New York Rangers can win and fix early issues at same time

The New York Rangers are 3-1-1 after the first five games of the 2022-23 season. A solid record considering some early issues present in their game.

Last season, a concern for the Rangers early on was offense. More specifically, scoring at 5-on-5. However, through the first two weeks of this season, their offense has been their strongest trait.

Issues are beginning to emerge in other areas. The Rangers must tackle these concerns before they worsen and become bad habits. If left unaddressed it will hinder their ability to compete with top teams going forward.

New York Rangers defensive struggles

This week, the Rangers had a high-scoring contest against the Anaheim Ducks on Monday which they won 6-4 and a low scoring one against the San Jose Sharks on Thursday which they lost 3-2.

In both games, the Rangers struggled on defense, but this was much clearer against the Sharks. Overall, they were too often caught out of position and were leaving opposing players wide open. It is not sustainable to rely solely on offense to win games. Tight defense is also required which was made clear on Thursday night. The Rangers put on heavy pressure in the first two periods but were only able to score twice. San Jose was able to reverse that in the third period and eventually overtime to win. Igor Shesterkin was the main reason the Rangers only lost by one goal.

“It’s not an offensive free-for-all, it’s a hockey game,” captain Jacob Trouba said on Thursday. “We’ve got to play defense too.”

Against Anaheim, similar concerns were raised as well as the fact that the Rangers wound up in a track meet. While Shesterkin seemed to have an off night, the defense in front of him was sloppy as well. But they were able to win this game because of their offense.

Momentum shifted between the two teams throughout the game with the exception of most of the second period where the Rangers were undoubtedly dominant. Getting used to constantly shifting momentum and track meet style games becomes dangerous as the season progresses. This kind of play does not work in the playoffs. It is still early, but the Rangers should try to avoid too many track meets throughout the season.

“I thought we got lackadaisical with the two goals in the third period,” Gerard Gallant warned. “That’s frustrating. We have to finish games better than that. We don’t need to give up those goals with careless plays in the neutral zone.”

Special teams need improvement

new york rangers
Oct 17, 2022; New York, New York, USA; New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad (93) celebrates his goal against the Anaheim Ducks during the second period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Of course, scoring at 5-on-5 will not always get the job done alone and you need your special teams to be good.

Power play goals are extremely important and the Rangers have a top notch unit. Through five games, the Rangers are currently at 25% on the power play. Last season, the power play was a strength, and they need that to be the case this season. Struggling on the man advantage was evident against the Sharks. The Rangers had five power plays, including a brief two-man advantage, and did not score on any of them because San Jose has an aggressive PK. The Rangers must also realize they need to adapt to their opponents defensive schema and adjust accordingly.

“We lost the special teams battle,” Chris Kreider explained. “We had to take what [the Sharks] gave us. It was a different look and we didn’t respond.”

The Rangers’ penalty kill has been weaker than it was last season, when they finished at 82.3%. After the first five games, they sit at 76.47%. This is an issue that will hamper them all season if not corrected. Good teams will take advantage when on the power play.

Additionally, taking too many penalties, especially avoidable ones, will only compound the issue if the penalty kill does not improve.

The Rangers have a lot of new faces this season on the PK and they’ll need time to adjust.

Too many turnovers

Turnovers played a big role in the third period on Thursday. While the Sharks were putting on heavy pressure, many of these turnovers were just Ranger mistakes. Specifically, turning over the puck at the blue line, as mentioned by Joe Micheletti during the game, proved costly. This has been the first game up to this point where turnovers have been a significant problem, therefore it would seem to be an anomaly. But the Rangers must now ensure it does not become the norm.

It is early in the season, and the Rangers have plenty of time to make corrections. If they improve each of these aspects of their play, they will most likely be able to contend, possibly surpassing the success they had last season.

Note: All stats come from nhl.com and hockeyreference.com

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