Assessing the 2023-2024 New York Rangers at the All Star Break
It feels like only days ago that the New York Rangers were gearing up in the preseason to embark on a new journey for the Stanley Cup. After a disappointing first round playoff exit last season, New York was getting a fresh start with a new head coach and some new additions. Fast-forward four months, and it has certainly been a roller coaster of a ride for this squad and its passionate fan base.
When assessing the 2023-2024 Rangers up to this point, their season can be broken up into two distinct categories.
2023… and 2024.
Assessing New York Rangers at the All Star Break
In the opening months of the season, the Rangers were dominating the NHL. In 2023, the Blueshirts amassed a record of 25-9-1, and held a significant lead in the Metropolitan Division. The first portion of the season was highlighted by a six-game win streak, and only one instance where they had lost two consecutive games.
It seemed as though nobody could take down the Rangers. It did not matter who was hurt, nor who was in goal. Igor Shesterkin was solid, and Jonathan Quick did not lose in regulation until his 11th start. With a full line-up, or a hurt one, New York was finding ways to win hockey games.
It has been almost a complete turnaround since the start of the new year.
In 2024, the Rangers have only managed a record of 5-7-2. Their lead in the division has been diminished to only two points. Their power play, once atop the league at over 31%, now ranks third at 27.2%. Their penalty kill, which was consistently in the top five of the league, now ranks eighth at 82.7%.
One of the biggest issues has been the rate of scoring at even strength. Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad have been streaky throughout the season. The Rangers are still struggling to find scoring on the right wing, and have been relying heavily on their second line of Artemi Panarin, Vincent Trocheck, and Alexis Lafreniere.
The defense is another area that has been concerning as of late. K’Andre Miller has struggled this season, and as a pair with Jacob Trouba, the two have been below average. Adam Fox has been regaining his form since returning from injury, but his partner Ryan Lindgren seems to be a step behind. Erik Gustafsson and Braden Schneider have struggled as the third pair, causing Peter Laviolette to mix things up in the teams’ recent contests.
It has also been a rough go for Igor Shesterkin this season. After getting off to a solid start, his game has dropped off significantly, as have the Rangers. In his last ten starts, Shesterkin is 4-5-1 with a save percentage of .863 and a goals against average of 3.25. He has not looked like his usual self this season. The Rangers will need him to bounce back coming down the stretch if they want any chance of making a deep playoff run.
“We made mental mistakes,” coach Peter Laviolette explained about the struggles in January. “Line change mistakes. Turnover mistakes. The mistakes that we made were really loud. It reminded me of the beginning of the year where we were making mistakes and they went in. It’s just too much for our goaltenders, and we’ve got to be better than that. We can’t afford those mistakes and expect to win a game.”
Looking back on this drastic turn for the worse, it is hard to identify any one event or game as the breaking point for New York. An argument can be made that they have dealt with adversity through injuries, but their play when shorthanded actually came for the most part during their dominance.
It was in the November 2nd game against Carolina when the Rangers lost Filip Chytil, Adam Fox, and Igor Shesterkin for a brief period. They went on to go 7-1-1 in the next nine games. They lost Kaapo Kakko for over a month, but he has been back for weeks now. Of course, Chytil is ruled out for the season. That being said, the Rangers roster has been near full strength for some time now and have not been able to regain their 2023 form.
The only thing that has seemed to change is the year itself. Thankfully, when things began to look like rock bottom for the Rangers, they were able to pull off a much-needed 7-2 win over the Ottawa Senators to send them into the All Star break on a high note. The break could serve as a useful reset for the Rangers. Once they come back, the playoff race really begins to heat up.
With Chytil out for the season, the Rangers now have some cap space to bring in pieces that can help them make a run in the playoffs. A third-line center and a first-line right wing should be on the top of Chris Drury’s list, as well as a depth forward and possibly a depth defenseman. The right wing has been an issue all season for the Rangers, as has the depth at center since losing Chytil.
The 2023-2024 campaign has been a strange one to say the least. Rather than a series of ups and downs, it has been one massive up, followed by an even bigger downfall. The first games back after the All Star break will be very significant in setting the tone for the rest of the season. Hopefully, New York can regain their 2023 from and begin dominating the league once again.
New York will return to action on Monday, Feb. 5th facing the Colorado Avalanche at Madison Square Garden. Puck drop is set for 7:00 p.m. ET.