Andrew Copp

A Hellish Performance

So on first blush, a seemingly good trade deadline by Chris Drury might look pretty underwhelming.  I mean, what the hell was that last night???  The Rangers put in one of their season’s worst performances, rivalling the two losses to Calgary, the one-sided blow-out by Colorado in Adam Huska‘s NHL debut, and that 6-2 loss in St Louis less than two weeks ago.

They couldn’t stop the Devils in the second period, other than a technical off-side that prevented the Devils from making it 5-2…before Sharangovich ultimately did that late in the period.

Shesterkin looked human, Fox and Trouba made unforced errors in the offensive zone that lead to goals at the other end and to top it all off Chris Kreider elected to make one more pass on a short handed 2 on 1 instead of shooting it, which ended up with an odd-man rush down the other end and another goal for the Devils.

Not one of the four newcomers looked hard to play against, although Andrew Copp did pick up two assists in his Rangers debut.

The Rangers who had the better finishing in the first, forgot how to play within themselves in the second and paid the price.  The goals came in quick succession, as the team failed to reset.  Perhaps a timeout might have helped, or a change of goaltender, but if you consider that the goal challenge was effectively a long time-out, and that Georgiev gave up two goal in the third, then it’s not clear that either would have produced a different outcome.

No, the Rangers problems ran deeper than that.  In fact, you could arguably point to the last stretch of 8 games as being a period in which the Rangers have struggled to play anywhere near a complete game.  The closest perhaps would have been the games against the Islanders (a 2-1 loss) and the ensuing 2-1 win over the Lightning in Tampa.  In those two games, the Rangers largely played a solid team game, that didn’t allow their opponents to get much of an advantage offensively.  At home, the bounce went the Isles way, and in Tampa it went the Rangers’ courtesy of a late power play and a last second conversion.

But overall the Rangers in this stretch, have failed to put together a game in which they are good offensive AND defensively.  For the post part, the defense and goaltending has been the main issue, but it stems from poor puck control, and then the effectivenees they’ve had reacting to turnovers.

There’s also been a few uncharacteristic goals, particularly for Igor Shesterkin, who has lulled us into a false sense of security.  Add in concerns over the weaker play of Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren, and you have the underpinnings of at least the symptoms.  The normally reliable last lines of defense are showing some cracks.

One of the reasons at least for these three, is that they are all having career years in terms of minutes played.  Shesterkin is now up to 2414 minutes, with 18 games remaining, surpassing his previous career high of 2191 set in 2016-17 when he was playing for St Petersburg in the KHL.  Going back to 2013-14, this is only the third year in which he’s passed 2000 minutes in a season.

Fox is up to 1471 minutes, over 100 more than either of his previous two seasons, including his rookie season two years ago, where he averaged a little over five minutes a night fewer minutes.  He is about 40 seconds a night lower than last year, but has already appeared in six more games. It’s also much more common to see Fox display negative body language on the ice this season, with more deseprate plays, or heads thrown back in obvious frustration when things haven’t worked out.  The confident defender who won the Norris Trophy last season, looks aa little frayed.

Ryan Lindgren is a full 200 minutes higher than his previous career high, though his 20 minutes of ice time a night is similar to what he played last season.  Lindgren had particularly tough games against Minnesota and St Louis, where he took a couple of careless penalties that were more from being in poor position, than from over use of force or attempting a defensive play.

Perhaps more concerning is that the Rangers have often not been good with the puck.  In the last two games, they turned the puck over too easily in all three zones.  Instead of making the smart play to get the puck out of their own zone, they’ve tried to make a play.  Instead of trying to et the puck deep in the offensive zone and retrieve it, they’ve tried to force a shot or a pass.  And in the neutral and offensive zone, they’ve tried to go for the low percentage passes on many occasions, instead of going for the safer plays, or simply putting the puck on the net.

Defensemen have been caught up ice, and the forwards haven’t always come back quick enough to defend the slot, instead hoping for a pass out of the zone to go back on the offense.  The Rangers have looked much better when their five man unit comes back aggressively to help their defenders AND when they force their opponents in the neutral zone.

The trade deadline can be a stressful time for players, who have plenty of uncertatinty surrounding them about how their lives might be affected, and perhaps that also contributed.  Perhaps it was a case of the new guys simply not having enough time yet with their new team, or even the excitement and desire to impress with every shift.

Or maybe the Rangers need a timeout in a busy schedule to remember what has brought them success this year, and get back to that.  They’ve shown an ability this year to figure it out and not turn a couple of games into a longer failure.  With 18 games left, there’s still time to get back on track and get the new guys somewhat integrated ahead of what will be a first time experience for several Rangers, and a long-awaited return for several more.

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