Rangers need more playoff production from defensemen vs. Panthers

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Florida Panthers
Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

After two lackluster games in Florida that resulted in a split for the New York Rangers primarily thanks to the otherworldly play of Igor Shesterkin in their Eastern Conference Final matchup with the Florida Panthers, there’s plenty of finger pointing to go around on who needs to be better as the series shifts back to New York for a pivotal Game 5 on Thursday.

While much of the focus is on the lack of production from top forwards Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider and Artemi Panarin — who have combined for three assists in the series, all from No. 10 — an area of concern also lies on the offensive output from the defensemen. 

Simply, there hasn’t been enough there offensively from the Rangers defense corps, which has been intact for all 14 postseason games to date.

New York has just two goals from defensemen in these playoffs and none at either even strength nor on the power play. K’Andre Miller’s shorthanded goal in Game 2 of the first round against the Washington Capitals feels like a lifetime ago, and Jacob Trouba had a shortie of his own in a loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 5 of the second round.

While the defensemen aren’t expected to carry the load offensively, that unit did combine for 42 goals in the regular season, led by Adam Fox, who had an NHL career-high 17. 

That lack of production — coupled with the aforementioned disappearances of Zibanejad, Kreider and Panarin — have certainly contributed to the Rangers’ struggles for goals outside of their five-goal outburst in a Game 3 road win in South Florida.

The Rangers have scored two goals or fewer in three of the four games this series. Unsurprisingly, they’ve lost two of them.

Related: Inspiring return for Blake Wheeler ends on sour note in Game 4 loss

Rangers defensemen getting ‘worn down defending’ against Panthers

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Florida Panthers
Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no question Fox isn’t himself, likely resulting from the knee-on-knee hit he sustained in Game 4 against the Capitals. At times he’s looked like he’s struggling just to skate, let alone be the dynamic player he so often is.

But then he makes a play like the one he made on Alexis Lafreniere’s game-tying tally in Game 4 — a spinning backhand pass right to the tape — and you see even a limited Fox is a major asset for the Rangers.

Tellingly, New York has just 22 shots on goal from their blueliners against Sergei Bobrovsky through four games (three of which went to overtime), and it’s evident in the lack of rebound chances and goals for the Blueshirts in the series.

Of course offense starts in the defensive zone, and the Rangers have been in their own end entirely too much thus far in the series, and especially during the two road games.

The Rangers were outshot 77-46 and the attempts were even more lopsided over Games 3 and 4. According to hockey-reference.com, the Panthers had 61.3 percent offensive zone start percentage in Game 3, and that number somehow increased to 69.8 percent in Game 4.

While not a perfect stat, the Rangers’ as a team finished with a 29.9 CF% at 5v5 in Game 4.

Simply put, it’s difficult for anyone to generate offense from the defensive zone and when you don’t have the puck.

“A bit too much defending,” Fox explained after Game 4. “They come at you hard. But I still think we defended hard, and had some looks, some chances.

“Once a team gets that cycle game going, you get more worn down defending.”

It hasn’t been all doom and gloom, though. The Rangers defense has chipped in nicely in big moments thus far in the series.

Ryan Lindgren’s point shot in overtime on Sunday was redirected by Alex Wennberg for the game-winner, as was Braden Schneider’s wrister by Barclay Goodrow earlier in the game that gave New York a 2-1 lead in the first period. Trouba had a pair of helpers in Game 3, including starting the play on Goodrow’s overtime-winner in Game 2.

Fox, despite the injury, had his highlight reel assist Tuesday and three assists in the past three games. 

The Rangers must establish their offensive game Thursday in Game 5 to take back control of the series, which is tied 2-2. The big guns must show up, but goals from the blueline would go a long way in getting New York back on track.

Matt Calamia spent six seasons as a digital content producer and writer for the New York Rangers. Prior to... More about Matt Calamia

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