Despite a winless week of Rangers hockey, there are positive takeaways

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Feb 8, 2021; New York, NY, USA; Igor Shesterkin #31 and Libor Hajek #25 of the New York Rangers combine to stop Leo Komarov #47 of the New York Islanders during the first period at Madison Square Garden on February 08, 2021 in New York City. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Bennett/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

The Rangers may have gone 0-2-1 this week, but this record does not tell the whole story. They often had the edge in play through these three games and deserved a better fate. Unfortunately due to scoring struggles and small mistakes, they went without a win.

Rangers defense much improved

One component of the Rangers’ play that is noticeably better from last year is their defensive zone coverage. Last season, their defense too often had holes due to players being out of position. Sometimes it even appeared that their defensemen and forwards alike were a bit unsure of the d-zone structure to begin with. They were generally too hasty to go down and block shots which contributed to the porous nature. Blocking shots works unless a player miscalculates, and then you are out of position on the play.

This season, especially in the last few weeks, the defensive zone structure looks tighter and certainly more effective. Each five-man unit is better at boxing out and keeping shots to the outside. They are more adherent to their system and therefore have more success keeping teams along the boards. Most goals the Rangers gave up this week were not pretty. This indicates that they’re making it more difficult for teams to get clear shots and not allowing the space and time for fancy plays. A prime example was the only goal scored against them in their 1-0 loss to the Bruins on Friday.

new york rangers stats
Elsa/Pool Photos-USA TODAY Sports

The Rangers’ penalty kill has also been more effective in comparison with last season. They currently rank sixth in the NHL at 84.4% and were seven for seven this week. They don’t sit back so much on the penalty kill anymore. They’re more aggressive and they challenge the opposing team’s power play unit. They have had more success clearing the puck to get changes and going north on the penalty kill from time to time as well.

At MSG, the’ve killed off 32 of 35 power play opportunities against this season (91.4%). Over their last eight at home they’ve only allowed one power play goal in 27 chances (96.3%). The things that get easily overlooked in defeat.

Kaapo Kakko and Phil DiGiuseppe flying under the radar

There have been some concerns surrounding Kaapo Kakko’s development as the number two overall pick in 2019. These concerns are rather unwarranted. While Kakko may only have three points (two goals and one assist) on the season, that statistic is not by any means a measure of his overall ability.

He looks more comfortable and better adjusted to the NHL pace. This was reiterated by David Quinn yesterday after practice when he highlighted Kakko’s demeanor both on and off the ice.

He has a good shot and is more willing to use it. Kakko has been harder on the puck this season and more attentive away from it. His defensive zone play has also shown vast improvement. These are all positive signs and it is simply going to take a bit more time with Kakko. There is no need for concern.

Phil DiGiuseppe continues to show that he can be an effective catalyst for the Rangers. He has proven to be a good forechecker and smart passer. He has good vision in the offensive zone and is diligent in the defensive zone.

The forward who has drawn comparison’s to Jesper Fast makes plays that lead to rushes or shooters going to work. His decision making in the neutral zone is an indication of his high hockey IQ. He’s not a goal scorer, but it’s fairly irrelevant because he does so much else. Fast never scored much for the Rangers either, yet was invaluable because of his play in all three zones. DiGiuseppe is proving to be a similar type of player.

Rangers working hard every game

Though the Rangers did not record a win this week, it was not due to lack of effort or failure to show up to play. They had the better of the play throughout the game against the Islanders on Monday night and held them off the board until late in the third. The Rangers did lose 2-0, but the first goal by Casey Cizikas was more unfortunate than anything else. There was a pileup and considerable mayhem in front of the Rangers’ net that led to Cizikas being able to just barely knock the puck in.

The Rangers scored first against the Bruins on Wednesday with Julien Gauthier recording his first career NHL goal. They then proceeded to allow a goal off a shorthanded breakaway and fell behind when the defense faltered somewhat and Alex Georgiev just barely let Anders Bjork go five-hole.

They still stuck around though and Kevin Rooney tied the game at two to force overtime. The Rangers did dominate for most of the third period after Rooney’s goal but were unable to net another to possibly end it in regulation. A poor pass attempt by Pavel Buchnevich led to another breakaway and the Bruins’ ultimate OT win.

Not all roses as scoring woes a genuine concern

Among the negatives for this week is the fact that the Rangers were shut out twice. The Rangers have talented, hard working players on offense that just seems to be struggling right now. As previously mentioned, they were able to generate chances on odd-man rushes that they really needed to capitalize on.

David Quinn
Bruce Bennett/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

The Rangers get notable flurries and other chances at five-on-five, though this week many of those shots seemed to be getting blocked or the opposing goalie stood on his head.

They need to find ways to get more shots through and on net. When the puck is shot, things happen. Rebounds and offensive zone faceoffs happen. The Rangers set up well in the zone, but more of those shots need to be getting on net, it’s time to keep it simple.

The power play has been a struggle so far this season as well. The Rangers currently rank 27th in the NHL at 11.5%. Their units appear to be slightly too stationary upon setting up. They look like they’re trying to find the perfect play when it may be better to have players crashing net and trying to pot one that isn’t so pretty.

Not scoring on the power play is not an ideal situation for winning games. David Quinn acknowledged their power play woes and said he thought they were “overthinking it.” The Rangers need to simplify a bit and get more movement on their power play.

According to the head coach, Artemi Panarin who was injured midway during the first game against Boston and missed the last game will be available Tuesday against the Devils.

Current status of the team

When everything is broken down, it seems the Rangers have actually played some of their better hockey this week. They were tenacious and hard-working. They gave one of the top teams some competition. The Rangers are a young developing team that is going to hit some obstacles. Playing well and losing all three games, only scoring two goals during the stretch is one of them.

Overall, many components of their game are much improved from last season. Right now, the most immediate concerns are the power play and finding the back of the net more often.

Still when you look at the progress big picture, there’s a lot to like about this Rangers team.

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