Despite Wins, Concerns Returning for Rangers

The New York Rangers defeated the Dallas Stars by a score of 3-2 on Saturday, for their second straight win and third in the past four games.

Road wins against quality teams like St. Louis (2-1 on Thursday) and Dallas would seem like reasons for optimism. But just like when they started 16-3-2 across October and most of November, there are troubling signs under the surface that have crept back into New York’s game.

Losing the Possession Battle

The Rangers got off to that hot start largely as a result of puck luck and brilliant goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist, even by his standards. They were being out-possessed and out-chanced on a consistent basis, and those flaws finally caught up to them during their awful December spell.

Slowly but surely though, New York began to improve its process of play, and the results soon began to follow. They had more possession, were limiting chances for the opposition, and not coincidentally, they were winning games.

That strong play was evident for most of the past month-plus, but the club’s last three road games have created renewed cause for concern, despite the recent wins.

The 2-1 win over the Blues was an absolute steal by Lundqvist, who made 35 saves. The Rangers were out-shot 36-23 in that game, and did not look the part of a contending team despite the victory.

Sunday’s win over the Stars was not a whole lot better, but the Rangers once again escaped thanks to Lundqvist (a less-than-stellar goal allowed late in the third period notwithstanding) and some pretty egregious defensive breakdowns and goaltending from Dallas. Still though, the chart below does not look good for the Rangers, and they will have to have a minimal amount of games like this down the stretch and in the playoffs if they are to do any damage.

The Rangers need to get back to how they were playing for most of February if they stand any chance of making another run for the Stanley Cup. It’s probably not a coincidence that with the return of Ryan McDonagh leading to less ice time for Keith Yandle and more for Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, the Rangers are suddenly struggling with possession again. But I’ve already gotten into that. Before I leave this subject though, there are more very telling numbers from the Dallas game:

Looking Ahead

Sunday’s win over the Stars was the Rangers’ final game before Monday’s trade deadline. Perhaps the team will look to add forward depth. If so, that could be key in helping the team improve its puck possession and overall game.

Even so, the bigger issues are on the back end, where head coach Alain Vigneault needs to make better deployment decisions. There is no strong reason to bank on that happening, though. If it doesn’t, the Rangers’ unimpressive play might very well catch up to them like it did in December.