The New York Rangers’ season came to a disappointing end with a 4-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils in Game 7 of their first-round matchup. They were lethargic, sloppy, and thoroughly outplayed by their rivals and even the great play of Igor Shesterkin in goal could not save their season.
After a run to the Eastern Conference Final last year, this postseason was a big letdown and there is plenty of blame to go around. Team president Chris Drury, head coach Gerard Gallant, and the skaters on the team all failed to deliver after Shesterkin gave them a great chance to advance.
Costly Decisions By Drury and Gallant
At the 2021-22 Trade Deadline, Drury added gritty players who filled needs on the roster, acquiring Andrew Copp, Frank Vatrano, Tyler Motte, and Justin Braun. All of them came through and helped the Rangers eliminate the Pittsburgh Penguins and Carolina Hurricanes in the first two rounds of the postseason.
This season Drury went for bigger names at the deadline, acquiring Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane, while also bringing back Motte and adding defensive defenseman Niko Mikkola. While both Kane and Tarasenko made a few great plays, the Rangers were left with an abundance of skilled forwards without enough speed or grit. In fact, both of them spent time on the second power-play unit as there was simply no room for the two of them on the first unit.
Related: Grading Rangers’ 2023 Trade Deadline Moves
In the postseason, the Rangers constantly looked to make cross-ice passes and had success making those passes in the first two games of their first-round series. However, the Devils adjusted and limited those opportunities in the rest of the series while clogging up the neutral zone.
The Rangers never adjusted. They never simplified their game and did not look to dump the puck in and forecheck. When they did have the puck in the offensive zone they passed up shooting opportunities and failed to give their forwards chances for deflections and rebounds.
Disappointing Postseason Performances for Key Players
For all of the offensive firepower the Rangers possessed, they managed just two goals combined in their four losses. Shesterkin finished the series with a .931 save percentage and a 1.96 goals-against average but the rest of the team let him down. Chris Kreider was the one other star who stepped up in the series, finishing with six goals and three assists despite a disappointing Game 7 performance.
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Artemi Panarin had a poor start to the series, missing the net badly on a breakaway and then getting stopped on a three-on-one opportunity. His play got worse as the series went on and he looked lost in the last few games. He stopped creating opportunities at even strength and deferred to Adam Fox on power play chances. He finished with no goals and just two assists in the series.
Mika Zibanejad, the Rangers’ best forward in the playoffs last year, missed the net too often on his one-timers and could not capitalize on his scoring opportunities. He finished with just one goal and three assists in the series, while the team’s second-line center, Vincent Trocheck, managed just one point.
Fox played well early in the series but made some costly mistakes including allowing his man to score the opening goal in a 3-1 Game 4 loss. He also made a brutal giveaway which allowed the Devils to score shorthanded and take a 1-0 lead in Game 7.
K’Andre Miller, who played like a star in the regular season producing nine goals and 34 assists while hardly ever playing on the power play, was a non-factor in the series. He is one of the few players on the team who has excellent speed but he rarely carried the puck up the ice and repeatedly passed up opportunities to shoot, deferring to his partner Jacob Trouba.
Trouba repeatedly missed the net and while he tried to spark the team with a big hit in the third period of Game 7, it was too little too late. After a strong regular season, it was a quiet postseason for New York’s captain. He and Miller combined for just one point in the series.
Tarasenko and Kane both provided some offense but neither gave the Rangers the postseason lift that Copp and Vatrano provided last year.
The ‘Kid Line’ of Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, and Filip Chytil was one of the few that managed to forecheck effectively. However, they did not convert on their scoring opportunities, combining for just two goals in the series and one was an empty net goal.
For the Rangers Moving Forward
The Rangers missed a big opportunity this postseason. With the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Colorado Avalanche all losing in the first round they had a chance to make a deep run but they let it slip. The most disappointing part of the loss to the Devils is that in Games 4, 5, and 7 they came out flat and never played with a sense of urgency. That should never happen, especially with the season on the line.
While the Rangers are fortunate to have a star goalie in Shesterkin, both their front office and star skaters need to do better moving forward. This series felt like many of the series the Blueshirts lost during Henrik Lundqvist’s career. They had tremendous goaltending but the rest of the team let their star goalie down.