Courtesy Twitter: @NYRangers

The Rangers begin the new week against the best team in the NHL, the Florida Panthers.

Leen Amin

The New York Rangers head into week 5 of the 2021-22 season coming off their worst stretch yet. After a rocky but upward-trending first week, the Rangers caught fire and became one of the hottest teams in the league.

Everything looked great on the surface, but a good look at the team revealed some serious issues. Those issues were glaring in their winless week 4.

Although the Rangers are an above-average defensive team, they’re practically playing without a third pairing. None of rookie Nils Lundkvist, Patrik Nemeth, and Jarred Tinordi have been good enough.

The real problem, though, is the offense. League-wide, the Rangers have a bottom-five offense.

This is especially puzzling and concerning given the fact that this is supposed to be a star-studded forward group that was bolstered by some nice depth during the offseason. About a month into the season, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

The truth of the matter is that, in traditional Rangers fashion, the team has been getting bailed out by heroic goaltending.

Excluding his uncharacteristically poor start against the Calgary Flames on Saturday, Igor Shesterkin has been one of the best goalies in the NHL.

His underlying numbers are fantastic and he’s the reason the Rangers have won as many games as they have. This is obviously unsustainable, especially since his backup, Alexandar Georgiev, isn’t good, meaning Shesterkin has even more of a load to carry.

Unfortunately for the Rangers, they’re not getting much of a break in their schedule. They kick off Week 5 on Monday against the best team in the NHL, the undefeated (in regulation) Florida Panthers.

Florida hasn’t slowed down since parting ways with head coach Joel Quenneville due to his involvement in the Chicago Blackhawks sexual assault scandal.

The Panthers are at the top of every list. They have the second-best offense in the league, a top-10 power play, the third-best defense, and a top-10 penalty kill.

There’s no point in beating around the bush: the Rangers, who were humiliated in their last game and are coming out of a discouraging and difficult week, have their toughest task to date on Monday.

The chances of them winning this game are slim.

To make matters worse for the Rangers young center Filip Chytil, who was just beginning to improve his play, suffered an ugly collision with linemate Sammy Blais and is day-to-day.

This will be a big loss for the Rangers’ bottom-six, especially since the team needs all hands on deck on Monday.

Panthers players to watch:

LW Carter Verhaeghe

This season: 11 GP, 3 G, 9 PTS

RW Anthony Duclair

This season: 11 GP, 8 G (1 PP), 12 PTS

LW Jonathan Huberdeau

This season: 11 GP, 3 G (1 PP, 1 SH), 12 PTS
Career vs. NYR: 22 GP, 5 G (1 PP), 21 PTS

C Anton Lundell

This season: 7 GP, 3 G, 6 PTS

C Sam Reinhart

This season: 11 GP, 2 G, 9 PTS
Career vs. NYR: 21 GP, 8 G (4 PP), 20 PTS

RHD Aaron Ekblad

This season: 11 GP, 4 G (1 PP), 10 PTS

LHD Gustav Forsling

This season: 11 GP, 9 A

The majority of Florida’s players are players to watch in this game, but the aforementioned guys are particular players to watch out for.

Duclair and Huberdeau, two of the team’s most important players, are averaging over a point per game this season.

To make things more difficult for the Rangers, Huberdeau has averaged almost a point per game against the Rangers throughout his career.

These two will be on a mission on Monday night, especially Duclair, who’s going to want to make a statement against his former team.

The rookie Lundell has been excellent seven games into his rookie season, as well. As if the Panthers needed more scoring help.

Florida’s bottom-six are a scoring threat, too, and that’s what makes them so good.

Like Huberdeau, center Reinhart is putting up points at a high rate and is averaging almost a point per game against the Rangers throughout his career. The Rangers are going to have their hands full with this talented and deep forward group.

Defensively, Ekblad and Forsling are the guys to watch. They put up points almost every game and do well in their own zone, especially Ekblad, the team’s best blueliner.

Captain Aleksander Barkov as well as goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky are off to flying starts this season, but will be game-time decisions. The Rangers will catch a big break if these two aren’t fit to play.

Rangers players to watch:

LW Chris Kreider

This season: 12 GP, 8 G (5 PP), 1O PTS

C Mika Zibanejad

This season: 12 GP, 4 G (2 PP), 1O PTS

LW Artemiy Panarin

This season: 12 GP, 2 G (1 PP), 11 PTS
Career vs. FLA: 11 GP, 2 G, 13 PTS

RHD Patrik Nemeth

Career vs. FLA: 19 GP, 1 G, 7 PTS

Alternate captains Kreider, Zibanejad, and Panarin are racking up points, but the Rangers need more from Zibanejad and Panarin.

The two don’t look like their usual selves and are a key reason why the Rangers’ offense and power play are some of the worst in the league. This would be a fantastic game for them to get going.

Bet you didn’t expect to see Nemeth on here. Nemeth has been pretty much a complete disaster for his new team and the fact that he doesn’t really have a linemate doesn’t help.

However, he apparently likes to score against the Panthers. Nemeth has more points against the Panthers than any other team that he’s played against in his career (he also has seven against the Blackhawks).

He’s looking for his first point as a Ranger and the hope is that this will be the game where he does that.

Shesterkin is also a player to watch for the Rangers. He’s been absolutely brilliant and if the Rangers do miraculously win this one, he’ll be a key reason why.