The New York Rangers have a chance to make a statement against the NHL’s worst Toronto Maples Leafs tonight.
New York Rangers (32-19-6, 70 points, 2nd in NHL Metropolitan Division)
Toronto Maple Leafs (20-26-9, 49 points, 8th in NHL Atlantic Division)
Tonight, 7:30 PM on MSG, TSN4, NHL.TV
Air Canada Centre, Toronto, ON
By Chris Wengert
The New York Rangers will battle the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre tonight.
If you looked up the definition for the phrase “dog days of hockey”, tonight’s game would appear right next to the title.
Second game of a back-to-back in February? Check
Playing the league’s worst team? Check
Coming off of a brutal 5-3 loss to the former Stanley Cup Champions? Check
But the New York Rangers can make a statement tonight.
They can show the skeptics and pessimists that they will win games that they should win. The Rangers can show their nay-sayers that they can bounce back from a self-inflicted loss.
Tonight they can make the statement that the Toronto Maple Leafs don’t even deserve to be on the same ice surface as the Broadway Blueshirts.
The Rangers have been playing some good hockey lately, earning 11 out of a possible 14 points in seven games.
As a result of this solid play, the Rangers have created a small cushion for themselves in the Metropolitan Division:
While that is all well and good, there are still some serious issues that the Rangers need to fix if they want to be considered a serious Stanley Cup contender.
More specifically, the penalty kill.
The Rangers used to have an iron-clad PK. The unit was so efficient that you almost wouldn’t blink an eyelash if the opponent went to the power play.
But now their penalty kill ranks 28th in the league with an abysmal 76.9 kill percentage.
Everyone loves to talk about Nash’s lack of scoring this season, but right now he is missed on the PK. His quickness and long reach are unmatched by anyone else on the Ranger’s roster.
If Nash can make a return from his injury this season, the PK should improve. Penalty kill specialist Daniel Paille certainly isn’t doing the job as we saw with this goal last night:
Make any excuse that you want, but Paille should have had the awareness to cover the weak post on that play.
The Rangers have also started an unnerving trend of allowing the opponent to score late in games.
Take the last three games against the Chicago Blackhawks, Philadelphia Flyers, and Los Angeles Kings.
In each of those games the Rangers allowed a goal (or goals) in the closing minutes of the game. Remember that overtime loss against the Washington Capitals a month ago?
The Rangers blew that game in the closing seconds as well.
The Blueshirts need to shut the door in the last five minutes by collapsing on Lundqvist and clearing the puck when it finds their sticks.
Is it just me or are the Rangers incapable of clearing the puck sometimes?
Ranger’s Keys To Victory
Protect Antti Raanta
Raanta needs to find some confidence, and leaving him out to dry like the Rangers did at times against the Los Angeles Kings is a surefire way to destroy it.
If the Rangers can keep the Leafs out of the crease and low slot it will give Raanta the best chance to make some saves.
A complete loss of confidence can ruin an athlete’s career if it continues over time. John Giannone made some disturbing observations following the LA game:
Rarely is an athlete so bothered or beleaguered after a regular-season loss. Here’s Antti Raanta after NYR OT loss:https://t.co/woTtL9PyVj
— JOHN GIANNONE (@jaygeemsg) February 13, 2016
If Raanta does receive the nod from Alain Vigneault tonight then what better team than the Toronto Maple Leafs for Antti Raanta to find some confidence.
Score First and Don’t Look Back
The longer the Leafs are allow to hang around tonight, the more precarious the Ranger’s position will become.
As stated earlier, if the Rangers really want to be considered a Stanley Cup contender come April they need to make statements against teams like Toronto.
Score first, take away Toronto’s confidence, and don’t allow them back in the game.
The Ranger’s need to limit their penalties because there are not many teams that can cleanly beat the Blueshirts 5v5.
FYI: Tonight’s game can be viewed FREE on NHL.COM