Rangers recap: Adversity strikes

It is January 8th and for only the second time this season, the Rangers lost twice in a row. Think of all of the early season injuries to Filip Chytil, Adam Fox, Kaapo Kakko, Igor Shesterkin, Jonathan Quick, and all the bumps and bruises along the way. This team could have fallen off the rails months ago.

Instead, the Rangers have showed they are a very good team that finds themselves in their first real lull of the season. They 8-7-1 in their last 16 games, not coincidentally a 500 record that coincides with Kakko’s injury (11-7-1 without him). That’s not *the* reason, but it’s *a* reason. Below average goaltending, breakdowns in defensive coverage, inconsistent forechecking, and basically being a one-line team at the moment are not helping right now.

Every hockey team goes through this though, and better to be going through it now in January than in the playoffs. With Kaapo Kakko set to get out of the non-contact jersey any day now, the team defense will hopefully take a leap towards what we saw in the beginning of the season. Kakko might not have the counting stats that scream 2nd overall pick, but he is one of the more responsible forwards when it comes to defending.

All that said, it won’t matter if the goaltending doesn’t stabilize. We’ve been spoiled with Henrik Lundqvist followed by Igor Shesterkin. But it’s clear Shesterkin is fighting it right now. He is an elite goaltender, but he has been off. The overall team play isn’t helping, and hopefully that gets shored up, making life easier for Shesterkin. If the team limits the chances and Igor only gives up 2-3 goals, this team can win any night.

We haven’t had these kind of conversations about Rangers goalies for a while, but it’s rather normal for goalies to go through these stretches where they just can’t seem to stop a beach ball. Shesterkin will bounce back, and the focus is more on him because of the sheer volume of 4+ goal games against right now.

On the bright side, there is no player hotter on the Rangers right now than Vincent Trocheck. A two goal game gives him 12 points in his last 5 games! That second line again was the driving force for much of the offense last night and most of the last month, outside of the powerplay.  Alexis Lafrenière also contributed 2 primary assists and Artemi Panarin scored once.

The consistency of this line night in and night out is reminiscent of a certain trio who finds themselves in the rafters of MSG from a different era of Rangers hockey. While this line is so fun to watch, it’s clear they are the only line right now driving offense, as the Chytil/Kakko injuries decimated the middle of the lineup.

The amount of cushion –banking points early– the Rangers earned earlier in the season has been important during this lull of .500 hockey. The second line is a big part of that, especially recently. However the recent struggles do put a hyper focus on what could be perceived as “things going wrong” for the Rangers.

Peter Laviolette’s in game management this season has been anywhere from solid to stellar, with the latter more in comparison to prior Rangers coaches.. Laviolette knows it’s not the Nick Bonino’s and Barclay Goodrow’s of the world that need double shifting. It’s the skill lines that need it, to hopefully get a quick goal and turn the tide.

Last night was no different for Laviolette, even in a loss. In the third he was double shifting the Panarin line and was rotating the RW of the Zibanejad line with Blake Wheeler, Jimmy Vesey, and even Brennan Othmann. All while basically benching guys like Bonino and Goodrow.

Laviolette knows the plan Drury is scheming I’m sure. If the Rangers have done anything right the last couple of years, it’s that Drury knows how to add with spending very little assets. The reinforcements will be here soon enough.


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