The New York Rangers have been incredibly inconsistent over the last month, and one of the key holes in their game has been the penalty kill. Now over the past few years this has been a strength of the Rangers game, but the unit has gotten caught in a funk that they can’t seem to escape. The Rangers penalty kill is currently ranked 25th in the NHL with only a 78.9% success rate, which is a steep drop-off from the 84.3% rate that they maintained last season. The issue really jumps out when you consider that almost the same personnel has had so much success on the penalty-kill in recent years. Not much has been good about the unit, and the key issues boil down to awful net front coverage, poor goaltending, and simply taking bad penalties at key times.
Net Front Woes
It’s no secret that the Rangers have been bad in front of their net; it seems so obvious at this point that every team they play seems to be attempting to take advantage of this issue. It looks like the Rangers just aren’t doing a good enough job of reading off of one-another, and its created that confused feel on the ice. The fact is that this league is too good for any sort of hesitation, and the penalty-kill seems to be caught looking around too often; then when the play does settle, we will often see two Rangers covering the same guy, or leaving guys completely open. I have to say that the biggest communication issue between penalty-killers right now seems to be between veteran defenders Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh. During the back-to-back games against Philadelphia and Washington; we saw the Rangers defense loose the dangerous man on pivotal penalty-kills which lead to a tying goal in the third period and a go-ahead-goal in the second respectively.
I see the goaltending and the coverage bleeding into one another; in the sense that the Rangers look like they are trying to stop everything from getting to the net, because they don’t have the confidence that their goalie will make the big straightaway saves. On the flip side it seems like the Rangers goaltenders aren’t comfortable in net, because they don’t have confidence that the guys around them are being covered. Henrik Lundqvist jumped out to an amazing start this season, and he often times bailed the team out, but with him now letting in some “eh” goals it certainly hurts the unit.
This isn’t a “terrible” goal by any means, because Ovechkin shoots with the best of them; but a goal like this hurts, because Lundqvist is supposed to be the Rangers big guy. When he’s “on”, he is next to impossible to beat when he gets square to the shooter, and I do think it’s a save that he needs to make if the Rangers are going to hang with a team like Washington. The good news for the Rangers, is that Lundqvist has looked much better in his past few outings.
Another critical issue with the Rangers lately has been taking penalties at important times, and for really bad reasons. Again referring to the Washington game, the penalty that resulted in Ovechkin’s goal was completely useless, and Rangers’ Head Coach Alain Vigneault said as much after the game.
AV says of Brassard’s holding the stick infraction on Kuznetsov (which led to Ovi’s PPG) “It wasn’t a good penalty at all.”
— Andrew Gross (@AGrossRecord) January 18, 2016
These sorts of penalties seem to be creeping into the Rangers game, and when you can’t get out of it, the penalties become magnified. When guys take good, or understandable penalties, then there isn’t much heat, but when the infractions are down right pointless, then everyone grinds their teeth a little bit. The bottom line is that this team needs to find a way to be as responsible as possible, and not take any chances.
I truly believe that the Rangers will figure this thing out. To me it doesn’t make sense, because the Rangers have had so many of these same players for so long, and have had success in this department in the past, so I just think their track record will help them balance out. Vigneault took blame for the penalty-kill issue saying “That’s on me; I’m the one that signs off on everything.” Maybe so, but I think this has more to do with the players just being on the wrong page than it has to do with the coaching. I say this because we’ve seen this staff do a tremendous job of shutting down top units in the past.
For whatever reason a perfect storm of issues is hitting this unit and I think it ends once this club gets confidence back and has a game where they really lock things down.
On another note the Rangers only have one short-handed goal so far this season which ties them for 24th in the NHL. But before they worry about scoring while short-handed, they have to worry about defending.
I graduated from Brooklyn College with a B.S. in Broadcast Journalism. Shortly after, I began writing for the Full Tilt Hockey Network, where I still contribute, covering a broad range of topics across the NHL.
I have been contributing to The Hockey Writers since February of this year focusing on the New York Rangers. My articles tend to focus on analysis of players, and possible directions that the organization could go.