Ranger Danger: Blueshirts Living On The Edge

The New York Rangers are on an absolute tear. Through the weekend, they had won six of their past seven games and had also gained at least one point in eight straight. And all of this has happened in the absence of star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. So besides Lundqvist being out, everything is great in the Big Apple, right?

Well…not quite.

Blowing Leads But Still Winning

When one looks at the Rangers’ play a little more closely, a troubling trend becomes apparent: they are not holding on to leads, particularly in the third period. What’s incredible is that despite this pattern, the Rangers remain the best in the NHL — statistically speaking — in locking down games where they have a lead after two periods. In fact, it’s been going on for quite some time now.

For those wondering, the lone loss in that 150-game stretch was a 3-2 defeat last season in Boston against the Bruins on November 29, 2013 (which happened to be Black Friday). New York held a 2-1 lead after two periods in that matinee affair but was unable to ultimately gain even one point as the Bruins came back to win in regulation. That means that this season, the Rangers are undefeated in regulation when holding a lead after the first two periods. But they have had some close calls lately. As a matter of fact, in four of their past eight victories, they have given up a lead of at least two goals at least once in the game — only to of course bounce back and win. In another game, at home against Vancouver, they squandered three one-goal leads and were not as fortunate, suffering a shootout loss (but nevertheless securing one point in the standings).

Correlation With Lundqvist’s Injury?

Well, yes — if we are speaking scientifically, then there is definitely a strongly positive correlation with the Rangers’ inability to hold leads and the absence of their brilliant netminder, as this has been going on mostly since Lundqvist was placed on injured reserve. But is Cam Talbot’s presence in New York’s goal causing this disturbing trend? In some respects, it probably is.

However, he is not solely to blame. Let’s take a look at New York’s recent stretch of games where they had multi-goal leads erased.

Against the Florida Panthers at home on February 2, the Rangers raced out to a 3-1 lead midway through the second period. The Panthers, though, would tie it at 3-3 before the second period even concluded. The Rangers would then rebound in the third period to score three goals en route to a 6-3 victory whose final score did not explain the difficulty of the contest for the victors.

The absence of Henrik Lundqvist certainly is not helping the Rangers when it comes to holding on to leads. (Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports)
The absence of Henrik Lundqvist certainly is not helping the Rangers when it comes to holding on to leads. (Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports)

Lundqvist was actually in goal for that contest; it was the game after he took a shot off his throat against Carolina. It was not until after the Florida game that the Rangers’ medical staff detected something potentially more problematic and made the call to have Lundqvist stay out of action indefinitely, with what was termed a “vascular injury.” So anyway, this blown lead could not be attributed to Talbot. But perhaps Lundqvist was not quite himself. In any event, this was the beginning of the Rangers’ troubling-yet-somehow-fruitful spate of games.

Talbot Takes Over

Talbot started the Rangers’ next game against Boston and helped the Rangers to a hard-fought 3-2 victory on home ice. Then, after a tough weekend that saw them lose close decisions to a strong Nashville Predators club (3-2 in Nashville) and a desperate Dallas Stars team (3-2 in overtime at home), the seed planted in the Florida game began to bloom when the Rangers took on the sinking (or should I say, “falling”, even though it’s not that season) Maple Leafs in Toronto. New York jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead against the porous Leafs defense. They later held leads of 3-1 and then 4-2, which was the score when they entered the third period.

Toronto, though, would not go away, cutting the lead to 4-3 immediately after the third period began, on a goal by Morgan Rielly. Not too long after that, Daniel Winnik tied the game for the Leafs, courtesy of a fluky bounce off the stick of Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh. Nevertheless, despite their sudden predicament, the Rangers would wake back up and retake the lead for good on Mats Zuccarello’s second goal of the game, giving them a 5-4 win that was much harder than it had to be.

This was one of Talbot’s worst games since he took over the starting goalie job in Lundqvist’s absence. Yes, the goal he allowed to Rielly early in the third period was partially the product of poor coverage by the Rangers’ defense, but it was still a stoppable shot. And although there wasn’t much he could do about the bad bounce on the tying goal, he also gave up a very weak goal earlier in the game on a long shot from Stephane Robidas.

A similar affair against a similarly weak defensive team ensued in Denver when the Rangers faced off against the Colorado Avalanche. The Blueshirts took a 3-1 lead into the third period, only to see the Avalanche tie it up early in the frame. It was yet another late two-goal lead given up by the Rangers. But again, once there was renewed urgency in the game, the visitors seemed to reawaken, tallying three straight goals on their way to a not-so-pretty 6-3 win.

