COVID, key injuries, and a leave of absence played a big role in New York Rangers poor record against top teams

igor shesterkin injury
Mar 4, 2021; Newark, New Jersey, USA; New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin (31) is helped off the ice during the third period of their game against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers are going to miss out on the playoffs. It certainly is a shame after the stretch of games they played from mid-March to April. When you look back, it’s hard not see why they won’t be playing in postseason action.

Key injuries, COVID related issues, and a leave of absence played a significant role. The Rangers struggled in some crucial games against the best in the Division. When your best players are out of the lineup, it’s hard to win.

New York Rangers suffered some key injuries and absences

Artemi Panarin
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It’s pretty difficult to make the big dance when your best player misses 21% of the season played to date. Artemi Panarin has missed 11 games out of 52 and his loss was not an easy thing to overcome. To make matters worse, the Rangers lost their top shutdown veteran defenseman Jacob Trouba for 27% of the year and counting.

A lot is being written about the Rangers inability to beat the teams ahead of them in the standings. At last check, they are a combined 10-14-4 against the playoff teams in the East Division (NYI, BOS, PIT, WSH). While that is a telling stat, the Rangers only seemed like they struggled against the Islanders (2-5-1) and to a degree the Penguins.

If we add a little context, of the 11 games Panarin missed, 4 were against the Bruins, 2 against the Penguins, and 1 against the Flyers before Philly fell apart. The Rangers went 1-6 in those crucial games without their MVP.

A look at Trouba’s missed games shows 2 against the Islanders, 2 versus the Bruins, and 1 with the Capitals. In his absence against top teams the Blueshirts went 2-3. Anyone who wants to be really fair would say they went 2-4 because he was hurt early in a blowout loss to the Isles.

As for Shesterkin, he was coming around before his groin strain that forced him to miss 19% of the season. While he was gone, Alexandar Georgiev was struggling so bad that Keith Kinkaid had to be summoned to keep the team afloat. During his stint on the injured list the Rangers played the Capitals, Penguins, and Bruins two times each going 2-4.

As for Kakko, in an important sophomore season it didn’t help his development being out on the COVID list twice. The first time was for only a game, the next time he actually contracted the virus and missed six contests. It would take him nine games to find the back of the net after his return.

Mika Zibanejad getting COVID-19 had lasting ramifications

mika zibanejad
Bruce Bennett/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Finally, the biggest reason why the Rangers missed the playoffs was Mika Zibanejad’s horrendous slump. The Rangers best goal scorer last season and top two point-getter missed camp because he got hit hard with the virus. For a player whose game is built on speed with and without the puck, he struggled. Although he downplayed getting COVID and refused to use it as an excuse, it contributed to his poor start which had a domino effect on the team.

The Blueshirts opened the season 4-7-3 with Zibanejad having just three points in that span. During that stretch they lost twice to the Devils and once to the Sabres. If they had those six points, they’d be in the thick of it right now.

So even though Zibanejad didn’t miss a game, his COVID induced slump had long lasting ramifications to the Rangers season. While every team deals with injuries, some are built to overcome them. For example, the Tampa Bay Lightning did not have their best player all season in Nikita Kucherov and they did fine. But would they be as good if Victory Hedman, and Andrei Vasilevskiy were lost for an extended period of time? What if Brayden Point started ice cold too?

These questions are simply food for thought. The Blueshirts are going to miss the playoffs. They need to fix their bottom six with a little more skilled grit to beat a team like the Islanders. However, in a game of what ifs, I believe the Rangers would have made the playoffs if Zibanejad didn’t slump or they didn’t lose so many man-power games.

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Anthony Scultore is the founder of Forever Blueshirts and has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL... More about Anthony Scultore

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