Injuries and absences catching up to slumping New York Rangers
The New York Rangers are 1-3-0 in their last 4 games and in the NHL there’s really no excuses for their recent poor play. However, given the relative fortune of the past several years regarding the team’s health, this season’s hot start has been challenged by more injuries and absences than the Rangers have experienced in quite some time.
And while earlier on, New York managed to play through their missing players rather effectively, that’s starting to wane. In what’s beginning to look like a slump, is probably due at least in part to losing key starters and being forced to rely on backups — and to depend on (probably) not fully healed starting players, as well.
New York Rangers injuries
The list of injured Rangers this fall is not a short one: Adam Fox, Filip Chytil, and Igor Shesterkin all were injured in the same game on November 2nd against the Carolina Hurricanes. Kaapo Kakko was subsequently injured on November 28th in a game against the Buffalo Sabres. Barclay Goodrow missed a game due to an injury suffered from a puck to the jaw in a December 5th game against the Ottawa Senators.
Then there was a game November 9th in which Louis Domingue started in net because Shesterkin was still out and Jonathan Quick couldn’t play due to injury. Additionally, K’Andre Miller missed this past Tuesday night’s game due to personal reasons per the Rangers and was given no timetable yet to return.
“I am just going to leave that alone as what we said yesterday,” coach Peter Laviolette commented on Miller’s absence on Wednesday.
If a teammate misses a game or two (as did Quick, which led to Domingue’s start), it’s expected the team will absorb the loss and not suffer too many consequences. But when injuries to key players relied on to help sustain a high level of play — start to mount and become prolonged, there can be a domino effect due to too much forced dependence on backup players and/or returning players who may not be quite ready yet.
The domino effect for the Blueshirts: Defense
Starting with Adam Fox, who has returned to play but doesn’t look quite like himself yet on the ice: in his absence the Rangers were forced to play their seventh defenseman, Zac Jones, for ten games — as they were forced to do so again with Miller being out on Tuesday. Jones is paired with Braden Schneider in the bottom d-pair when he plays, and the two together are prone to defensive mistakes. Jones has three points on the season, but is playing to an overall +/- of -7 to date.
In his last five games, Fox himself has had four assists; but he’s also played to a -1 twice in that stretch. Was he really ready to return from LTIR when he reentered the lineup? That’s between Fox and the Rangers; but the former Norris winner has certainly looked a bit rusty of late.
“Any time you take some time off, you’re stepping onto a moving train,” Laviolette remarked about Fox. “I do see him getting better and more confident. I noticed him more and more making plays (against the Maple Leafs). The more time he gets, he’ll become more comfortable. The more he plays, the better he’ll feel.”
The domino effect for the Blueshirts: Offense
The absence of Filip Chytil (LTIR), who is still skating on his own, has had many impacts. Though prior to his injury he was centering the second line with Artemi Panarin and Alexis Lafreniere, the Czech forward could easily slot into several spots on the New York roster. With Chytil’s injury, however, Vincent Trocheck has moved up to second line center and has played very well in that position; but what that has done to the third line is move Nick Bonino to center and made it more of a checking unit.
Prior to Kaapo Kakko’s injury (LTIR), who has yet to begin skating, he was on that third line in favor of Blake Wheeler moving up. Now the Rangers are relying on Hartford Wolf Pack captain Jonny Brodzinski to generate offense on that line.
The impact of not having arguably two potential top-six forwards is a growing issue. At this time, the Rangers third line consists of a rookie (Will Cuylle) a player in the 15th year of his career (Bonino), and a career AHL player (Brodzinski). It’s not an ideal situation.
Bonino has four points on the season and his greatest strength has been his blocking shots at the net. He’s playing to a tune of a +/- of -3. Overall, seemingly an offensive downgrade from a line of Cuylle-Chytil-Kakko, which is how we can assume it will look when both Chytil and Kakko are healthy.
The domino effect for the Blueshirts: Goaltending
Igor Shesterkin has been back in the lineup for several weeks now, with Jonathan Quick more than ably covering the Blueshirts’ goalie needs while the primary net minder was out injured. But, a little bit like Fox, Igor has not quite looked like Igor. In Shesterkin’s case, however, it’s more concerning because firstly, he’s been back longer than Fox, and secondly, he gets the majority of starts in goal for the team.
It’s difficult to know if Shesterkin is playing still somewhat hurt, or if there’s something else just a tick off in his game. At the very least, the entire team is playing rather badly in front of the Vezina winning goaltender in recent games, and he just hasn’t been able to be the superhero savior he’s been in the past.
Though some have been calling for Quick to get some extra starts right now till Shesterkin is “right,” it’s hard to know what that would look like. Can Shesterkin possibly be expected to stand on his head every game of every season?
At the very least, the domino effects of a weaker defense and offense are catching up with the Blueshirts, and that’s now having a domino effect on their erstwhile superhero goaltender, as well. The best hope is that Fox returns to full form, Miller makes his way back soon, Chytil starts being able to tolerate contact play, and Kakko doesn’t take as long to heal up as some projections have it. All those improvements would probably be the best cure for whatever ails Shesterkin lately.