The New York Rangers are left to ponder what could have been following a 4-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils in Game 7 on May 1. The Devils were the sharper club during the final contest of the first-round series as they move on in the 2023 Playoffs. During their three previous wins in Games 3-5, they proved they were superior to the Rangers.
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Where do the Rangers go from here? Following their Eastern Conference Final appearance in the 2022 Playoffs, expectations were high that they could reach their first Stanley Cup Final since 2014 this year. President/general manager (GM) Chris Drury put together a club that had the potential to go on a deep playoff run and win its first championship since 1994. Instead, New York will undergo significant changes during the offseason in response to underachieving in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Let’s take a look at the fallout from their first-round series loss and more in the latest edition of Rangers News and Rumors.
The Devils Outperformed the Rangers Offensively in Game 7
Throughout the game, the Rangers struggled with their forecheck against a tight, swarming Devils defense. Game 6 on April 29 saw New York maintain pressure in the offensive zone, which was the primary reason they won the contest. The lack of sustained offensive pressure for the Rangers in Game 7 was familiar for the club as they were challenged by New Jersey’s coverage, specifically in their Game 4 and Game 5 defeats on April 24 and April 27, respectively.
Related: Rangers’ Concerns Are Plentiful Ahead of Pivotal Game 6
To paraphrase ESPN color commentator Ray Ferraro’s analysis of the Rangers’ lack of sustained offensive zone time during Game 7, “t he Rangers would have one or two chances in the Devils zone before New Jersey regained possession of the puck and halted their opponent’s chances. (New York) has had more difficulty sustaining its forecheck like they did in Game 6.”
Rangers’ Playmakers Come Up Small Versus the Devils
The Rangers’ key offensively playmakers came up small in their four losses. For the series, Artemi Panarin finished with zero goals and two assists in seven contests. He had plenty of opportunities as he led the club with 21 scoring chances against the Devils. He finished third among skaters with a 34 Corsi For and Fenwick For of 24. However, he was unable to finish on his offensive chances due to the Devils’ defensive coverage and the play of goaltender Akira Schmid.
Before Game 5, Panarin commented on his scoring struggles through the first four contests of the series and what he could do moving forward to change that, “I think maybe I have to hold the puck more. Sometimes, I feel like I can turn back and save the puck. I try and, like, make some passes because maybe [I don’t] believe in myself enough to hold it that extra second with my [linemates]. It’s just bad timing, I feel. Not everything, if you watch the games, I have great chances the first three games. I hit the post and all that stuff. One or two pucks go in, it’s going to be a different picture right now,” (from ‘Artemi Panarin searching for answers with Rangers in need of his high-risk style,’ New York Post, 4/26/23).
Panarin had a five-game stretch without a goal during the second-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2022 Playoffs. The seven-game goalless drought in the first-round series against the Devils is the longest Panarin has had in his career during the postseason.
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Young forwards Filip Chytil, Alexis Lafreniere, and Kaapo Kakko had a combined two goals and four assists in seven contests. Lafreniere did not register a point in any of the seven games, and Chytil finished with one goal (an empty-net-tally) and three assists in seven contests. Lafreniere’s lack of offensive production and Chytil’s were surprising, considering the 23-year-old center tallied seven goals in 20 playoff games last year. He had the most productive regular season of his career, finishing with 22 goals and 45 points in 74 contests this year.
Aside from Game 6 in which he finished with one goal and an assist, Mika Zibanejad struggled with his production as well. He had an assist in Games 2 and 3 on April 20 and 22 but was unable to contribute steadily for the Rangers. Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane, two of the club’s big additions during the trade deadline had a frustrating series as well.
Tarasenko had a goal and an assist in Game 6 but only managed two goals in the six other contests against the Devils. Kane’s best game of the series was in Game 2 in which he finished with a goal and two assists. He had an underwhelming three assists in six of the seven contests and finished without a point in Games 5-7. Vincent Trocheck had one goal and no assists in seven games.
Shesterkin Was Again the Rangers’ Best Player in the Postseason
Igor Shesterkin lived up to his reputation as one of the top three netminders in the league during the series against the Devils. The 2022 Vezina Trophy winner allowed no more than three goals in any of the contests. New Jersey scored three times on him in each of their 4-0 victories in Games 5 and 7.
Shesterkin finished with a 1.96 goals against average and a .931 save percentage in seven contests. Only Schmid finished with a greater goals-against-average (1.38) and save percentage (.951) than Shesterkin among goalies who played a minimum of five games during the first round of the 2023 Playoffs. The Rangers goalie kept his team in every contest during the series. During Game 5, his frustrations boiled over with the offense as he skated over to the bench during a break and demanded the club to do their jobs. He fulfilled the demands of his position, but he was the only player for New York to be able to do that consistently in the series against the Devils.
What’s Next for the Rangers?
The Rangers will undergo their fair share of changes during the offseason after underachieving in the 2023 Playoffs. The pending unrestricted free agents (UFAs) on the roster will probably not return, and it is uncertain how many restricted free agents (RFAs) due for contract extensions will be back with the club when training camp gets underway for the 2023-24 season. Will New York fire Gerard Gallant and hire a new head coach? I don’t think that should happen, but the roster will undergo some changes during the summer regardless.
The Rangers ended their 2022-23 season in disheartening fashion with a first-round series loss to the Devils. The offense had disappointing performances in all of their four losses during the series. New York looked like a completely different club in their three victories, but New Jersey received a jolt following their Game 3 2-1 overtime win on April 22 due to their defensive play. Schmid saved the series for the Devils due to his play in the four victories by New Jersey. The Rangers will begin to undergo what projects to be a difficult offseason ahead.
*Advanced statistics provided by Natural Stat Trick.