The Rangers blowing leads is a problem

Gerard Gallant Jack Adams

The Rangers blowing leads has become a significant problem. In each of the last three games, the Rangers have blown a two goal lead. In Columbus they came out firing with two goals in the first five minutes before surrendering four straight. They again came out strong on Henrik Lundqvist night, building a two goal lead against Minnesota before surrendering three straight. Then yesterday against Seattle they blew a third straight two goal lead before K’Andre Miller won it with less than a minute remaining.

Ignoring the little jab at the Rangers at the end, the Rangers have blown 10 multi-goal or third period leads this season. They’ve only played 46 games, which is 22% of their games with blown leads. Finding ways to win is a good mindset, and this team is fun to watch. But this, along with their horrid possession numbers, is not a recipe for playoff success.

Contrary to popular belief, the Rangers are a pretty decent defensive team, and their issues aren’t always tied to bad defense. It certainly is a contributing factor, as we’ve seen too many chances against due to a poor back check and picking up the wrong man. But that happens to the best of teams. The primary concern is on the offensive side of things.

Hockey offense isn’t just about goals. Goals are the byproduct of zone time, sustained offensive pressure, getting pucks on net, puck retrieval, and puck support. It doesn’t take much to see that the Rangers lack basically all of these on a consistent basis, but they really shouldn’t.

Ice time breakdowns

One of the primary drivers behind this is how Gerard Gallant divvies up the ice time by line. Unlike most NHL coaches, Gallant runs his lines equally at even strength. For the most part, obviously there are exceptions to the rule, most coaches will run a rotation of 1-2-3-1-2-3-4, meaning the fourth line will get one shift every two rotations.

Gallant runs 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4, giving the fourth line an equal amount of ice time. For the Rangers, when healthy, that means the Hunt-Rooney-Reaves combination winds up with 10-12 minutes a night at even strength each game. That line is not what you’d call offensively dynamic. You expect this line to get caved in offensively, and so far, they’ve done just that.

This isn’t a slight at the fourth line, as I think that line is doing its job just fine. The issue is more about perhaps getting a few too many shifts per game. The cream of the crop in the NHL will eat fourth lines alive, especially when the Rangers don’t necessarily have the best skaters on a fully healthy fourth line.

Injuries, Covid, roster construction, and lineup decisions

To put it mildly, the Rangers haven’t dressed the best lineup they can in a long, long time. You will have Greg McKegg, and you will like it. But while McKegg is in the lineup, and you can make this case with Jonny Brodzinski and others, the Rangers will not have an optimal lineup.

Injuries to Kaapo Kakko, Filip Chytil, and Adam Fox play a large role in this. However even when fully healthy, the Rangers are looking at an extremely top heavy lineup. That’s the roster construction piece, and the Blueshirts do need at least one top six forward and a depth defenseman to round out the lineup. That isn’t getting resolved any time soon.

What can be resolved soon is the quibble with the lineup decisions. There is no logical reason, given their lack of production and struggles on the ice, why McKegg and Libor Hajek should be dressing regularly. There is also no logical reason for Brodzinski to play over Morgan Barron. Gallant is baffling even his most ardent supporters with some of these decisions.

These types of decisions don’t even require lineup overhauls. Little tweaks here and there are all that is needed. For example, leaving Alexis Lafreniere on the top line, where he has looked good and has played well, is a start. It’s not going to happen though.

After that, it’s a simple matter of keeping Kakko with Panarin and Strome, which looked good too. Barron in over McKegg, and Zac Jones over Hajek, and that’s it. At this juncture, a real playoff team does not have McKegg and Hajek in the lineup on a regular basis. Barron and Jones, both coveted by the Rangers and pried from their college teams early, are clearly the better options. This isn’t an opinion, it’s straight fact. They are the better players right now.

Rangers blowing leads should get better?

The good news is that the Rangers are very active in the trade market. Nothing has been swung yet, but Chris Drury appears to know what the team needs, even if I am petrified of what he does. The Rangers also have a two week break coming up to get healthy and figure things out.

Another aspect is what the team needs to be for the playoffs. There is always a lot of focus on season long possession numbers, of which the Rangers won’t look good. There are legitimate questions about, as currently constructed, if they can make a run. But the team we see today won’t (shouldn’t) be the team we see in April and May.

The Rangers, after their additions at the deadline, need to be much closer to a 50% expected goals share and shot attempts share than they are today. However they don’t need to be over 50% as many would suggest. That doesn’t mean they should strive for mediocrity, it means that they don’t need to be the best possession team in the league.

Even a few percentage points under an even share keeps the Rangers in the running. The reasons why are simple: Igor Shesterkin and an elite powerplay. Powerplay chances disappear rapidly in the playoffs as refs swallow whistles, but the Blueshirts have the Vezina front runner in net, plus a loaded top half of the lineup. Skill still trumps all, and high end skill with good-enough metrics can carry a team. Washington in 2018 is a prime example, and also the only example, so tread lightly.

Expecting perfection is a fool’s errand. Expecting good enough and hoping the high end skill performs is much more realistic. The Rangers just need to get good enough.