With 24 games already played, we ponder the New York Rangers chances of making it all the way to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.
The New York Rangers have been playing with a lot of pride and heart this season. Yet the rollercoaster ride has the club asking several questions about themselves.
Some of which have been answered. Some of which have most definitely been not.
The Blueshirts have learned the hard way how to battle back from multi-goal deficits to win games this season. Unfortunately, these deficits have become more common because of the frequent mistakes the boys keep making.
Turnovers in all three areas of the ice have cost the team wins and valuable points. A recent example of this was the game against the Florida Panthers on Nov. 28 at Madison Square Garden.
The Rangers were down 3-0 early in the first period. Turnovers and missed opportunities put them in this position, but once again the Rangers pulled themselves together and were able to eventually tie the game at four early in the third period.
Then the problem that has haunted the team all year occurred again. With Brendan Smith and Nick Holden turning the puck over and then running around, the Panthers scored the winning goal with a minute left in regulation. Final score: Panthers 5, Rangers 4.
These kinds of problems have been with the team all season. The Rangers are 14-10-2 and currently are settled into eighth place, one point in front of the Montreal Canadiens. With 56 regular season games left to play, the coaches and management have to look at how far they believe this group of players can go.
The personnel has really begun to click as an offensive unit. Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich have solidified the top line. They constantly put pressure on the opposing team’s goal, create strong backcheck pressure and excel on the power play.
The other three lines all seem to have finally found their way. David Desharnais has filled in nicely on the top line as Zibanejad rests from his concussion injury. Rick Nash, Kevin Hayes, and Jimmy Vesey have found their game again and it shows on the scoreboard and standings. Mats Zuccarello has been playing his hard-nosed style of hockey. His superior passing is always a problem for the opposing team and helps his linemates dominate on the ice. Michael Grabner has been leading the way when shorthanded and when the opponent pulls their goalies (six empty net goals).
The team’s weakness appears to be defensive. As a unit of five, the Rangers are their own worst enemy. Too many times they turn over the puck in between the blue lines which almost always leads to odd-man rushes against, resulting in high-quality scoring chances. The Rangers try too many times to make the perfect pass out of their own end as opposed to making the safe play.
The defensive has been a never-ending revolving door of who is playing with who every night. Only recently had Alain Vigneault settled on one pair: Brady Skjei and Kevin Shattenkirk. Who knows how long this pair will co-exist. Ryan McDonagh has at one time or another played with every available defenseman on the team as has Marc Staal.
The team never seemed to finalize the six defensemen or the fourth line center situation. Vigneault has been using Boo Nieves on the fourth line which has worked out quite well. Nieves has fit in nicely in the center position between Grabner and Jesper Fast. Since the Zibanejad injury, Vigneault has used Desharnais on the top line and J.T. Miller centering the third line. The problem with that is Vigneault would rather Miller play on the wing, but that doesn’t work right now. The Rangers have yet to address finding a solid center, a situation that has been lingering since last June.
As the team looks right now, I don’t believe this team is any better than their record indicates. They are not a strong team with the puck, make too many turnovers and the power play is evening out. They are hovering around the .500 mark in the standings, which might get them a Wild Card position to make the playoffs.
Just making the playoffs is not the goal of this Rangers team. The goal is to get to the Finals and then win the coveted Stanley Cup.
With the current construction of the team, I don’t see this as a reality. The trade deadline is still two and a half months away, but I don’t think even a trade can correct the flaws this team exhibits on the ice.
Patience and time will tell.