It was a bad weekend for the New York Rangers. The team had an opportunity to add four more points to the win column in back-to-back games and they came away with zero.
The Rangers dropped the first in Toronto before heading back to Madison Square Garden Sunday night to face the Edmonton Oilers. Rangers were looking to bounce back on home ice, but their flat, low-energy play made it easy for the Oilers to win their second road game of the season.
The Blueshirts had no jump in their step, could not sustain pressure in the offensive zone and weren’t able to get shots off. The Oilers held the Rangers to eight shots in the first, six shots in the second, and prevented the team from getting one shot on net for the first 10 minutes and 55 seconds of the third period. All of this and a lethal Oilers combination of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Benoit Pouliot, which connected for two goals, led to another Rangers loss.
Derek Stepan made his MSG debut, and when speaking about his efforts after the game he mentioned inconsistency. While he was referencing himself as an individual, the theme applies to the whole team. The Rangers have been inconsistent lately. They have not won a game in regulation since Oct 27, which is the last full game Ryan McDonagh played before sustaining a separated shoulder Nov. 1. The Blueshirts have gone 1-2-2 in their past five games, only grabbing two points in the overtime win versus Detroit.
What makes matters worse is the fact that the Rangers had the lead in three of those games, but allowed the other team to come back and force extra time. Overall, the Blueshirts have not been able to play a full 60 minutes and the proof is on the score sheet.
Is McDonagh’s absence the reason the team is faltering? There is no question that McDonagh is one of the Rangers best players and the team’s top defenseman. He plays big minutes against the league’s best and he does his job very well. He also plays an important role on the Rangers special teams; recording a lot of ice time on the penalty kill and playing the point on the power play.
Yes, he is a defender and it may not make sense to why he being sidelined would affect the Rangers offense, but it throws off the team’s balance. With McDonagh and Dan Boyle out, and Anton Stralman leaving for the Tampa Bay Lightning at the end of last season, the Rangers have a weak backend. The team has been looking to veterans Dan Girardi and Marc Staal, as well as Kevin Klein, to pick up the slack. This means playing more minutes. Girardi and Staal have been playing near or more than 30 minutes in the past few games.
While it is understandable why the Rangers would shorten their bench to include only four defensemen in tight games, the team has to realize that this may have an effect on how well the team does offensively. Playing those types of minutes, especially in back-to-back scenarios, tires these players out. When that happens, they are more likely to make mistakes and have a tougher time joining the rush. The Rangers only have two goals from defensemen this season, and both goals actually come from one defenseman—Klein. This is a reason why their offense is suffering. It isn’t the only reason, but the lack of production from the backend and the extra minutes played by top players have affected the Rangers game as a whole. Don’t buy it? The Rangers are 1-2-2 since losing McDonagh.
The Rangers have had moments, and they have played well against some of their opponents in these past few games. Alain Vigneault mentioned that he believed his team had one of its best games against the Jets, but playing well doesn’t always translate into wins. Playing well doesn’t mean playing hard enough to get the job done. That has been the case for the Rangers.
Teams always experience bad stretches and that is what the Rangers find themselves in now. It isn’t a terrible stretch; they are still getting points but only have one win in the past five games and that took more than 60 minutes to accomplish.
Losing McDonagh has left a void in the Rangers defense, which has ultimately affected the team’s offensive abilities. But Vigneault understands that every team in this league has faced adversity when it comes to missing top players due to injuries. What matters is how a team responds. Right now the Rangers aren’t responding well and it isn’t for lack of trying. They just cannot find a groove that works.
After Sunday night’s game a frustrated Henrik Lundqvist stated, “We need to raise our level.”
Simply said, but will that concept be easily executed? The Rangers will have to raise their sense of urgency, performance level, and complete level if they want to win some games. Overall, players will have to heed the advice of their goaltender by finding ways to raise their game without a few key pieces.