The New York Rangers head into the 10-day All-Star Break on a very low and disappointing note. The Rangers dropped two-straight home games, one to the Columbus Blue Jackets and one to the rival New York Islanders. In the first loss, the Rangers gave up two third-period goals and a bad line change helped the Blue Jackets pot the game-winning goal with 27 seconds left. Against the Islanders, the Blueshirts looked lethargic and lacked any creativity until late in the game, resulting in a 4-2 loss. Coming off of these two losses headed into the extended hockey break, let’s take a look at some key notes about the Rangers as February looms.
No Panarin? Big Problem.
Who could’ve seen this one coming? Artemi Panarin, who currently sits in fifth place for total points in the NHL with 68, sat out Tuesday’s game against the Islanders with a short-term upper-body injury.
The dazzling Russian who is a magician with the puck was sorely missed as the Rangers struggled to create high-scoring opportunities at home throughout the game. The recent loss against the Islanders, which was the only game Panarin has missed so far during the 2019-20 season, showed how much of a glaring need Panarin is to this team. David Quinn’s squad mustered 42 shots-on-goal, but most of them weren’t necessarily in dangerous parts of the ice.
It’s clear that Panarin is the heart and soul of this hockey team and it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that the Rangers might’ve been a lottery team in the NHL Entry Draft once again without Panarin’s offensive excellence and defensive zone presence throughout the season.
You don’t need to look at the Rangers’ defense for too long to realize how flawed its system is. (from ‘Rangers’ defensive disaster leading to unfair scapegoat,’ New York Post, 12/15/2019) The team has had one of the worst defenses this season statistically, specifically in shots against per game and penalties taken, and one player that isn’t getting much help is Jacob Trouba.
Trouba, the former Winnipeg Jet who was traded to New York and signed a seven-year, $56 million contract, hasn’t lived up to his contract through 48 games. At times on the ice, especially during the last game against the Islanders, Trouba looks lost on the backend and has committed various careless turnovers.
That’s not exactly what you want to see out of your supposed best defenseman. Trouba has been overshadowed by the performances of his counterparts Adam Fox and Tony DeAngelo, who have exceeded expectations. Trouba will need a big bounce-back in the second half of the season after the All-Star break to show the organization he can still be “the guy” on the defensive side for the Rangers after putting up 23 points through 48 games.
Kakko’s Soon-To-Be Emergence
Rangers fans have been waiting for Kaapo Kakko’s breakout for the entire season. Soon enough, it might come for the Finnish winger. Late in the game against the Islanders, where Panarin was absent, Kakko played well-enough throughout the game to be bumped up to the top line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider.
Kakko looked much more confident on the puck, took three shots on target and started to put pucks in dangerous areas. The statistics may not show it right now with Kakko totaling seven goals and nine assists through 44 games played, but the breakout is coming.
Keep in mind, Kakko is tied with Manny Malhotra for the most points for a Ranger in a single season by an 18-year-old. The breakout party is ready to erupt for the youngster and don’t be surprised if Kakko begins to surge after the All-Star break.
New York has one game remaining in the month of January and currently stands at a 4-5 record to start the new year. In six out of the nine games the Rangers have played this month, the Blueshirts conceded the first goal of the game. Slow starts have been a burden on the Rangers this season, but they will have a chance to redeem their overall record with the first two games coming out of the break.
The Rangers play the lowly Detroit Red Wings on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 to try to make a playoff run before the February trade deadline, which figures to be the most controversial part of the Rangers’ season. Coming out with two wins is extremely important for this team to have a shot at the playoffs and to build any kind of momentum. Surely, the Rangers will be playing with more urgency since they are now 11 points behind the Carolina Hurricanes for the second wild card spot.
February will be yet another franchise altering month for the Rangers. The possible sell-off at the deadline looms over the front office and the players, but there is still much to play for. It’s now or never for the Rangers after the All-Star break.