The Rangers will play Carolina at home tonight and on Saturday afternoon. In between, the team will take a quick trip up to Buffalo. With those two weaker teams on the schedule, it is not out of the question that six points will be added to the team’s totals during the next week. In fact, during most of the next few weeks, the Rangers will face opponents that among the weaker in the league.
So, the team, which has a very impressive record of 15-7-1, should continue to rack up the points in the short term, even while two of its top six forwards is out of the lineup. But there is a problem looming on the horizon, a hint of which was apparent in Sunday night’s game against Ottawa. The Sens carefully constructed a 2-0 shutout against the Rangers, and no matter what New York tried offensively, the team was not able to solve the tight, obstructive defense of their Canadian opponent.
At first, the strategy was dump and chase. Then it was using the back pass to hit the trailer. Then it was try carrying the puck into the offensive zone, but even if the Rangers got into the zone, the passing lanes were blocked, leading to easy shots with no screens of the Sens goalie. As a last resort, Head Coach Alain Vigneault shuffled his lines. But, nothing worked.
And that is the issue. The Rangers count on a fast-paced offensively minded game being played–and the team is very good when that type of game is played (losing only one game this season when scoring three or more goals). But Ottawa played more of a trapping game–clogging up the neutral zone and shutting off the lanes. The Rangers just could not adapt, and by the end of the game, looked at times like they were standing still.
That is not to say that there were not decent scoring chances for the Rangers, especially toward the end of the third period. Or that the Rangers did not get shots on net–they out-shot the Sens 33-20. Or that Ottawa wasn’t very lucky on one of their goals–a puck that was to be cleared out of the Rangers’ defensive zone wound up hitting one of the referees and bouncing back to where the Sens recovered it and put it in the net. But you cannot just say, it was an unlucky night for the Blueshirts and leave it at that.
The quality of the Rangers scoring chances was mostly poor and there was not enough physical action to open up the lanes for the offensively talented players. And that is the issue that will haunt the team in the post-season, if it is not corrected. Currently, the Rangers have four mostly offensive lines. Although three scoring lines seems to work fine (and, in fact, that is how the Penguins won the Stanley Cup last season), a fourth line that includes Matt Puempel, Josh Jooris, and Jimmy Vesey just does not have the toughness necessary to win games against certain types of opponents.
It is understandable that Rangers’ fans do not like the notion of Tanner Glass being recalled from Hartford. But there is a reason that tough players still remain in the league and that most of the best teams have them. The Rangers have to rethink how they have structured the fourth line. They have some time to do so, but not too long.