Upcoming Rangers schedule gives them chance to dive towards NHL basement

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The New York Rangers got shutout by a little-known Philadelphia Flyers goalie who hasn’t shut out a team in over two years. They were unable to push the puck into the net once, even hitting a couple of posts. But what makes the loss even more significant is that it was the Flyers, who currently sit a point behind the Rangers. One point is all it takes to drop.

The Edmonton Oilers sit a few points back. A win for them and a Rangers loss puts the Rangers in 25th place in the league. Last night, the Rangers played the #27 ranked New Jersey Devils. And the Devils? Well they’re tied with the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks near the bottom. Going into that matchup was the start of period during which the Rangers can either gain separation or coast towards the bottom.

The Rangers will never “tank”. Tanking simply isn’t in the vocabulary. But it is undeniable that a golden opportunity to coast towards the bottom is showing it’s face. The Rangers played the Devils and now soon the Los Angeles Kings, separated by a Saturday date with the league-best Tampa Bay Lightning. Golden opportunities. Three losses not only push the Rangers towards the bottom, and closer to Jack Hughes, but they also push teams like New Jersey and L.A. one step closer to surpassing them.

But the Rangers did win a hard-fought game last night against New Jersey that saw Mika Zibanejad score his first hat trick as Ranger, and that is something to be admired. After the Rangers host the Kings, they will have to face four playoff teams in their next six games.

But the key to nonchalantly finding their way to the bottom isn’t by the way they play, but rather the teams around them. One team to watch is the Florida Panthers. The Panthers are playing eight playoff teams in their next nine games and are a major threat to the Rangers’ dive. Should the Panthers play well against these teams, they would potentially hop the Rangers. Another schedule that may be advantageous to the Rangers is that of the Kings. The Kings have an easy schedule next week, playing the Rangers, Devils, and Flyers – although the Flyers are getting hot. The Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators will face off on Saturday in a game that could be critical for the Rangers’ lottery hopes.

This is all useful information, but it doesn’t quite tell the story of why the Rangers should aim south. The Rangers are not a threat to anyone. They have to lowest ROW in the league, exhibiting their inability to win games without extra time. They also have the 26th ranked penalty kill while being the fourth-most penalized team in the league. They have drawn the fourth least penalties, showing an inability to give their 14th ranked powerplay a chance to score on the man advantage. The Rangers also have the 30th ranked faceoff win percentage. I wonder what would fix that, perhaps an elite draft pick like Jack Hughes who just so happens to be a center. The Rangers are also 27th in shots against per game and have allowed more goals against than over two-thirds of the league.

The statistics tell more of the story but still the not the whole thing. The word “elite” may have many different meanings depending on the type of player. But the truly elite players, who can take over the ice at any moment, those are the ones to never sell short. Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Alex Ovechkin, these are the players that create winning teams – unless your GM is Peter Chiarelli. And another one is coming along by the name of Jack Hughes. The Rangers are not approaching this rebuild expecting to finish in last place the next three years. This is supposed to be a swift and aggressive retool of the prospect pool, not like the Buffalo Sabres’ 10-year approach. This season is most likely the best chance for the Rangers to finish with a lottery draft pick and that is an opportunity that must be seized.

But how can one player really fix all of their issues? It may seem difficult to make that assumption, but really it is not. An elite generational player, when playing alongside a decent enough core – i.e. the Rangers – can affect every single facet of the team’s play. Let’s look at how an elite centerman can help the Rangers.

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Poor Penalty Kill

The Rangers defense has been poor and they often find themselves chasing on the penalty kill. They allow shooting lanes to open up too often and are simply not quick enough on the puck. There have been several instances throughout this season where the Rangers showed zero ability to clear the puck. This is where an elite player, like Hughes, could help. It is all about speed, grit, and getting to loose pucks. A player with immense speed and agility is exactly the kind of person the Rangers need to get in the way of sticks and disrupt the offense.

Poor Penalty Drawing Ability

Drawing penalties can be tricky. The key to doing so is keeping the feet moving so as to better the chances of stick-related penalties. A good example of this kind of play is that of Jesper Fast. Fast is one of the better penalty drawing players on the Rangers due to his constant foot movement and 200-foot game. The Rangers have proven that they can actually have a fairly efficient powerplay, which means they need to start getting more opportunities to capitalize on it. Elite players are usually very good at keeping their feet moving and getting opponent’s sticks caught to draw penalties.

Bad Faceoff Win Percentage

This is one of the most important aspects of winning. By winning faceoffs, a team can then take control of the puck and set up in the offensive zone. Teams who are not efficient in the dots often find themselves chasing for retrieval, often leading to tiring shifts and opportunities for the opponents. An exception this season would be the Washington Capitals, who are in a playoff position, yet have the worst faceoff win percentage in the league. This is where elite centerman, the Crosbys, and McDavids of the league, tend to flourish. Hence the reason the Rangers should be looking towards drafting one high.

When it comes down to the Xs and Os, the Rangers simply don’t have it. Yes, they won last night in what turned out to be a good all-around effort after falling behind early, but they are not at a point where they should hope for the playoffs. The rebuild is about the future and expediting their chances to win the Stanley Cup, and a team can’t do that without an uber-elite player. The way the schedule is shaping up over the next couple weeks shows that the Rangers may have a chance to get closer to a lottery pick and that is something that cannot be undervalued.