This one was not really Talbot’s fault. There was nothing he could do on Jarome Iginla’s goal that made it a 3-2 game, as Martin St. Louis’s awful giveaway hung the goalie out to dry. Jan Hejda’s tying marker was mainly the result of bad coverage. What was more alarming was that the Rangers again got outplayed for much of the third period — they were out-shot 16-8 — after dominating play in the first two frames (where they held a 23-13 advantage in shots on goal). In Toronto, the pattern was nearly the same. The Rangers had a 31-16 edge in shots over the first two periods, but were out-shot 18-8 in the third. Some of the issue of blowing leads is on Talbot, but a lot of it is on New York’s overall team play.

The next edition of “The Rangers Give Up a Lead in the Third Period But Still Get At Least a Point Anyway” came at home in the aforementioned matchup with Vancouver on February 19. Ironically, the Blueshirts’ previous game against the rival Islanders saw a somewhat opposite scenario — it was the Rangers who came from behind after being down by two in the third period, and actually won 6-5.

Against the Canucks, the Rangers led 1-0, 2-1, and then 4-3 in the third period (they had actually trailed 3-2 prior to that). As time was winding down, it looked as though New York would hold on for another victory. But Henrik Sedin tied it up for the Canucks with two minutes left, and his team went on to win in a shootout.

Although Talbot was not great in giving up four goals and then two more in the shootout, the game-tying goal was more so the result of unfortunate puck luck, as Canucks defenseman Dan Hamhuis actually fanned on his shot partially, which threw everyone off as the puck went right to Sedin who deposited it into an open net. But the Rangers were once again at their worst in the third period, where they were out-shot 12-6. By contrast, they out-shot Vancouver 26-15 over the first two periods.

This ugly pattern got even worse for New York in Sunday’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, a tougher team to face than their record would suggest, as they have been destroyed by injuries all year long. The Rangers again got off to a quick start, taking advantage of a tired Columbus team that had lost in Montreal the night before. New York dominated the first period and took a 2-0 lead into the second, where they quickly made it 3-0 on Martin St. Louis’s second goal of the contest.

The Jackets, however, answered right back to cut the Rangers’ lead to 3-1. Then they started to pick up the play as the Rangers seemed to sit back on their lead. Columbus got it to 3-2 before the end of the frame, setting up the Rangers for yet another lackluster third period. The Rangers’ defense was better, as they did not allow the Blue Jackets too many quality chances. That said, the Blueshirts managed only one shot on goal in the third period, as they simply did not have the same tenacity and attack-mentality that they had for the first half of the game.

Then Talbot made a mistake when he tried to redirect a long slap shot by David Savard out of play to get his team a whistle after an extended shift in the defensive zone. Unfortunately, the puck went off his stick and straight into the net behind him, tying the score at 3.

It was another episode of what has become an unnecessary drama series for the Rangers, whereby they squander leads through a combination of defensive lapses, overly relaxed play, and shaky goaltending from Talbot. Incredibly though, they keep finding ways to win, as they ultimately took the victory in a shootout.

Talbot was not hesitant to take the blame for Savard’s tying goal late in the third period.

“I don’t think it did (deflect in on the way to the net),” said Talbot. “The video guy said the same thing. I thought it came in, it was a long shift, they were cycling a lot and I was trying to angle it out of play. It took a weird bounce off my stick. I got it up but right into my own net.” (Ranger Rants)


Talbot’s teammates, however, also took responsibility for their relaxed play after they went up 3-0, as well as their poor third period.

“We talk all the time about trying to find ways,” said St. Louis, who had two goals against Columbus. “Obviously up three goals, it’s not the way you are trying to get two points. We should have pulled away and closed it out. But at the end of the day you find a way. We stopped making plays (in the third period). You’ve got to have the puck a little more. We know they are coming and they are going to be taking chances. Still, we need to find ways to make more plays, keep generating and separate ourselves a little bit. We didn’t do that.” (Ranger Rants)

Going Forward

The Rangers are playing with fire and they know it. It’s great that they are closing in on first place in the Metropolitan Division, and that they are winning games while their star goalie is out. But if they do not stop blowing leads, they are soon going to start losing more of these games — perhaps even in regulation. Not to mention, this is not a habit they want to be trying to shake off when the playoffs come around.

Talbot’s inconsistent play has very much been a part of the equation that has led to the Rangers giving up leads with regularity. So too though, has been the play of his teammates collectively, and likely to an even greater extent.

“Our third period has got to be a lot better,” said leading scorer Rick Nash. “The last ten-game stretch we’ve given away leads and we have to hunker down on that.” (blueshirtsunited.com)

The eventual return of Lundqvist should help alleviate this issue, but the Rangers — regardless of who is in net — need to play better with leads, and especially in the third period. Otherwise, their sudden tendency to live dangerously could ultimately catch up with them, especially as they play against better teams than Toronto, Colorado, and Columbus.

4 thoughts on “Ranger Danger: Blueshirts Living On The Edge”

  1. I must say, this was a brilliant, insightful and well written commentary provided by rminassian. I’ve learned so much about the “points” that were made about the article. The beauty of the Hockeywriters.com site is that it provides an outlet for many of us starved for hockey news. You may not agree with all of the observations, but that’s the nature of blogs and the benefit it provides for passionate fans to comment. I for one, agree with the concerns expressed about how the Rangers, although gaining ground in the Metropolitan Division, are not playing to their strengths in the third and allowing teams to get back in. Talbot has played admirably – especially against Arizona, but the team needs to step it up to support their back-up while we await the return of the King.

    I’ve followed Tom’s writings when he most recently covered the LA Kings and I enjoy his perspective and writing style. You obviously don’t and that’s perfectly fine. However, it may be prudent to stick to the unwritten script and comment about the missing point you failed to make, rather than reverting towards the ignorance and uneducated bashing you displayed to perfection.

  2. Why do these news affiliates keep hiring these morons to write a post on something they know nothing about..Is this a Joke or is it credits for their undergraduate degrees..

    Ranger Danger?? Living on the Edge?? Moron with a keyboard writing a column for his credits.. Tom Dianora

  3. I’m not sure what your point is – there’s a reason Cam is a back-up to Hank – he’s not as good. While I think the team isn’t playing perfectly (obviously), they have stepped up big-time as a team: in fact, anything better than mediocrity responding to Hank going down should be strongly applauded, particularly since they haven’t played close to flawless hockey and they STILL manage to keep on winning. You can express all the concerns you want about what this means in the long run (i.e. the playoffs), but I’d argue that’s both speculative and NOT a concern at this time.

    Rangers as a team play a certain style – and it’s a very distinct one that relies heavily on team speed at the expense of one that favors physical play. IMO, while this year’s team is overall MORE physical that last season’s, they’ll never be confused with teams that hit and keep hitting as an approach. In your criticisms of the team’s play, I sense you are paying too much attention to the specific play that led to the goal rather than focusing more on the run-up to the goal – a number of the goals recently have illustrated the real weakness of the team: their inability, at times, to clear the puck out of the defensive zone, leading to long stretches (multiples shifts) where the team is on its heels and that creates tired players. The Rangers’ top team plus is their overall team speed, which will ALWAYS be somewhat at the expense of physical play – and which does NOT simply consist of throwing big checks; rather it’s a cumulative approach that includes not giving guys room and at least making meaningful contact. We saw a perfect illustration against CBJ with Dubinsky hitting/making contact with every Ranger out there – and it caught up with the team in the 3rd period, historically (the last several years) the team’s best period. Right now, all the team has at stake is playoff-seeding – and they’ve already shown they can win on the road, so even that isn’t that big a deal.

    No, the real problem is that the team is very prone to hockey schizophrenia – when they are on (most of the time) it’s like watching a beautiful dance; when they’re not, it ain’t pretty. Other than a couple of bad giveaways early in the game (which didn’t hurt them), failure to finish (ongoing problem) where their dominance should have produced 2-3 more goals in the 1st and an unfathomable inability to consistently do positive things on the PP, the fact is that when they STOP doing what they excel at, they get in trouble. But that’s true of every team in the league, including ALL the upper echelon teams they’ll need to beat.

    Like all fans, I have a solution!! Trade a couple of guys (including prospects if necessary) for one of the following centers: David Backes, Patrice Bergeron, Jonathan Toews, Ryan Getzlaff or Anze Kopitar (I’d add Stamkos or Datsyk but the former isn’t coming and the latter is a little too old). What’s that you say? Those guys aren’t available? OK, then Plan B should consist of getting either Shea Webber or Drew Doughty – that will improve the defense and take care of getting a lot more physical – we could offer in return several players like J.Moore, Hunwick, Glass, etc. – I think that’s entirely fair, but then again I’m not coaching nor am I the GM and I’ve heard that those jobs are somewhat more difficult than rumored.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting. To answer your question, my point was to think about how much this recent issue can be attributed to Talbot. That’s where looking at some of the goals against helped, and it was easier to display videos of those than of overall team play.

      The conclusion is that a fair amount of this can be put on Talbot, but more of it is likely a result of inconsistent play by everyone in front of him — as you mention and as Nash talked about after the Columbus game. I think the evidence I provided about how the Rangers’ shot differential and level of attack often differ vastly between the first two periods and the third period is more in line with what you point out.

      Do I ultimately think this is something that will haunt them come playoff time? No, because I think they will correct it by then. But it’s certainly a concern insofar as they do have to take the necessary steps to correct it. They aren’t going to keep getting by when they are playing good teams, and not the Torontos, Colorados, and Columbuses of the league.

      That all said, the fact that their record is what it is without Lundqvist is outstanding for them. They just need to not be too shortsighted, as their disappearing act with leads/in third periods isn’t a sustainable recipe for success.

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