With a quarter of the 2014-15 NHL season in the books, the New York Rangers have been “consistently inconsistent“. It’s still early, though, and everyone would do well to remember just how bad things looked for last year’s Rangers at this point before preaching doom and gloom. This year’s team is having similar problems, but they are just as capable of turning this season around–if the previous week was any indication.
Their 19th and 20th games of the season were two of their best–and marked the first time this young season that they had strung together two “60-minute” games (a 2-0 win against the Philadelphia Flyers, and a 5-0 victory over the Montreal Canadiens). It’s not enough to be called a winning streak just yet, but it’s certainly something to build on for this team that is still in a fragile state. With that, we move to the Rangers report card for the first quarter of the 2014-15 season.
No question, the offensive leader of this team is Rick Nash. He’s currently in a tie for second in the NHL in goals with 14 and is tied for 13th overall in points with 21. This is, without a doubt, the Rick Nash the Rangers thought they were getting when they traded for him in 2012. Anyone who defended Nash through the previous two seasons is feeling vindicated right about now. There are other bright spots as well: Martin St. Louis is producing like, well, like Martin St. Louis. Rookies Anthony Duclair and Kevin Hayes have been a welcome infusion of energy. And Lee Stempniak has provided a great offensive spark, splitting time between the third and fourth lines and the second PP unit while collecting four goals and four assists.
But that has been the extent of the good news for the offense. A glaring difference from last year is the lack of depth scoring. Consider this: last season, the “third” line of Mats Zuccarello, Derrick Brassard and Benoit Pouliot combined for 52 goals, which was nearly a quarter of the team’s total (214). That was only 8 fewer goals than the top line of Nash, Derek Stepan, and Chris Kreider. This year, however, Nash and St. Louis alone have scored almost 40% of the team’s goals (22 out of 56) and nobody in the bottom two lines has more than five goals. Zuccarello has every bit of the energy and heart of last year, but has struggled to find the back of the net thus far.
The Rangers’ 56 goals puts them in a tie with the Los Angeles Kings for 16th in the NHL. To make a legitimate playoff push, the Rangers will need more goals from players not named Nash or St. Louis. Without the threat of depth scoring, what’s going to happen when other teams’ defenses start smothering the Rangers’ Dynamic Duo? Because that will start happening–sooner rather than later.
So far this young season, defense has definitely been the Rangers’ Achilles heel. They are currently allowing 2.7 goals against per game on average, up from 2.45 at the same point last season. After 20 games last year, the Rangers had allowed 49 goals (many during the difficult 9-game road trip that began the season), and their defensive struggles were the lead story. This year’s team has allowed 5 more goals in the same number of games. So, statistically, the Blueshirts are in worse shape defensively than they were at this time last year. Defensive miscues have been legion so far, and have been the catalyst for many of their lopsided losses.
The Rangers have been without Ryan McDonagh and/or Dan Boyle for all but one game this season, and have suffered multiple smaller injuries to other players. At times, they have had to rely on Matt Hunwick, Dylan McIlrath, Conor Allen and Michael Kostka (whose giveaway in the video led to him being sent back down), they even gave Tomas Kaberle a PTO. No, really. But even being short-handed should not cause complete defensive breakdowns like the one shown above. There is some hope now, for sure, as the defense has not given up a single goal in the last two games. Hopefully, this new found defensive responsibility continues. If not, it’s hard to see how the Rangers can succeed.
The Rangers power play hasn’t seen any better results so far this year. They are currently ranked 22nd in the NHL with a 15.5% conversion rate (9/58). That’s similar to their numbers in last year’s playoffs (13/103, 12.6%). To be fair, until the last few games, they have been without their main PP quarterback, as Dan Boyle missed over a month with a broken hand. Nobody else really seemed comfortable in that role, though several players filled in. Seeing the PP unit on the ice, it’s hard to figure why the numbers are so low: They move the puck well, and are finally willing to shoot through traffic. This isn’t the Rangers PP that had Garden fans chanting “Shoot the puck!” not too long ago. They still tend to pass a bit too much, but at least there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Look for these numbers to improve as Boyle gets his timing back and shows Ranger fans why he was brought to Broadway.
On the defensive side, the PK has suffered from the same defensive lapses that have plagued the Rangers at even strength. Still, it’s not like this short-handed unit has been awful–far from it, actually. Even with their defensive issues, they remain firmly in the middle of the pack for penalty killing at 81.2% effectiveness (16th in the NHL). If they can accomplish that with the injuries and miscues, then we should expect these numbers to rise as well.
We’re not about to start doubting Henrik Lundqvist. The past years have seen him starting slow but always returning to form, and this year seems no different. King Henrik is carrying a 2.51 goals against average and a .914 save percentage, and has looked beatable in the early going. Like the rest of the team, he seems to be hitting his stride now, though, posting a 21-save shutout in his latest game against the Montreal Canadiens. Cam Talbot is looking better now as well, posting a 31-save shutout against the Philadelphia Flyers on November 19.
Lundqvist will be the first to admit that he needs to be better, but many of his goals against have been due to the defense leaving attackers all alone in prime scoring areas. A good shooter with a lot of time can make any goalie look bad. Lundqvist’s numbers are sure to rise as the season continues, even if they’re less than stellar right now.
There’s quite a bit of room for improvement so far. The Rangers need to shore their game up defensively in order to gain ground against the rest of the league. If they’re able to continue playing a better, more consistent defensive game, they’ll be moving up the standings soon enough. However, this team has been wildly inconsistent–we’re going to need a larger sample size before we deem this particular corner turned.
Kevin has been covering the Florida Panthers and New York Rangers for The Hockey Writers since the 2013-14 season. Before that, he has written about, played, and coached hockey at all levels. He grew up a Rangers fan in the Southern Tier of New York State, but now lives in the Atlanta area with his wife and two sons. You can reach him on Twitter as @kmizTHW , or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org).