After jumping out to a 7-1 start in the first half of November, the second half has been generally poor for this New York Rangers team. With just one game against the Hurricanes left in November, they are 2-3-1 since Nov. 16, coming off a tough loss against the Senators. Without Zibanejad and Buchnevich, there has seemingly been an identity crisis going on throughout this Rangers team that has gone from extremely efficient to extremely confused in just a few weeks of play.
As November comes to a close, there is a lot to take away from a month that has had enough ups and downs to last an entire season.
Zibanejad, Buchnevich Importance
To remain competitive, the Rangers will need to get back to the scoring pace they set earlier on in the season. Over the last six games, they averaged just over two goals. The Rangers were held to two goals or less in four of those six games. That is where Zibanejad and Buchnevich come in. The injuries to both of these top-six forwards have created major issues offensively, bringing the Rangers’ league-leading pace from over four goals per game down to just under 3.7 goals per game. This is a drastic drop which showcases the hardships the Rangers have been going through offensively.
The lineup that Alain Vigneault has created has a few major holes at forward. Jesper Fast has been a bottom-six forward for the entirety of his career so far but the latest Vigneault tweaks had him on the first line. With a top-six wing spot obviously open, Buchnevich will need to play significant minutes to help bolster the struggling offense. Without Zibanejad and Buchnevich the Rangers haven’t executed on the power play nearly as well either, just another problem having two top-six forwards injured has created. While the Rangers have been able to tread water while dealing with injuries, they are hanging onto the top of the Metropolitan standings by a thread.
Power Play Struggles
Mentioned earlier, the Rangers power play has been poor since the injuries to Buchnevich and Zibanejad happened. Alain Vigneault has looked far and wide to replace them, but has he been looking in the wrong places? In Matt Puempel’s first game as a Ranger, he played a little under two minutes on the power play. Predictably so, his presence on the power play was easily forgettable. One may ask where Vigneault should look. That question is easily answered with two household names in Miller and Hayes.
J.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes barely average over two minutes per game on the power play together. Miller and Hayes both have 19 points but have played sparingly on the offensive side of the Rangers’ special teams. Instead of placing fourth liner Puempel in big power-play minutes, Vigneault should consider turning to the two hottest players on the team and there may be more offensive production. Puempel isn’t an offensive force while both Hayes and Miller have proved they can be every single night.
Defensive Lapses Aplenty
The Rangers have one of the strongest offenses in the league from top to bottom when they are healthy. Of those teams that are currently sitting in playoff spots, they also have one of the weakest defensive cores. This hurts the Rangers tremendously and has caused them to be a much less efficient hockey team than they have the potential to be. There are multiple losses so far this year that can be pinned on defensive miscues leading to high-quality chances.
Take the Columbus game for example. Columbus scored four goals that came off of two turnovers, a short-handed odd-man-rush caused by a defensive misplay on a bouncing puck, and an empty-net goal. If the Rangers had cut down on mistakes in this game and played safe, the chances of them winning that game would’ve gone up tremendously. Henrik Lundqvist can make most saves like the one above but when there are major lapses in the defensive zone, his job becomes much harder than it needs to be.
All in all, the Rangers must fix these issues whether that be through a trade to add a defenseman or finding the perfect lines that mesh together and play well in all three zones of the ice. With one of the less challenging stretches of hockey this season coming up in the next few weeks, expect the Blueshirts to figure it out and get back to their winning ways while time is bought for Buchnevich and Zibanejad to heal up and get ready to go.