The Rangers have had a terrific start to the season, but some of their losses, and over-all play in recent games has to concern everyone around the team. It isn’t that the Rangers have come back to Earth after a white-hot start, the troubling signs revolve around the team melting down in the last minutes of games instead of finding ways get points. So even though I think there were plenty of issues with the teams play, I will be focusing in on a few key games, and key issues where they displayed similar tendencies that really hurt them. These games include their recent trip to Florida where they had back to back troublesome games with the Lightning and the Panthers, and again this past Friday where they lost a gut wrenching game to the Boston Bruins.
I have seen the Rangers taking unnecessary penalties at critical points in the game. The most recent example is their contest in Boston. The big penalty came late in the third period when Jesper
Fast ended up in a strange spot in the neutral zone, where he wrapped up his man resulting in a Rangers penalty. The top ranked power-play in the NHL took the opportunity, tied the game, and the surge of momentum following the goal was too much for the Rangers to handle. New York dropped the game in regulation and a game that seemed like it would hold at least a point for the Rangers ended in a tough loss.
Another key penalty to me is the one that Viktor Stalberg took in Florida. The big Swede had just helped the Rangers make it 4-2 with under eight minutes to go in the contest, but at 16:49 of the third period he takes an offensive zone penalty against Derek MacKenzie that ends up in the back of the New York goal. The surge gave Florida life and shortly after they tied the game when Jaromir Jagr found the puck in the zone. But that wasn’t the end; on the ensuing face-off Rielly Smith slashed right through the Rangers defense and they were forced to trip him resulting in a penalty shot for Smith. I know its tough to handle when someone is in alone, but I consider this a bad penalty, because the Rangers defense gets caught sleeping, and put themselves in a bad spot. Luckily for the Rangers Lundqvist had a big save in him or the Rangers would likely have two losses where they blow late leads with avoidable penalties.
Bending but Not Breaking
Lately the Rangers have been floundering late in games; they start throwing the puck around, stop fore-checking, and allow themselves to end up under siege. The Rangers have a great defense, an excellent, goalie, and responsible forwards, but that isn’t an excuse to take your foot off the gas. This team has struggled to regain composure after allowing a tough goal; this happened in Florida after Alexander Barkov scored and it happened again in Boston after Ryan Spooner scored. It isn’t just my opinion, even the Rangers key players are seeing it.
Lundqvist: “For some reason, the last few games we’ve been losing our structure a little bit under pressure, especially the last 5 minutes.”
— Andrew Gross (@AGrossRecord) November 27, 2015
I would say that the issue here has two sides, and both have to do with the Rangers getting frantic. The first part of the issue is when the Rangers get into “just get it out mode”, at a certain point just trying to slam the puck out of the zone isn’t good enough, the teams starts running around their own end and that’s when team tend to give up goals. The other part of the issue is the Rangers attempting not to be frantic, so they try to be fancy and lose the puck in bad spots as a result.
This goal is probably the best example of what I’m saying, Derek Stepan makes a surprising pass to the blue-line with just over a minute left in the game; in Ryan McDonagh’s attempt to coral the puck and make a play he boots it and ends up watching it get blown past Lundqvist. To be successful in the NHL you have to play with confidence even when it’s late, but at the same time, the players have to know when to make safe plays with the puck. The Rangers have to do a better job of realizing when to make a fancy play with the puck, and when to just make the smart play.
The Silver Lining
Losses in the final minutes always have a way of standing out, and they sometimes tell a story about how the team performs when the game gets really tough. By no means am I saying to be encouraged by the Rangers losing games in this fashion, I’m simply saying that this team is better off being tested now, than in May. I think that teams need to face adversity, because the ability to overcome frustration is a big part of any Stanley Cup champion. Rangers’ Head Coach Alain Vigneault spoke about the team being challenged after falling to the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday, “During every season individually and collectively, you’re challenged mentally. You’re challenged mentally through sometimes your play, sometimes challenged mentally through the demands of the schedule.” Vigneault seems to be looking at this recent play as a test for individual players to see what their made of, and as a test for the team; he would go on to say that he’s confident in his group, and despite the struggles he has every reason to be because we’ve seen what this team can do.
This core of players has lost tough games in the past and they will lose other similar games this year, but when the games are more important and the Rangers find themselves fighting desperately for a win, we will know that they have been through some of the tough times together.