NY Rangers need third pairing to be better

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at New York Rangers
Brad Penner-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

After giving up a two-goal lead and losing in overtime to the league-worst San Jose Sharks, the New York Rangers were sent home, earning three out of a possible eight points on their western road trip.

It was another instance in which the team gave up two goals in less than five minutes of play. This bad habit the Rangers seem to possess is becoming a large concern as they head toward the trade deadline and eventually the playoffs.

What sparked the comeback for the Sharks was a costly defensive mistake by Erik Gustafsson. He threw the puck behind his own goal right to a member of the Sharks, who would cash in on the empty net. This miscue between Gustafsson and his defensive partner Braden Schneider has become another trend in this recent stretch of poor play for New York.

“We made mistakes in the third period, and it cost us,” Peter Laviolette mentioned. “I think we made a couple of mistakes, and they scored on them. (Gustafsson) made a good play, it’s got to be executed. Gustafsson is a good player, somebody we count on. It was just a tough bounce for him.”

Related: Rangers could benefit from a trade with Senators

NY Rangers need more from Gustafsson and Schneider

NHL: New York Rangers at Dallas Stars
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The question now is how can this be fixed? The issues on defense and the third defensive pairing stretch beyond a “tough bounce” here and there. Do the Rangers shake up the defensive pairings, or do they make a trade for a shut-down defenseman on the bottom pair?

It is worth noting that Gustafsson has done his part in terms of offensive production. That is his game. However, the defensive aspect of his game and the third pair as a whole has cost the Rangers from time to time. Despite his offensive upside, there is a reason why Gustafsson has not stuck around with one team for quite some time.

As mentioned in our Rangers Recall: Of the three pairings, Gustafsson and Schneider have given up the most goals per 60 minutes of play.

Given that they are the third pair, they should not be allowing this many goals when they are up against some of the lesser threats in the league. It is becoming one of the many areas that needs to be addressed going forward.

With the top two pairings of Lindgren-Fox and Miller-Trouba having played together for so long, it makes sense that Laviolette might have a hard time splitting them up. K’Andre Miller and Jacob Trouba have not had the best season together and the numbers support that, but is it worth breaking up a pair that has historically played well together.

Perhaps Laviolette will elect to split them up. The new parings (Gustafsson-Trouba and Miller-Schneider) don’t sound like the solution to the Rangers’ problems. If Laviolette keeps the pairs as they are, how long is he willing to put up with one costly defensive breakdown after another?

Unless General Manager Chris Drury decides to make a move, the Rangers are not getting any help. Zac Jones remains as the seventh defenseman and has been average at best with Braden Schneider on the third pairing. It is possible that Drury can part ways with Gustafsson or Jones in exchange for a defensive left defenseman at the trade deadline who will bolster that third pairing.

He may also elect to move a more significant piece in order to get one in return. A name like Jakob Chychrun may be on Drury’s radar as the deadline approaches. Either way, these defensive breakdowns that seem to happen in bunches are not a sustainable way of trying to win hockey games.

If the Rangers want to get back to their winning ways and widen the gap between them and the rest of the Metropolitan Division, the issues need to be addressed. Whether that is in the form of coaching adjustments, lineup changes, or trades, New York cannot put up with these defensive issues for much longer.

Dane Walsh is a life-long fan of the New York Rangers. Growing up in the tri-state area, Dane has... More about Dane Walsh

Mentioned in this article:

More About: