New York Rangers early season struggles now a cause for concern

The New York Rangers are normally a hard-working team that displays a no-quit effort most of the time. Tuesday night’s 3-2 loss against Buffalo showed a different side of the Blueshirts fans hopes to never see again.

The final score masked a tough reality in Rangerstown. This Rangers team needs to find its identity, its strength, and its heart if they have any intentions of finding ways to get back to winning hockey games.

Prior to the Buffalo game on Tuesday night, the team had played good enough to win their last three games. These past four games were all one-goal losses that were decided not because of effort, but because of a small period of time in the game where mistakes were made.

Yet there are some things over the past four games that have been getting increasingly concerning for this team, which was magnified with dire consequences, especially on Tuesday night. The centers on this team have been horrendous on face-offs in Buffalo.

Rangers face-off numbers are awful

new york rangers
Strome scores first of the year (Photo by Justin K. Aller/NHLI via Getty Images)

There is no way to sugar coat the following numbers.

  • Ryan Strome was 4-15, 27%
  • Kevin Rooney was the best last night, 2-4, 50%.
  • Brett Howden has another bad night going 5-13, 38%.
  • Mika Zibanejad had the worse percentage between the dots – 6-21, 29%.

To add to Zibanejad’s misery, he only won one face-off in the defensive zone (1-7, 14 %).

Puck possession is huge in the NHL. Games like yesterday, where the Blueshirts were dominated (Buffalo won a whopping 70% of their face-offs) at the dots in all three zones, the team was unable to generate any momentum.

“We were abysmal on faceoffs tonight,” David Quinn said. “It’s incredible how bad we were on draws. It was a huge issue tonight. I think we were at 30 percent, and it felt like we were at 10 percent. To me, it was a microcosm of what had crept into our game tonight. A faceoff is a battle, not only with the centers but with the flanks and the wingers. And too often we weren’t ready to compete in these battles.”

Quinn deserves some criticism too

David Quinn is also responsible for the team’s 1-4-1 start. The third-year coach has a knack for changing lines in a blink of an eye.

Chemistry is so important to a successful line combination, though these players are professional, team chemistry leads to a certain comfort level that is needed to be productive.

Tuesday night’s lines were thrown a pipe wrench with the loss of Filip Chytil. Quinn has the Kreider-Zibanejad- Buchnevich line back again, followed by Panarin-Strome-Di Giuseppe, Lafreniere-Howden-Kakko, and Lemieux-Rooney-Blackwell.

david quinn artemi panarin
Quinn upset Panarin did not win Hart (NYR)

Aside from the KZB line, the combinations seemed a little odd. It’s understandable that the coach is trying to get the team going offensively, but Di Giuseppe over Lafreniere or Kakko to play with Panarin and Strome is a little mind-boggling. It shows the desperation the coaching staff feels to get goals on the scoreboard.

Quinn also has certain players looking over their shoulders. They have to be careful not to make a mistake and have to make sure not to take bad or undisciplined penalties. The end result of these circumstances results in not playing the next game.

Examples of this year’s “DH” players are Tony DeAngelo, Julian Gauthier, Brendan Lemieux, Jack Johnson, and Brendan Smith. The “DH” abbreviation is of course for the ‘Dog House” a place some players can never seem to get out of for a long period of time.

Weak Goaltending at times

Let’s face it, fans were spoiled the last 15 years with Henrik Lundqvist. The man found ways to steal a game the team should have never won.

Alexandar Georgiev and Igor Shesterkin have struggled this season at times. Shesterkin has not looked nearly as good as he did last year. It may be due to the long layoff which has definitely affected his timing.

One thing is certain, neither has made that “big save” at a key moment of a game that gives the team the fire to skate down the ice and score a big goal.

They will come around, the numbers dictate that throughout their professional careers, but when will this happen is the question. Some goal scoring would help too.

Need more from your top players

The senior players on this club are failing the team. Zibanejad, Panarin, Strome, Trouba, Johnson are all not living up to their potential right now. Too many times over the early part of this season the names heard on the ice and written about most are Miller, Fox, Lindgren, De Giuseppe, and Chytil.

The big boys need to start playing like the stars they are.

This is a team effort, the season is only six games old. This pandemic shorten season leaves little soon for errors and even less room to make a hard rush to the playoffs at the end of the year.

Consistency will win hockey games and determine who will advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in May.

If the Rangers intend to be one of the 16 teams, they need to stand up, dust themselves off and figure out a way to get from the basement of their division to the top four spots with 50 games remaining.

Mike Sorrentino of the Jersey Shore has a fitting statement that resonates during this tough time, “The comeback is greater than the setback.”*

David Quinn and his Blueshirts need to read that and understand this season is far from over.

*Editor’s Note: Forever Blueshirts does not condone quotes from the show Jersey Shore. However, it may emphasize how big the struggle is for the Rangers right now.

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