With Sunday afternoon’s disappointing 2-1 overtime loss at home to the lowly New Jersey Devils, the New York Rangers find themselves with a pedestrian 3-2-1 record after six games. After winning each of their first three games, the Blueshirts have now dropped three straight, scoring a total of just two goals in those contests.
The Offense Has Dried Up
For years, the narrative around the Rangers was that their great goaltending and defense made them a contender in spite of their lack of offense. Then head coach Alain Vigneault came to town and turned the club into a fast, dangerous group that could score quickly and often. Last season, the results were obvious, as New York was third in the NHL in goals per game and won the Presidents’ Trophy a year after making an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final.
Nevertheless, the Rangers’ demise in the Eastern Conference Final last season at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning was mostly due to their offense drying up, as they were shut out in two of the series’ final three games — both times on home ice.
During their past few games, that same problem has once again been rearing its ugly head. If not for rookie Oscar Lindberg’s hot start (four goals in the team’s first three games, all of which were victories) and Henrik Lundqvist’s strong play between the pipes, the Rangers could well be under .500 at this point.
The big names for the Rangers have not shown up yet. Rick Nash, who had 42 goals last season, has not found the back of the net through the team’s first six games. Chris Kreider, who appeared poised for a breakout season, has also not yet lit the lamp this season. Derick Brassard has just one goal and two points. J.T. Miller, a player on whom the Rangers are depending to elevate his game with the departure of Martin St. Louis and Carl Hagelin, still has no goals despite four assists. Ryan McDonagh has provided zero points from the back end.
Vigneault was brutally honest about the state of his team after the loss against New Jersey, calling out everyone on the roster besides his goalie.
#Rangers Vigneault: “Should be quite obvious to our players at this time that we’re not on top of our [game]. We need to find our game.”
— Seth Rothman (@RothmanHockey) October 18, 2015
AV says “Right now, we’ve got one player who’s on top of his game.” He means Henrik Lundqvist, of course. — Andrew Gross (@AGrossRecord) October 18, 2015
Going hand in hand with the Rangers’ offensive struggles is their once-again woeful power play. While their offense overall has been inconsistent over the years, the one thing that has truly held them back is their ineptitude with the man advantage. It’s a problem that has seemingly plagued them forever.
No matter the coaching staff or player personnel, the Rangers have not been a consistent threat on the power play in recent memory. Even last season’s trade deadline acquisition of power play wizard Keith Yandle failed to ignite that aspect of New York’s game.
So far this season, the Rangers have ONE power play goal in 16 opportunities. Not only does this ineffectiveness mean the Rangers score fewer goals, but it oftentimes shifts momentum in favor of the opposition. Earlier last week in Montreal, the Rangers were down 1-0 late in the second period and had an opportunity to even the score and change the complexion of the game with a long 5-on-3 power play opportunity.
Instead, they failed to convert, and even though reigning league MVP Carey Price made a couple of very good saves, the Rangers just didn’t produce enough quality opportunities. They squandered their chance to turn things around, and wound up losing 3-0 after a brutal third period. It was clear that the Canadiens gained momentum after the Rangers’ failure to score.
The Rangers work very hard at even strength and on the penalty kill, but on the power play, they seem to slow things down and look for the perfect play. They need to approach the man advantage with the same urgency and ferocity they have in other situations. Perhaps this recent string of losses will help them find this urgency.
Should the Rangers be worried? Not yet, as they are only six games into the season and have rebounded very strongly from slow starts the previous two seasons under Vigneault.
The offense will likely come around, as players like Nash, Kreider, and Brassard are too good to be unproductive for long. The Rangers will, however, need to focus on executing better and improving the power play (if I had a nickel for every time I said that the past few years…). Their power play does not even have to be spectacular — it wasn’t last season (21st in the league) and they still scored the third-most goals in the NHL. It really just needs to be mediocre to decent.
The Rangers’ puck luck the past few games has also not been good at all, so some bounces are due to start going their way. Typically though, with better execution and more urgency comes more luck. Once those things start happening, the Rangers might be able to leave their familiar struggles behind.