Treff: The Rangers At The Holiday Break

Tonight, the Rangers will meet the Washington Capitals, a team that is always incredible during the regular season. The Caps are currently sitting second in the Metropolitan Division, an incredibly competitive group, where positioning has been changing by the game. Right now, the Rangers in the first wild card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. But there are worries galore when watching their games.

Although the team had been winning for weeks (often coming from behind to pull out a victory), the month of December has been an up and down month and, in the team’s last two games before the holiday break, the Blueshirts lost to both the Devils and the Maple Leafs, each by one goal. The exciting game against New Jersey went to a shootout and one point was gained, but against Toronto Saturday night, what looked like a strong comeback was wasted. It should be a warning sign for New York that comebacks are not going to work against some of the top teams in the Metropolitan Division, including Washington.

There has been some good news recently–the very hard work of Henrik Lundqvist. In the last three games, Lundqvist looked like the superhuman netminder he had been between the pipes for the Rangers over the years. Somewhat less consistent over the first 33 games this season, he was tremendous against Anaheim, New Jersey, and Toronto last week–giving up only seven goals on 125 shots, which amounts to a .944 save percentage in the three games. But, the fact that Lundqvist faced 125 shots in three games (including the OT against the Devils) at all is very telling. And it is a problem that the Rangers will have to solve, if they want to remain in the playoff hunt in this highly competitive division.

The problem, of course, is the defense or, more specifically, the lack of reliable defense. No one who has watched Kevin Shattenkirk play over the last few years expected him to come in to New York and play solid defense against other teams’ top players. That was not what he was brought here for–he is being paid $6.5 million per year to create offense from the back end, which he has done. Anyone who deluded themselves that he was going to be a first pairing D-man was foolish. However, over the years, the Rangers have had excellent defense, and given previous experience with players like Brendan Smith and Nick Holden, who were so solid last season, there was no reason to expect that the upside of Shatty would not overcome the downside of his defensive skills. Unfortunately, neither Smith nor Holden have played with the same defensive reliability for the first three months of the 2017-18 campaign that each showed last season. The weird thing is if you just quickly look at their statistics, it does not look so bad, but the giveaways and crucial positioning errors that do not show up in the statistics have been deadly in game after game.

The whole team has taken the blame for this, but if you watch the forwards closely in recent games, it really is not their momentum that is the issue. It is that they cannot get the puck in advantageous situations–the puck distributors are not in position and cannot get the puck to the forwards to take up the ice. A change in this situation is crucial going into the (almost) second half of the season.

As we can see in the standings, there is little room for error in this division if a team wants to make the playoffs. Tonight will be the first post-holiday test; management can take this day by day, but, if things do not change soon, a move must be made after the roster freeze (which coincidently ends tonight).        


About the Author

Leslie Treff

Leslie Treff is a contributor for NY Sports Day, covering NY NHL teams. She has been covering the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils for more than 15 seasons. Leslie is a recognized expert in hockey prospects and has served as a scout for several independent agencies. A member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, in her former life, Leslie was an attorney in the judiciary in New York City.

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