Back-to-back losses for the New York Rangers shouldn’t cause concern. Every team will have a lull in their season, and right now, the Rangers are in the midst of a mini one. But the lack of offense in a 1-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins and a 5-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks continued the worrisome trend that the Rangers are struggling to hit the back of the net.
Since they returned from the All-Star break on Feb. 15, the Rangers hold a record of 3-2-1, scoring more than two goals in a game just once. Their power play has not been as lethal, and their conversion of high-quality chances has also diminished. Playing tighter in the defensive zone and with Igor Shesterkin in net has allowed the team’s success despite their sputtering offensive numbers.
It doesn’t help that the team ran into Tristan Jarry and Thatcher Demko over the weekend, both being spectacular. The Rangers had numerous chances to take the lead and distance themselves from their opposition in both weekend tilts, but the goaltending held firm. As much as credit is due to the goalies, the Rangers’ finishing ability has been elusive of late.
With Kaapo Kakko still on the mend and Filip Chytil watching as a healthy scratch, the Rangers’ bottom six has been non-existent offensively. It is nearly impossible to score goals with two fourth lines on a nightly basis, and the current lineup is living proof that depth scoring is needed at the trade deadline.
Drury Must Address Offensive Depth
General manager Chris Drury knows the one thing missing from his team is a consistent offense. They have the superstar goaltender, star players, and strong special teams, but consistently producing at 5v5 has plagued them all season. Solidifying the top-nine and adding scoring depth will make the Rangers a formidable opponent in the postseason.
The team allows the third-fewest goals per game in the NHL at 2.49. But they have the 18th ranked offense with 2.89 goals for per game. A big reason why their offense is struggling is because of the bottom six, and when you consider how well Shesterkin and the defense have played, improvements to that group could change the Rangers’ fortunes drastically.
A fourth line that rolls out a combination of Ryan Reaves, Kevin Rooney, Dryden Hunt, Morgan Barron is fine. But having those four along with Greg McKegg and Julien Gauthier as their bottom six is unacceptable. Drury must go out and win the NHL Trade Deadline to remedy this.
Drury is linked to several names on the market, including former Ranger J.T. Miller, whom the team played last night. Miller, who has 53 points this season, would be a massive upgrade to the forward group, but are the Canucks selling, and do the Rangers want to part with the pieces asked for in return?
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Drury could also look at other TSN Trade Bait list names like Joe Pavelski, Phil Kessel, Tomas Hertl, Andrew Copp, and Max Domi. They are good depth options, and some could lessen the blow to the Rangers’ prospect cupboard. Should the Rangers have faith in Alexis Lafreniere (who has been great) and Kakko (who remains injured), players like Copp and Domi would be better suited for a spot in the lineup than Hertl and his cost. There are options for Drury, who ultimately controls the Rangers’ future. He possesses the pieces needed to make any move and has a team poised for a playoff push at his fingertips.
Gallant’s Values vs. Rangers’ Needs
Head coach Gerard Gallant’s values may seem outdated to some. He preaches a grinding it out mentality, relying on structure, size, and physicality. Despite the differing opinions on some of his roster moves, there is no denying the Rangers’ success under him this season with a 33-15-5 record, an impressive mark for a first-year coach on Broadway, and his values have inspired change in the Rangers’ game.
Yet, his decision to scratch Chytil while playing Greg McKegg is alarming. The Rangers had an obvious need for additional offense, and despite underperforming this season, Chytil brings more to the lineup than McKegg. It is reasonable to suspect Drury will value Gallant’s opinion about possible deadline acquisitions, but it is up to the GM to realize that his team lacks depth scoring, and it should be his deadline priority.
The fourth line is effective, but there cannot be two of them. If Chytil and Gauthier are not the answers to the team’s offensive struggles on the third line, which they haven’t been, Drury must bring in veteran forwards who can score. Two-way hockey is paramount, but the offensive side of the puck needs to be better for the Blueshirts.
The season-ending injury to Sammy Blais has impacted the depth of the forward group. Fortunately, the Rangers have the cap space and assets to bolster their lineup ahead of the playoffs. If they can attain assets that fit Gallant’s mold and contribute offensively, Drury has done his job. But the moves he makes this deadline need to focus on depth scoring, and he will be judged heavily on how well he can add that on this roster.