Karpin’s Korner: “Number One Problem” for Rangers, Puck Management

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

Mackenzie Blackwood had a “Devil” of a time at the Garden Tuesday night. The 24-year old Devils goaltender stopped more shots than “Sonny at the toll booth,” as he made 47 saves in leading the Devils to a 4-3 win over the Rangers at the Garden Tuesday night.

If you examine the stat sheet, the Rangers were the better team in almost every key category except the most important one, the final score. The Rangers out shot the Devils, 50-28. They scored two power play goals in six attempts, took only two penalties to New Jersey’s six, but the Rangers had 19 giveaways, while the Devils had only ten. New Jersey also had a hot goaltender in Blackwood and Jack Hughes, the #1 overall pick of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, who had a goal and two assists and was the best player on the ice.

Jacob Trouba didn’t have his best game as he was a minus-2 and had two giveaways. After the game, Trouba admitted that the Rangers need to fine tune their game and soon. “Finding consistency for the whole game and avoiding the big mistake is something that will help us out,” he said.

The “big mistake” is puck management or mismanagement. “We gotta tighten things up with the puck, that is our number one problem,” coach David Quinn said on a post game zoom. “I said this after the second Islander game, when we manage the puck well, we play better defense. I just thought we gave the puck up too often in the neutral zone, in dangerous areas, it slowed us down a little bit.”

The Rangers were sluggish out of the gate and it put them in an early hole. Devils center Travis Zajac scored off a rebound of a Miles Wood shot, just 32 seconds into the game. Zajac beat Brendan Lemieux to the loose puck and the Rangers were quickly down a goal.

That’s two out of three games where the Rangers came out flat and it was costly. Chris Kreider, who scored his first goal of the season on the power play in the second period to tie the game at one, said, “Can’t have a start like that, that’s the more disappointing thing.”

If puck management is the “big mistake,” then a close second is face offs. The Rangers were 28-30 on face offs but one in particular led to the Devils’ second goal. New Jersey’s Yegor Sharangovich beat Mike Zibanejad on the draw and got the puck back to Ty Smith who fired it on net. The puck got behind Alexandar Georgiev and was stuck at the goal post. Hughes flew in past Ryan Lindgren and nudged the puck over the goal line for a 2-1 lead.

A little over four minutes later, Hughes scored his second of the game to give New Jersey a 3-1 lead. Trouba was just inside the blue line in the offensive zone when he tried to send the puck deep, but Hughes blocked the attempt and was off to the races. The 19-year old skated in on Georgiev, got him to open up and slid the puck ever so slightly into the net.

Zibanejad scored his first and the Rangers’ second power play goal to make it a 3-2 game but Wood scored a power play goal to retake a two goal lead.

Quinn tried to jump start the team by replacing Alexandar Georgiev (4 goals on 20 shots) with Igor Shersterkin to start the third period. Shersterkin stopped all eight shots he faced but the Rangers couldn’t get the tying goal, despite playing with a sense of urgency that was lacking in the first two periods.

Pavel Buchnevich assisted on Filip Chytil’s 1st of the season with a strong rush up the ice that made it a one goal game with 13 minutes left. The Rangers kept the pressure up and had the puck in New Jersey’s zone for just about the final 3:30 of the period, but Blackwood was equal to the task as he made some huge saves to preserve the win. With about four minutes left Zibanejad lost his edge and slid hard into the boards. He suffered what is being called “an undisclosed injury” but it appeared that he may have injured his right shoulder. The Rangers are keeping their fingers crossed that this is not long term.

A bad start has cost the Rangers in both of their losses. Kreider feels the Rangers try too hard to make something happen early on in the game. “Trying to do a little too much in that first period. Instead of throwing pucks from bad angles and then getting set up and hemming them and continuing to work from there.” Quinn concurred. “Sometimes when you go out there and nothing happens on your shift, that’s a pretty good shift,” he said.

The Rangers need pretty good shifts, where something happens.

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