The New York Rangers found themselves in a bit of a losing pattern when starting netminder Igor Shesterkin landed on the injury reserve. His injury sustained during the Dec. 3 match against the San Jose Sharks occurred before a string of out of divisional games. From then on, the Rangers’ schedule took a bit of a frenetic turn between traveling for home and away games coupled with a few back-to-back games.
In total, the team won four and dropped three games with Shesterkin out. The team recently took off on a road trip that began Tuesday when they lost again to the Colorado Avalanche and then the Arizona Coyotes last night. Despite the travel, the losses, and not having their goaltender, the Rangers found a way to bounce back in the desert.
Rewind to late last month, when the Rangers started a seven-game winning streak that ended thanks to the Avalanche. The Blueshirts regained their footing to squeak out a win against the Buffalo Sabres, but then came back home and dropped one to the Nashville Predators and its terrific goaltending – not much you can do there. The Avalanche once again reigned superior in their house before the Rangers defeated the Coyotes 3-2 last night.
The Rangers only had a combined 15 goals in their last seven and failed to surpass three goals in any of their recent games. Four of the seven were one-goal games. Though the Rangers have a better record (currently, they sit in second place overall) than all the teams they faced as of recent, their struggles were obvious.
Against the Avalanche
Simply put, the Rangers did not respond to the pace of the game. With Shesterkin out, this game was known to be tough. The prior game, the Avalanche ran up seven goals on the Philadelphia Flyers and looked to keep the scoring streak going. They sure did, it was a 7-3 loss for the Rangers when Adam Huska made his debut in net.
The Rangers exited the opening frame with a 2-1 lead but that was quickly diminished by five unanswered Colorado goals in the middle period. In this first meeting, the Rangers only cashed in on one of their eight power-play chances. When facing an offensive threat like Colorado, the Rangers must get in a habit of taking advantage of opportunities like that.
The second meeting was a closer game, a 4-2 loss for netminder Alexandar Georgiev and the Rangers but a full effort from the Blueshirts this time. Again, the Avalanche opened scoring until Ryan Strome got the Rangers on the board in the second period. A late, third-period goal from Julien Gauthier illustrated depth scoring, but it was not enough.
It is genuinely clear the impacts of travel slowed the response rate of the Rangers, but it is another area to work on for the young group. Of course, many younger players are not acclimated to a standard 82-game season playing in the highest tier of their career.
Against the Coyotes
The team looked tired, as coach Gerard Gallant admitted. Though the Blueshirts were outplayed the full first 20 minutes by the last team in the league, the response was there in the last 40 minutes. The power play became productive again, with two of the three goals produced on the man-advantage.
The Rangers strung two consecutive full 60-minute efforts together on the road. Ever since their win streak snapped, the team got into a win-every-other-game pattern but can hopefully take this win and ride the momentum. Though the offense was there, it is clear that Shesterkin’s role is missed, as the defense appeared more cohesive in front of him.
Taking a closer look at the boxscore, Kaapo Kakko scored two of the three, with his reassuring performance, he snapped a personal 10-game goal drought. He also only collected three points in those last 10, ideally, the young skater hangs onto this confidence as he strives to spark consistent offense in this league.
Mika Zibanejad netted one between Kakko’s pair of goals, also on the power play. Chris Kreider collected assists on all three New York goals last night but has yet to reignite his own scoring streak. The recent stretch proved the veterans show they can string together production easier, especially on the road trips, as they have experience traveling.
Defenseman Jacob Trouba made his presence more threatening recently. The seasoned blueliner chipped in offensively recently but did not neglect his defensive duties, continued to lay punishing hits. His unrelenting play is certainly an example of the identity the team must adopt.
Learning Lessons Quickly
The comeback victory was not pretty, but those battles build character. With Shesterkin awaiting a return and Artemi Panarin now out day-to-day with a minor injury, the club will need to figure out a way to overcome the absences and translate that into their performance. Though Shesterkin and Panarin are star names, the team is missing winger Sammy Blais for the rest of the season and defender Nils Lundkvist with a non-COVID-related illness.
The Rangers cannot rely on fortuitously given opportunities to get their wins, especially as they go on to face tougher opponents. But again, this is a learning experience. On the flip side, the Rangers are not falling into losing ruts.
The Broadway Blues also exhibited they are able to respond game to game, but also during periods of the game. Last night is a prime example, the first period was rough but they found a way to get it together. The Rangers also proved their special team units are a vast part of their success and will continue to be important.
The Rangers host the Vegas Golden Knights as Gallant will face his former team. The two teams meet tomorrow night.
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Rachel is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh. She can be followed on Twitter @RachelNHL.