The New York Rangers are playing their worst hockey of the season, which is really no surprise. The following are the starting-point answers.
A successful hockey team is measured by wins and losses. For the New York Rangers, a November outburst of nine wins in 11 games masked a problem many hoped wouldn’t be seen.
This club’s struggles are a product of a rookie coach, young rookie players, and a group of veteran players lacking the leadership to get the team back on track.
That’s why they’ve only won five regulation games since Thanksgiving.
The Rangers are a team lacking confidence in all three zones. They have a terrible power play, along with a very bad penalty killing unit and an inconsistent offense. This is what rebuilding looks like, but sometimes—particularly in the past three games—it’s hard to watch.
The last three games have opened Pandora’s box to reveal a full itinerary of issues, all magnified by a miserable display of defense, with the team being outscored 18-3. These losses to Pittsburgh, Colorado, and Arizona have shown plenty of areas that need work. But good can come out of this.
The Rangers can and will find their way back to playing competitive hockey games again.
All is not lost, especially with a rookie coach who has the ability to communicate and teach. It’s a team effort on the ice, and getting out of this slump will only be accomplished if everyone involved works to get that done. Believe it or not, some of these kids will use this period of hockey as a learning experiment. Nothing is wasted, good or bad when a young team is figuring things out in an NHL season.
What needs correcting to get back in the game
There are a lot of deficiencies in the team’s play right now. The way to get things going is to go back to what worked easiest earlier in the year: team defense.
The Rangers are skating around on their own so much that they’re giving up too many shots on goal. Earlier in the year, coach Quinn enforced the center coming back deep to help the defense get the puck out faster. The team seems to have drifted away from this. Even more importantly, the forwards have not been able to get back fast enough to cover the points and deflect shots and passes.
Defense is a five-man game. The team cannot rely on just the two defensemen to prevent shots and goals. All five are needed to keep the puck out of the net. The Rangers, who were very good at this earlier in the year, now can’t seem to get out of their own way.
Also, the team hasn’t had a legitimate goal scorer in several seasons, but they do have players who can put the puck in the net. Consistency, again, is the key to the offense. It is also a key component of why the team is failing to win games.
The goal leader on this club is Chris Kreider. The winger has been on a tear, scoring goals at crucial times of games, backchecking and hitting everything in sight. Unfortunately, he cooled down at the worst possible time, while Kevin Hayes is injured.
Hayes had a nine-game point streak in December and was doing all the right things, even as the rest of the team struggled. He was winning draws, killing penalties, and getting great looks on the power play, the trifecta the team had been waiting for most of the year. Then he took a big hit in a game on Dec. 14, missed some practices, and subsequently has missed the last two games. He is desperately needed to help the team get ahead of their issues.
Jimmy Vesey, Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Brady Skjei are the veterans the team needs to produce in order to win. They have all struggled at different times this season, either due to injury or on-ice failures. This needs to change if the Rangers are going to see the light at the end of this dark tunnel.
Zuccarello may get moved prior to the trade deadline, but until that happens, he needs to be the player everyone is used to seeing on game nights. Shattenkirk came back from a shoulder separation in mid-December but has not played at the level the team expects from him.
Kreider needs to keep finding the back of the net as he plays his tough-hitting game. Hayes needs to get healthy because when he plays well, the team plays well.
The team is looking for a leader, and right now there really isn’t anyone who can step up and say, “follow me.” The alternate captains have been doing their best, but this team could use a true Captain. The person in the locker room and on the ice with a voice and a game that takes charge and shows them the way.
No disrespect to Ryan McDonagh, but the Rangers have lacked this presence for many seasons. With the young players on the team and a rookie coach behind the bench, a strong captain is missing.
A Rookie coach still learning his way
David Quinn has made his mistakes during this bad stretch of hockey. He is constantly changing the lineup, which is preventing any possibility of cohesiveness, especially on the blue line. The mental side of the game seems to have caused the biggest issues, as Quinn tries to figure out what has happened over the last few weeks.
Earlier in the year, the team skated hard and played with intensity every shift. Now with every bounce of the puck going against the team, players seem very frustrated, which is the primary reason why they are taking so many penalties.
The overuse of Henrik Lundqvist is another issue that must be solved immediately. Quinn admitted to hurting Hank and the team by overplaying him, which means he has to start trusting Alexandar Georgiev. The head coach is still learning the balance between rookie and veteran, something that he didn’t have a lot of experience with when coaching at the college level.
The kids need to start skating again
This team was led on the ice by Brett Howden, Filip Chytil, Brady Skjei, and Neal Pionk early in the year. Along with some of the players that were sent back to the AHL, the youth movement was in full force, and everything was going fine. Following the November run, they all seemed to hit the wall at the same time.
This was expected. These kids—some barely 19 years old—have never experienced a season like the one they’ve been through so far. The team is at the midway point now, with plenty of hockey left. The kids will get to experience hockey, unlike anything they’ve ever seen.
Regardless of the Rangers’ playoff situation, these players will encounter games that the other teams need to win to make the playoffs. Harder hitting, faster skating, and tougher defense is what lies ahead for the rookies. The coaching staff needs to prepare them for the toughest hockey they have played in their young careers.
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It will be an invaluable learning experience for them, which is why Lias Andersson needs to be recalled immediately. If he is the future, he needs to go through the growing pains with the big club. Wins will come, along with plenty of losses, but the team will grow together.
There are plenty of corrections to be made, and some players need to get better. As everyone has already said multiple times, this what rebuilding looks like. That’s true, but the team also needs to see what winning and playing crisp hockey look like.
The playoffs are not in this team’s immediate future. That doesn’t mean the Rangers cannot be productive and play with purpose. You have to be able to walk before you can run. This new Rangers team is still in its infancy, and it will get better. The improvements may not come this year, but every practice and every game is a new experience for a lot of these players.
Right now the Blueshirts have to learn how to be a team once again. The exciting games will come around again in time.