The New York Rangers have tallied points in six of their last seven games, so it may seem ludicrous to state that they are still looking for the winning formula, but it’s the truth.
They haven’t looked like the Rangers in awhile, mostly because the parts of their game they usually excel at have become major weaknesses. Those weaknesses are their defense and their penalty kill, which is now 26th in the league. That is pure madness.
A perfect example of their struggles is Wednesday night’s game against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. The New York Rangers started out slow—what else is new—but were able to rally back and eventually take a one-goal lead.
Things were looking up, until everything fell apart.
The Rangers found themselves in the penalty box and that was all the Blackhawks needed to pounce. Two power-play goals later, in the latter part of the third period, and the Chicago Blackhawks were skating out of MSG having bested the Rangers.
A couple of mistakes in the matter of minutes and the Rangers were sulking in the locker room trying to decipher and explain what just happened.
Derek Stepan didn’t have an answer.
“We put ourselves in the position to win a hockey game and couldn’t come up with it,” Stepan stated.
When asked what exactly is going on with the PK, he said he wasn’t sure but he is confident that the problem can be fixed. I believe that. But questions remain: will it actually be fixed, when will that happen and what has to be done in order to ensure their defense is no longer their downfall?
Those are a lot of questions to figure out and not a lot of time to do so. I have to say the Ranges are lucky that the Metropolitan Division isn’t the strongest. This gives them some leeway and some time to get their affairs in order before the playoffs roll around.
These are not the only worrisome parts of the Rangers game. If you talk to any fan or listen to the chatter in the press box, you will hear that the Rangers lack a true scorer. This has been a problem for the Rangers for many years and it seems no matter who they acquire to fill that spot, it remains vacant.
Rick Nash was supposed to be their guy and while he has put together some decent seasons, he has never led the Rangers in the way that others expected. Aside from a bona fide scorer the Rangers also lack size. They need players who are not afraid to throw around the body, who don’t shy away from physicality but embrace it. They need players that are more than willing to sacrifice their bodies to block shots, lay down big hits and fatigue their opponents. Hockey is a physical sport and to succeed at it teams have to play hard and fast for 60 minutes for every game.
But while the Rangers search for consistency and for the answers to their defensive woes there are bright spots to mention.
Those bright sports are Derick Brassard and J.T. Miller. Brassard has been really impressive in his entire time with the New York Rangers, but this season he has come into his own. He has established himself as a leader, as a point scorer and as a playmaker.
Brassard is learning how to control the tone of the game and is finding the back of the net more than any other Ranger. He is the only player, aside from Henrik Lundqvist, who could be defined as consistent.
Brassard continues to ignite the Rangers’ offense, but as we all have come to learn it takes more than one consistent player to put together a winning hockey team. Miller has helped of late. He has had a hot-hand and has played with more confidence, as was noticed by his teammates Brassard and Lundqvist (particularly in the team’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday night).
Miller is becoming more comfortable with the puck and is coming into his own. This is a good sign for the Rangers and their future, but it isn’t a solution to their problems.
The Rangers have to find a way to play consistently and for the whole 60 minutes. Their defense has to regain its form and players across all lines have to find ways to contribute.
Right now, something is missing from the Rangers game. It is hard to put a finger on exactly what that something is, but they just don’t seem to be as strong as they were at the beginning of the season.
Trades and line shakeups may be the answers to their woes. Maybe they just need to regroup, refocus and once again find their game. The only thing that is a certainty is the Rangers cannot continue to let their weaknesses get the best of them.