The NY Rangers are currently in a four game losing streak. The sky is falling, if you read social media. Yesterday was just terrible all around, as the Rangers played their worst game since the opener. The timing was funny, since I had just written that they were better than their record. I guess they took offense to that?
The sky is not falling, and the Rangers will end the losing streak. It’s not a matter of it, it’s a matter of when. There are a few things they can do to keep the losing at bay in the long term. But are they willing to take these steps?
Bench Jack Johnson
Sorry Jack Johnson, time to sit in the press box. The Rangers have not scored with Johnson on the ice at all this season. Worse yet is that at even strength, Johnson has been on the ice for four goals. He’s been on the ice for three powerplay goals against as well. That’s 0 GF and 7 GA.
Normally I’d have some kind of counterpoint that the underlying numbers are good. But Johnson is by far the worst defenseman on the team in CF% (46.45) and xGF% (41.69). So there’s nothing that paints him in a good light.
Brendan Smith, by comparison, is sporting a 65.78 xGF% and a 59.05 CF%. Small sample size warning, but those are the best on the team for defensemen. That’s not to say Smith is the best defenseman on the team, it’s to say he’s earned a permanent role in the lineup over Johnson for the time being. For what it’s worth, Smith has been on the ice for 4 Rangers goals, and 2 goals against.
The injury to Filip Chytil is a big blow. It would be lessened if Mika Zibanejad wasn’t off to an awful start. However the Rangers are without their best center to start the season, and their best center last season until Mika gets his game together. The good thing is that Mika still draws attention on the ice, opening up space for others. But with him struggling and Chytil out, the Rangers have no centers left.
Center depth was an issue heading into the season, and now it’s an even bigger issue. Morgan Barron might be an option. However it seems like the Rangers want to get him AHL time first.
Luckily Colin Blackwell has performed very well. So well, in fact, that he earned a top-six shot last night. And guess what? He looked good in that role. He’s outperformed everyone by a wide margin, to the tune of 81.36 xGF% and 71.41 CF%. Blackwell is not a savior, but he can bridge the gap. He’s been far better than Zibanejad, Ryan Strome, and Brett Howden. Again, small sample size warning.
The Rangers are consistently inconsistent. Interestingly enough, they played a decent defensive game yesterday. Buffalo’s xGF at even strength was just 1.77. The problem was the offense got nothing going, to the tune of a 1.4 xGF for the Rangers. Given all that firepower, that offensive performance is inexcusable.
A lot of this can be attributed to the horrible starts by the big guns. Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Artemi Panarin, Tony DeAngelo, and Ryan Strome have all been some level of bad to start the season. One of the keys to the season was all of them repeating their performances from last season. Clearly that is not happening. Nor should we have expected it to happen.
What we should have expected is far better performance in their underlying numbers. Kreider is a notorious slow starter. Zibanejad is likely still feeling COVID effects. Panarin will be fine. However those warnings on DeAngelo –no longer on PP1, so expect those points to come down hard– and Strome –everything said he wasn’t going to repeat it– have been true thus far.
All of them are skilled enough to turn it around. And it’s likely most of them will.
Ending the NY Rangers losing streak and climbing out of the hole they’ve dug themselves isn’t an overnight thing. The players need to be better. The coaches need to be better. And the puck needs to bounce a little bit their way.