The New York Rangers lost their first game of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs last night, falling to the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3. The Rangers were severely outplayed in the first period and were down 3-1 by puck drop of the second. They tied the game in the third, but a late powerplay goal by Brady Skjei was the game winner for the Canes.

Throughout the game, the overall theme was every goal was Jacob Trouba’s fault. Trouba had a rough game and has had a pretty rough playoffs thus far. He was on the ice for all 3 goals against–as was Artemi Panarin– and if you listen to the masses, all three goals were his fault.

Naturally, this is just untrue. Very rarely is a goal the fault of one specific player and one player only, especially the way the Rangers defend. Far more likely is that it was a team breakdown, with varying degrees of fault across the board.

Starting with the Canes’ first goal, we have a very obvious turnover by Barclay Goodrow, caused by the relentless forecheck of the Canes. They clearly adjusted their forecheck strategy a bit and focused a little more on matchups, which exposed the Rangers when they had the fourth line + third pair out at the same time.

The turnover created space for Evgeny Kuznetsov with Trouba back. Trouba was criticized for being out of position, a product of the turnover. In fact, the issue isn’t that, but his gap control. He got caught between pressuring Kuznetsov and risk getting beat, or staying back and gapping properly. He did neither, and was used as a screen. Poor gap control, but created by a turnover.

On the Stefan Noesen goal, it’s unclear what people wanted Trouba to do. This was a product of a full team breakdown, with all five guys puck watching. Trouba’s man is *NOT* Noesen on this, but the man in front. He’s actually doing his job, albeit while puck watching. Noesen cuts in behind Alexis Lafreniere, but is actually in a position to score where Vincent Trocheck should be covering.

Long story short, the second goal was a full team fail, with all five puck watching and no one communicating to focus on Noesen cutting to the slot. This was also incredibly poor rebound control from Igor Shesterkin.

On the third goal, the Sebastian Aho goal from in front, we must remember the defensive zone system the Rangers play. It’s man down low and zone up high. Trouba is on his man, which is Jake Guentzel, with no help from Erik Gustafsson in front or any of the forwards coming down to help.

Trouba is left unable to cover both Guentzel and Aho in front. Per the system, which is critical here, his man is Guentzel. Trocheck was again late to cover, thus Aho was open for the one-timer. It seems taboo to criticize the Rangers top line, but they were on the ice for two of the three goals.

So in short, we have a turnover, a full team breakdown, and no help for Trouba.

Trouba is not without fault. He’s been targeted all playoffs by both Washington and Carolina and appears to be the weak link on defense. When he’s off, he’s OFF. But he seems to have his bad breakdowns in bunches in the same game. This series, Trouba has been on the ice for 7 goals against, ahead of only Trocheck (8) with Fox, Panarin, and Lafreniere (6) ahead of him.

It’s safe to say Carolina is targeting the Rangers top line and third pair defensively, especially when they are out on the ice together. Same with the fourth line. Yes, targeting both is possible when the Rangers have two solid defensive lines centered by Alex Wennberg and Mika Zibanejad.

Getting last change back in New York will help the Blueshirts even things out. It was one loss in their first 8 playoff games. They were not going to go 16-0. And guess what? They won’t go 16-1 either. Peter Laviolette said the right things in his post game presser last night, so expect the Rangers to come out flying and hungry to close out the series on Monday.

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