Rangers bounce back from losses overshadowed defensive issues

NHL: New York Rangers at Montreal Canadiens
Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

While the overall NHL standings may show that the 2023-24 New York Rangers are amongst the league’s best, that has most certainly not been the case as of late. More specifically, the Blueshirts are a mediocre 8-7-1 in their last 16, leaving crucial points behind along the way. After losing consecutive games for just the second time this season (Montreal and Vancouver), the light is now shining brightly on some glaring issues that are plaguing the team.

Throughout this campaign, New York followed tough losses with structured wins. However, over this recent stretch, there’s been more defeats to have come up with a response. In these last 16 games, the Rangers have lost their defensive structure, which was a likely taken granted after a 16-2-1 run from late October to early December. This has been highlighted by losses to the Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Carolina Hurricanes, and Vancouver Canucks where they’ve given up 6 goals or more.

Each of the instances just listed all resulted in regulation losses for the Rangers, so clearly it’s time to tighten things up.

“The chances we let up were just too loud,” said Peter Laviolette after a 6-3 loss to the Canucks. “You can’t win giving up 5 goals, so that has to get taken care of.”

Read More: Will Cuylle may get a chance in the top-six

Rangers issues need to be fixed

NHL: New York Rangers at Tampa Bay Lightning
Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

Goaltending

The issues are not all on the defense, as the goaltending has slipped as well. Whether it’s the high number of quality chances against, or the law of averages, Jonathan Quick has cooled off after suffering 2 losses in regulation and one in overtime in some tough showings. Igor Shesterkin, who has had some elite showings from time-to-time, is clearly slumping, and it appears that he is easily rattled when giving up goals early.

While many goals against are certainly due to defensive struggles, it is hard to win when your starter isn’t making some big stops against some of the league’s best teams to steal you a game. Similar to last season, the Rangers would heavily benefit from a mentally strong Shesterkin down the stretch. One of the last thing this team needs is goaltending concerns as we inch closer to April.

Not Sticking to the System

The Rangers boasted one of the best starts in the league this year due to buy-in from the team into Peter Laviolette’s new structure and system. They were consistently winning big games by patiently waiting for good defense to turn into offense in order to win games. These days, it appears that complacency has gotten the best of them, as they regularly try fancy outlets and zone-entries that often lead to costly turnovers rather than offensive chances.

Laviolette has frequently harped on the idea that the Rangers need to play sound defensively in order to create fruitful offensive chances, a thought that has been repeated throughout the year amongst all of the players as well. If the team plays a more patient game, using their stacked D-core to their advantage, the wins will no doubt follow.

Finally feeling the injuries

It is common sense to the passionate hockey fan that teams need rock-solid play and production from their depth players to make a significant impact in the playoffs.

Unfortunately for the Rangers, injuries have allowed for stale production from their bottom-six, apart from Jimmy Vesey and 21-year-old rookie Will Cuylle. While Nick Bonino has been a superb penalty killer and shot blocker, one goal from your third-line center simply will not cut it in big games. This also goes for Barclay Goodrow, who is having a snake-bitten season only touting single digits in points while making over $3 million a season.

Rangers general manager Chris Drury is going to have a busy next couple of months looking for the right moves to improve the team’s depth in the absence of Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko. While not everyone can be a scorer, offensive production from your depth is key heading down the stretch. Games will come in which Rangers’ opponents successfully shutdown Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, and the rest of the top-six, and in those moments, it is the depth that needs to shine to win hockey games.