Rangers’ Concerns Are Plentiful Ahead of Pivotal Game 6

Following a disheartening Game 5 defeat on April 27, the New York Rangers’ season is on the line entering Game 6 on April 29. The Rangers surrendered the first goal after New Jersey Devils forward Ondrej Palat shot a rebound past Igor Shesterkin only 39 seconds into the start of the contest. The opening period would be the best New York would play as they went into the locker room only trailing 1-0.

After the Game 3 overtime loss on April 22, followed by the Rangers’ disappointing effort in Game 4 on April 24, New York needed to have a much stronger effort in Game 5. That did not happen, as they were outplayed and pushed around by the Devils in an otherwise lackluster 4-0 loss at the Prudential Center. Let’s take a look at the concerns the Rangers face heading into a crucial Game 6 for the franchise.

Lack of Goal-Scoring in Games 3-5 Has Hurt the Rangers

The Rangers have scored a total of two goals during their previous three losses in the first-round series. That amount of scoring is far below expectations from the talented roster. Chris Kreider tallied five goals (four on the power play) in the first three contests but has struggled since the series’ first two games.

Chris Kreider New York Rangers
Chris Kreider, New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Despite scoring a goal in Game 3, the Devils have neutralized him since the first two games of the series on April 18 and April 20, respectively. In Games 1 and 2, at all strengths, he led the Rangers with 1.39 individual expected goals created (iXG), in shots with eight, a Corsi For (iCF) of 12, a Fenwick For (iFF) of 11, and in scoring chances with 11.

During Games 3-5, he tied for ninth on the club with a 0.37 iXG, for 11th with three shots, for 15th with an iCF of five, for 10th with an iFF of five, and for eighth with four scoring chances. The Devils prevented him and the rest of the Rangers from getting quality chances in front of the net much better during the last three contests. New Jersey blocked 30 of New York’s shots in Games 3 and 4 as opposed to 19 in Games 1 and 2. In Game 5, the Devils finished with 24 shot blocks, the most the club has had in a game during the series.

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Artemi Panarin leads the Rangers with 17 scoring chances in five games, while Mika Zibanejad is tied with Kreider with 15 scoring chances. Panarin and Zibanejad have two assists and have had plenty of opportunities to generate offense but have not found the back of the net. The Devils have done a good job limiting New York’s two best offensive playmakers from getting consistent production.

The Rangers’ two additions during the trade deadline, Vladimir Tarasenko (two goals) and Patrick Kane (one goal), have not scored since Game 2. All of their tallies have come at five-on-five, as Kreider is the only player to have scored on the power play for New York in five games. The team has been inconsistent offensively, which is why they now find themselves one game away from being eliminated by the Devils.

During practice on April 28, according to a tweet from Vince Z. Mercogliano of The Journal News, head coach Gerard Gallant switched up the lines to get new looks from the top nine. Mercogliano found it interesting that Panarin has been moved down to the ‘Kid Line’ with Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko.

In another tweet from Mercogliano, Gallant hinted that changes might be coming to the Rangers’ power play. Following going 4-for-10 on the power play during Games 1 and 2, New York has not scored a goal in its last 13 attempts on the man advantage. Regarding any changes to the power play, Gallant said, “I’m not going to give away our secrets.”

Panarin practicing on the third line is certainly eye-catching, but Gallant realizes he needs to change lines to jumpstart a struggling offense. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and the Rangers are searching for answers to generate consistent scoring against the Devils.

Akira Schmid has shut the Rangers offense down since New Jersey’s head coach Lindy Ruff decided to start him in place of Vitek Vanecek ahead of Game 3. Schmid has stopped 80 of the 82 shots he has faced in the previous three games and has been one of the biggest difference-makers thus far during the 2023 Playoffs.

Rangers Need to Provide Better Support for Shesterkin

Due to how the series has unfolded, Igor Shesterkin has been the Rangers’ best player to date. He had plenty of offensive help from the offense during their 5-1 victories in Games 1 and 2. Since then, he has been in a familiar position of needing to play perfectly to give New York a chance at winning games.

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

The Rangers’ play in Game 5 got worse as the contest progressed, as they were outshot 20-2 in the third period by the Devils. The lack of support for Shesterkin in New York’s three consecutive losses is concerning because they are unlikely to win this series with how diminished their offensive attack has looked.

Despite the Devils’ defensive coverage, Gallant mentioned the Rangers continue to “pass up too many shots and do not get the second and third chances in their zone.” Based on that comment, New York needs to simplify things and not pass the puck too much when a chance presents itself.

Gallant added, “I don’t think our guys are going to quit tomorrow night. I think we’re going to come out and play our best game of the series and get it back to a Game 7.” The Rangers need to play their best game of the series to force a seventh and final game of the first-round series. It will be interesting to watch how soon the head coach decides to switch his lines up during Game 6 if they struggle early, considering the Devils can punch their ticket to the second round of the playoffs with a victory.

If the Rangers come out physically and score quickly in a similar fashion to the Devils in Game 5, New York fans at Madison Square Garden will be loud with enthusiasm. The Rangers were disappointed in their losing efforts at home earlier in the series. They can not allow the Devils to dictate the pace of the game again with their goaltending and defensive scheme. Game 6 will be the most difficult tilt for both teams to win — the Rangers want to force a Game 7, while New Jersey is aiming to eliminate their opponent and move on in the 2023 Playoffs.

*Advanced statistics provided by Natural Stat Trick.

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