The New York Rangers have surprised many up to this point in the season. The preliminary thought was that they would be hovering towards last place for much of the season. Following a 3-5 start to the season, they rattled off wins in 12 of their next 19 games, leading some to believe that this team could potentially contend for a playoff position.
All Good Things Come to an End
Following their strong play in the fall, the Rangers struggled to put together consecutive wins in December. Despite this, the team didn’t look as though they were a struggling team. They played hard-fought games against the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are currently the league’s top two teams. The effort on the team was on full display, but the glaring holes in their lineup started to have an impact.
The new year has begun and the Rangers have finally hit a brick wall. Their play has slipped dramatically, as they have allowed several teams to record easy wins over the past few games. Following a 7-2 loss last week against the Pittsburgh Penguins, during which Henrik Lundqvist was pulled in favor of backup goaltender Alexandar Georgiev, the team aimed to bounce back against a struggling Colorado Avalanche team. They lost 6-1, after being shredded by Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog-Nathan MacKinnon-Mikko Rantanen line.
The Rangers were then shutout 5-0 by Arizona Coyotes goaltender Darcy Keumper on Sunday. Simple math shows that they were outscored 18-3 in their past three games, which should concern fans, rebuild or not. They proved early on that they are not an easy team to beat, but the past few games have revealed the longer term struggles that may be in store.
During this rebuild, the Rangers were never expected to be a good team. In fact, the common belief is that they will win a lottery draft pick. So, what exactly has gone wrong of late? The more accurate question is what hasn’t gone wrong? From top to bottom, they have lapsed in every aspect of their game. They have been unable to generate offense and their defense has been mediocre at best.
Kevin Hayes, who has been a key offensive weapon for the Rangers this season, has now missed two games with a lingering injury. Despite the returns of Jesper Fast, Kevin Shattenkirk and Cody McLeod to the lineup following injuries, the Rangers have had a difficult time mitigating the effects of Hayes’ absence.
Not so Special Teams
The majority of the Rangers’ recent struggles are attributed to atrocious special teams play. In their past three games, they have scored zero power play goals on six opportunities, but have surrendered five power play goals in 15 opportunities, resulting in a penalty kill percentage of only 66.67 percent.
The Rangers committed 10 penalties versus the Avalanche, including a five-minute boarding penalty on Cody McLeod that resulted in two power play goals. From that point forward, they were never able to maintain offensive zone pressure or create chances. Their one goal came not as a result of offensive zone pressure, but a breakaway by fourth liner Ryan Strome.
The Rangers defied the odds up to this point, but it is now evident that there is still work to do. Many are hopeful that 2018 first-round pick Vitali Kravtsov will be the elite talent the team has been missing since Jaromir Jagr, but that is still to be determined. For now, the Rangers must focus on finding ways to win.