Welcome to New York Rangers Weekly! Among the trending topics to discuss are the underwhelming results the team had on their trip out to western Canada as they team played the Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames, respectively. After having a successful trip a few weeks prior that resulted in victories against the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Nashville Predators and Ottawa Senators, the Blueshirts were hoping for more success away from Madison Square Garden. After a victory against the expansion Seattle Kraken, the Rangers encountered their share of difficulties, which ended up costing them four points in the standings. Let’s take a look at the struggles the organization encountered in consecutive games the previous week.
Rangers Squander Multi-Goal Leads, Lafreniere’s Inconsistent Play
After 12 games played, the Rangers have developed a common theme among a team that is attempting to transition from an average squad toward an elite playoff contender — not playing a complete 60 minutes of hockey. The team coughed up potential victories in back-to-back games against the Canucks and Oilers. In the game against the former, the Rangers had a 2-0 lead heading into the third period before allowing the Canucks to get back into the game. The penalty killing was perfect in shutting down the Canucks’ power play, but defensive lapses and turnovers proved costly.
Alexis Lafreniere, who has been in the doghouse under head coach Gerard Gallant, turned the puck over in his attempt to clear it out of the Rangers’ zone off of the glass. The puck ricocheted off the glass to a Canucks player, which led to the home team scoring their second goal to tie the game at 2-2. The Rangers head coach has moved the former first-overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft throughout the lineup, most recently onto the fourth line, in an attempt to see improvement from the young forward.
Given the tumultuous start to the 20-year-old’s second season in the NHL, it is fair to wonder if a stint with the Rangers’ AHL-affiliate Hartford Wolf Pack is in his future if he continues to struggle in the lineup. Young players who struggle are often a healthy scratch for games in order for them to take a breath, which is another option for Gallant if he deems that as best for the youngster. He has three goals and one assist in 12 games this season, but has not met the standards of his head coach early on in the 2021-22 season. Despite Lafreniere’s struggles, the team as a whole did not play well defensively for 60 minutes in each of their games in western Canada.
Defense, Georgiev & Shesterkin Drop the Ball
Following the overtime loss to the Canucks, the Rangers built a three-goal advantage in the second period against the Oilers before yielding to their opponent again. Reigning Hart Memorial Trophy winner Connor McDavid showcased his skills on a game-tying goal that will be one of the top goals of the season. The center skated the puck to the neutral zone and proceeded to maneuver past four Rangers and tied the game with only a few minutes left in regulation.
McDavid is quite a player, but the Rangers simply can not allow that goal to happen under that circumstance. Four players need to be able to prevent one player from scoring a goal. The Oilers had the momentum at that point and were able to win the game in overtime.
The Rangers had the chance to salvage the consecutive overtime defeats against the Flames, who defeated the Blueshirts on Oct. 25 at Madison Square Garden, 5-1. The Flames continued their superiority over the Rangers in their second and final meeting of the season by dismantling them 6-0. Goaltender Igor Shesterkin had a game to forget as he let in several goals he would like to have back in the shutout loss. Both he and Alexandar Georgiev, who started the overtime defeat against the Oilers, allowed six goals in each of the last two games.
While the Oilers and Flames look like top teams in the NHL, allowing six goals in back-to-back games against any teams will not lead to success. After the loss to the Oilers, center Mika Zibanejad said, “I don’t know if we get too passive and try to protect the lead in a little bit too much of a defensive way.” (from ‘Rangers seeking solution to third period collapse issue’, New York Post, 11/6/21) The poor defensive and goaltending efforts put the Rangers in a bind, which has not been the first time this season. Shesterkin allowed five goals previously in the first loss to the Flames two weeks ago. Georgiev was the starter in the 5-1 opening night shellacking to the Washington Capitals and has allowed three or more goals in each of his starts this year. He has a goals-against average (GAA) of 4.26 and a save percentage (SV%) of .862, which are not sufficient numbers for a goaltender to have.
In two of Georgiev’s three starts, the Rangers’ backup goaltender has faced two stellar players in Alex Ovechkin and McDavid, but the 25-year-old goaltender and the team need to be better particularly against these elite offenses in order to take the next step in their rebuild toward being a top franchise in the Eastern Conference. After an initial road trip that brought promise to the franchise, the team took a significant step back defensively during their games in western Canada. The team has a tall order in their upcoming game at home against the Florida Panthers, who are off to an astounding start of 10-0-1. The franchise needs to regroup and learn from their defensive lapses quickly but move on from the difficult previous games against teams in the Western Conference.
The Rangers’ play has been a mixed bag despite their record of 6-3-3 a few weeks into the 2021-22 season. The team has displayed signs of promise but lacks consistency from their depth, especially at the backup goaltending position and the defense aside from Adam Fox. As much as fans want the organization to take the next step in order to contend for the Stanley Cup, results like this on the road are a reminder that patience is key as the team will likely be battling inconsistency throughout the season under Gallant’s first year coaching the Rangers.
Making the postseason is paramount, but the franchise may not be more than a team that qualifies for the playoffs as a wild card due to the new head coach, depth questions on their roster and the competition in the Metropolitan Division. Up next is a home game against the Panthers on Nov. 8 before four days off, followed by a pickup in the schedule beginning with a road game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Nov. 13.