New York Rangers still trying to find consistency in their game

The New York Rangers arguably played their best game of the season last week against the Columbus Blue Jackets. They were able to shut them out 4-0, getting contributions from up and down the lineup.

That was followed by two okay performances. One a 3-1 win against the Seattle Kraken and a 3-2 OT loss versus the Vancouver Canucks. For the Rangers to have season long success, they must find a way to deliver performances like they did against the Jackets.

Rangers stars must be their best players

As the hockey cliché goes, “your best players have to be your best players.”

So far, the Rangers’ best players haven’t been on a nightly basis. Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin are producing, but on many nights struggle to hit the score sheet 5 on 5. Three of Mika’s eight points and six of Artemi’s ten come on the man advantage.

Between them they have 4 total goals on the season, and both are seemingly having trouble getting shots through. Chris Kreider has been the most effective in this situation, scoring five of his seven goals on the power play.

Zibanejad and Panarin have to step up. The Rangers need more from their stars. Kreider is playing well now, but he has always been a streaky scorer. If he disappears suddenly, the Rangers will instantly struggle offensively more than they already are.

They need to be able to depend on their stars, who were both able to score power play goals against the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night. However, they need to be more consistent, especially at even strength.

Adam Fox, Igor Shesterkin impressing early

IGOR SHESTERKIN
Oct 18, 2021; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin (31) defends the goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs during overtime at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Adam Fox and Igor Shesterkin, on the other hand, have been incredible early this season.

On Monday, Fox signed a seven year contract to stay with the Rangers. That demonstrates just how much the Rangers value him. Along with being smart and solid in the defensive zone, he also has tremendous offensive upside. The Norris Trophy winner has been playing his typical game this year and is bidding for another run as best defenseman.

A big story line surrounding goaltending is Shesterkin succeeding Henrik Lundqvist. So far, he has been highly impressive. Last season, it was clear he needed some time to adjust. He had too many nights where he gave up goals he shouldn’t have.

This season, he’s been incredible to watch and is posting Vezina like numbers. He’s keeping the Rangers in games when they can’t get out of their end. The problem is the team seems to rely to heavily on him every game. The Rangers need to be collectively better in the defensive zone and generate some more offense.

Rangers struggling to generate offense

A main story line through the off season was adding more grit to the lineup. Management has successfully completed that task, but they’ve yet to get balanced scoring. Adding Ryan Reaves, Sammy Blais, and Barclay Goodrow resulted in more physicality and gritty play but hiring Gerard Gallant seems to have unlocked those elements in other players who were already here. This is helpful, but offense is struggling at the moment.

Physicality helps send a message to opponents and should help cause turnovers. But this doesn’t matter so much when it doesn’t result in scoring or at least scoring opportunities. Offense doesn’t have to be pretty.

Through the last few games against Columbus, Seattle, and Vancouver, it has become evident that Zibanejad and Panarin are getting closer to peak performance. Kreider has been scoring on a consistent basis. But the Rangers can’t rely on three forwards to generate all the scoring. They need more from their younger players. Kaapo Kakko, Alexis Lafrenière, and Filip Chytil need to step up.

Lafrenière has looked more comfortable in the league this season and may be finding chemistry on a line with Chytil and Blais. He has three goals on the season, and hopefully line will click like it did in Nashville more often than not.

Kakko experienced a bit of a setback spending time on the injured reserve. He has yet to pick up a point this season. He was drafted second overall in 2019 and he needs to start showing why that was the case. Offense has to be the main element of his game. The Rangers need him to be a goal scorer.

Chytil made strides last season and therefore should be playing better than he is. There have been moments this season where he’s shown flashes of skill. But there really hasn’t been any kind of consistent impressive play.

Different elements of the Rangers’ game have to come together

The rebuild is over. The Rangers have all of the pieces in their lineup they need to make the playoffs. But playing as a disjointed team isn’t going to help them.

They have to get comfortable with Gallant’s style of play. Grit and offense must come together, they need to play defense, and they can’t rely on Shesterkin every game. We are seeing the framework of what the Rangers can be. Now they need to put all of the elements together and play a complete game on a nightly basis.

Note: All stats come from hockeyreference.com.

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