Weekly Preview: The Rangers are in crisis mode

Yesterday was an incredibly chaotic day for the NY Rangers, which put them squarely in crisis mode. After another dispiriting loss to the Penguins, with questions swirling about the team’s 2-4-2 start, Tony DeAngelo was placed on waivers. It was immediately clear that this wasn’t solely based on performance. By mid-afternoon it was confirmed by multiple outlets that DeAngelo and Alexandar Georgiev got into a physical altercation immediately following the game. It has also been widely rumored that Chris Kreider stepped in to break up the fight and punched DeAngelo.

It’s difficult to separate truth from rumor in situations like this, and you can be sure the Rangers will not directly address this incident in order to clear the air, even though they should. The bottom line is that the Rangers made a cynical bargain when they acquired DeAngelo back in 2017 as part of the Derek Stepan trade. They knew about his antics and behavior both on and off the ice, which ranged from childish to abusive. They decided that even though DeAngelo had previously attacked opponents and officials with racial and homophobic slurs, that he was a risk worth taking. The Rangers figured he could either be rehabilitated, or worse, that they could sweep any future incidents under the rug, and keep them hidden from public view. They were wrong.

The Rangers deserve no credit for finally cutting ties with DeAngelo. It took an extremely public incident, coupled with a toxic locker room situation, to force their hand. Any way you slice it, it’s a bad look for a franchise that claims to value character and integrity, of which DeAngelo has neither. They owe fans – and the entire hockey world, really – an explanation, an apology, and assurances that no matter how talented the player, they will not make a similar deal with the devil again. Too bad that won’t happen.

Let’s take a look at this week’s games. The Rangers need some wins, or this crisis mode will continue.

Game 9 vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (5-3-1) – Monday February 1

Banishing Tony DeAngelo won’t be a cure-all for the Rangers. Usually a surprise roster shake-up like this – regardless of its genesis – happens when a team is really struggling. I consider it “Step 1” in the Meltdown Process, a new term I’ve just invented to describe a season that goes off the rails (just go with it). Step 2 is the dreaded Players Only Meeting. If things don’t improve after that, you can probably guess Step 3: Fire the coach.

There have been rumblings about David Quinn’s fitness for the job dating back to last season. This was when the Rangers began to turn the corner in their rebuild. While the team has shown some honest-to-goodness fundamental improvements this season, especially on defense, the results aren’t coming. Saturday’s loss was particularly brutal, as the Rangers blew another third period lead and lost in overtime. Quinn’s curious decision to go with an alternating goalie rotation, regardless of result, led to automatic second guessing and further scrutiny when Alex Georgiev gave up 5 goals. Even more concerning was that for the first time since opening night, the process slipped. They were second best in all facets of the game, and second to every loose puck, especially in the final 40 minutes.

Pittsburgh is aging, mediocre, and very injured. The Rangers simply cannot lose a fourth straight game to them tonight, or else the crisis will get worse.

Game 10 @ Washington Capitals (6-0-3) – Thursday February 4

As will be the case all year, there are no breaks in an Eastern Division schedule. The Rangers will Amtrak it down to Washington to try and slow down the Caps who are off to a fantastic start. I have to admit I thought the Caps might slip up and disappoint this year. But so far their top players are still performing and the signing of Zdeno Chara looks like a savvy bit of business.

Still, the Caps are likely due for a regression. They’re shooting an unsustainable 12.35% at 5v5 this season, and getting saves at a .932 clip. The Rangers should be able to possess the puck and create chances in this game. Still, Washington is a veteran team. One or two bad penalties could sink the Blueshirts.

Game 11 @ New Jersey Devils (4-3-2) – Saturday February 6

The Devils are much-improved. Jack Hughes has begun to fulfill his first overall potential with 8 points in 9 games as of this writing. He stole the show the last time these teams met, though it was Mackenzie Blackwood who made the difference. He stopped 47 of 50 shots in a game otherwise dominated by the Rangers.

Blackwood has been in COVID-19 protocol along with Travis Zajac since last Tuesday. It’s possible neither will be back in the lineup next weekend. If that’s the case, Scott Wedgewood or Aaron Dell would get the start. But the Devils are not solely reliant on goaltending, despite the way the last meeting between these two teams played out. Expect an even battle at The Rock.

Predictions: The only thing predictable about the Rangers at this point is that there will be drama and chaos. Leave your thoughts and predictions for the week ahead in the comments below.