The Rangers have looked like hot garbage for the last three or so weeks, and few will challenge that statement. Part of it was fatigue and playing shorthanded, but that isn’t the issue anymore. Despite 5 of 6 points over the weekend, the Blueshirts were horrible and didn’t really deserve those points. Injuries and suspensions appear to be over, but questions and concerns remain. Should we worry about the NY Rangers?
Line combos are up in the air
Gerard Gallant usually sticks to his line combos once he finds them, but this year has been different. We’ve spoken about one bad period against Detroit in November, and how that changed the Rangers season. Since then, the Rangers have seemingly changed lines at least once a week, moving away from line combos that drove play but were getting unlucky.
The Kid Line was reunited earlier this year and it seemed to help boost their collective confidence, specifically Alexis Lafreniere. However even with Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane, the Kid Line was a double edged sword that addressed one need while creating a few others. The best path forward has been to break them up and recreate lines that worked. That hasn’t happened yet, of course.
We know from earlier in the year that Kaapo Kakko was a great complement to Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider on the top line. It worked, they drove play, and they were scoring. We also know that Tarasenko worked well with Artemi Panarin and Vincent Trocheck, again driving play while also scoring. Tarasenko was a perfect shooter needed for a line with no clear finisher.
That leaves, as Luker pointed out, a sheltered third line of Filip Chytil between Lafreniere and Kane. An all offense, sheltered third line that can feast on opposing depth is critical for a playoff run. Few teams can boast a third line with this much skill. If deployed properly, they can be the answer to depth scoring that has plagued the Rangers through other playoff runs.
It’s about more than line combos
Finding the right line combos is definitely a huge step in the right direction, and something the Rangers need to figure out over the next 15 games or so. However that doesn’t magically solve all their problems. The Rangers have been atrocious, and there is no excuse for it. They have been lazy, been outplayed, and have made far too many mental mistakes since the trade deadline. It’s almost as if they are just coasting until the playoffs.
There’s a mental aspect to the game that is simply eluding the Rangers right now, something that perhaps the Jacob Trouba hit on Alex Nylander on Sunday may have helped find. Simply put, the Rangers are talented, but to quote Miracle, they don’t have enough talent to win on talent alone.
There are two aspects to fixing the Rangers, aside from line combos.
- Generate more offensive zone time
- Stop being lazy in the defensive zone
Far too often we’ve seen the Rangers be one and done in the offensive zone recently. The first step in fixing the defense is fixing the offense. Spending more time in the offensive zone means less time in the defensive zone, thus fewer chances to miss a coverage or have a man get the inside lane/step. Take care of the puck in the offensive zone, cycle, get shots, crash the net. All of it leads to driving play more.
Defensive zone laziness may be a bit harsh, but it sure does feel like they’ve been lazy. The reality is most likely a combination of lack of execution on zone exits, turnovers, and coverage, combined with extended amounts of time in the defensive zone. The more time you spend there, the more likely the opposition scores off one of your mistakes. It goes beyond simple net front presence and passing lanes. It’s ensuring the puck isn’t a bomb on a stick in the defensive zone.
Perhaps the issue at hand is Adam Fox has been terrible lately. He’s the guy that makes the Rangers look so much better at transitioning to offense, and he’s just been brutal. Luckily it’s most likely a blip for him. Missing Ryan Lindgren likely plays a role here as well.
So do we worry about the NY Rangers?
Whether or not we should worry about the NY Rangers is really a personal decision. There are legitimate reasons why you might want to worry about the NY Rangers, since they’ve been horrible since before the trade deadline. We can certainly explain away some things, but to see guys like Fox and Chris Kreider make boneheaded plays is worrisome.
However there are reasons why you may not need to worry about the NY Rangers. For starters, it’s better to struggle now than in April or May. Second, guys like Fox and Kreider will have struggles, but have a body of work that shows they will rebound. All pro athletes go through phases like this. It just so happens multiple Rangers are going through it right now.
Are all these struggles because of Lindgren’s injury? Possibly, but it’s more likely a combination of everything mentioned above, plus potentially poor cap and roster management.
Personally, I’m only concerned about the final line combinations. Everything appears to be in flux right now until the combos are figured out. If nothing is set by April, then I will be begin to worry about the NY Rangers and their chances in the postseason. Lines need to be set and they need chemistry before the playoffs start. We have a general idea of what they should be, but whether Gerard Gallant gets there remains to be seen.
As always, the solution begins with Gallant.