a spark.