Rangers Need Playoff Growing Pains to Reach Their Full Potential

The New York Rangers stumbled out of the gate this season, on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. With a record of 12-10-5, they haven’t been horrible, but nor have they lived up to expectations. There are several reasons for this, but ultimately, their 2022 Eastern Conference Final appearance might be more of a curse than a blessing.

Perhaps the Rangers got ahead of themselves. Maybe they need to take some more playoff lumps to understand the growth required to reach their ultimate goal — the Stanley Cup. History shows that several teams have needed a hard playoff exit in order to finally break through.

Take the Detroit Red Wings of the ’90s. They had several disappointing playoff losses after winning a couple of Presidents’ Trophies as the team with the most regular-season points. They were even bounced from the playoffs in the first round in two consecutive seasons. The Red Wings got to the Stanley Cup Final in 1995, only to be swept by the New Jersey Devils. Then they had to get past their bitter rival, the Colorado Avalanche. The Red Wings lost to the Avalanche in the Western Conference Final in 1996 but finally slayed their hated enemies in the 1997 Conference Final and went on to win back-to-back Stanley Cups.

Alexis Lafreniere New York Rangers
Alexis Lafreniere, New York Rangers (Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)

As such a young team, the Rangers could use a similar path. While getting to the Conference Final is a good thing, it may unconsciously have fooled them into thinking they were shoe-ins to get back there in 2022-23. That might explain their inconsistency this season.

Trouba & Defense Need to be Better

The Rangers have given up 80 goals in 27 games thus far, ranked sixth in the Conference. It’s not any particular defenseman causing the problem; it’s the team collectively. When you play inconsistent hockey, you’ll have too many defensive breakdowns and squander leads like the Rangers have this season. Captain Jacob Trouba showed his disdain the other night after a fight with Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews. He yelled at his bench and threw his helmet off the boards, trying to get them to wake up from being down 3-0.

Lafreniere & Depth Scoring

The Rangers’ depth scoring, or lack thereof, has been another problem. The big guns like Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Adam Fox, and Chris Kreider have pulled their weight, but beyond that, there’s a significant dropoff. Vincent Trocheck has 17 points in 27 games, which is good for his role, but after him, the closest player is Alexis Lafreniere, with 12 points in 27 games.

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The Blueshirts could use more scoring from Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko, who has four goals and four assists in 27 games. They could also use a little more offense from Barclay Goodrow; although he’s often used in a limited role, some timely goals from him and Filip Chytil would be appreciated. Goodrow and Chytil both have 11 points in 27 and 19 games, respectively. Depth and depth scoring is essential to get through a grueling playoff run and hoist the Stanley Cup.

Igor Shesterkin

Igor Shesterkin also hasn’t been the shutdown netminder he was in 2021-22. He hasn’t played badly, but he’s also not playing at the level of a Vezina Trophy winner and Hart Trophy candidate like last season. In 2021-22, he finished with a 2.07 goals-against average (GAA) and a .935 save percentage (SV%), leading the league in both categories.

Igor Shesterkin New York Rangers
Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

So far this season, Shesterkin has a 2.67 GAA and a .910 SV%, which is respectable but nowhere near the top of the league and what he’s capable of. A lot of the Rangers’ inconsistency might be tolerable if he were having the same type of season as last. That’s not to say it’s entirely on him, but it’s a simple observation of what’s happening so far.

Trouba & Shesterkin Need to Lead the Way

The team needs consistency and stability, and every team looks to their captain and goaltender to provide that. Trouba recently did his best to wake up the group, and Shesterkin has kept the Rangers in games by making more point-blank saves than he should have to. If they want to get over the hump, they need to use last season’s playoff experience as a springboard instead of allowing it to cloud their judgment.

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