The late, great Yogi Berra couldn’t have said it any better.. “It’s getting late early” for the New York Rangers.
The Rangers suffered a deflating 5-2 loss to the Devils at the Garden last night. The Blueshirts have now lost four in a row and five of their last seven. At the quarter pole of this truncated 56-game NHL season, the Rangers are in seventh place in the East division, only a point better than the lowly Buffalo Sabres. After the game, coach David Quinn summed up a dismal evening. “I’m just disappointed in some of the things that went on from our end tonight. A drop off in a lot of areas,” he said.
What was most disturbing about this loss was the Rangers effort, or a lack thereof. “They [New Jersey] flat out wanted it more and it’s unacceptable,” a distraught Chris Kreider said after the game.
The game was tied at two, midway through the third period, when New Jersey’s Yegor Sharangovich deflected a shot past Ranger goaltender Igor Shesterkin for a 3-2 lead. The Devils kept the pressure on and made it a two goal lead a few minutes later when Nicolas Merkley found the back of the net. An empty net goal completed the scoring and left the Rangers questioning themselves when it was all over.
Shesterkin deserved a better fate. He was absolutely brilliant in a first period where the Rangers looked totally out of sync. The Devils were playing their first game in a little over two weeks, but they came out flying and tilted the ice as they out shot the Rangers 16-9, a shot total that was as dominant as it looked. Were it not for Shesterskin’s play, this one would’ve been over early. “That’s a team that’s coming off a two week break,” said Kreider. “We realize they’re probably excited to get back playing hockey, but that’s an unacceptable start.”
The Rangers failed to get consistent pressure on New Jersey goalie Mackenzie Blackwood, who made 37 saves including a couple of clutch stops in the third period.
Scoring goals has become a major problem for the Rangers, who failed to get one power play opportunity against a team that is last in the league on penalty kill. The Rangers have scored 33 goals in 14 games. Only Buffalo, Anaheim and Minnesota have scored less than the Rangers, who are not getting the production that’s expected from some of their key players.
Let’s call it like it is. Kreider has been one of the main culprits. The 29-year old had an assist last night, his only point in the past four games and he has only four goals on the season. Mika Zibanejad’s struggles continue to mount. Forget about any team captaincy right now, Mika needs to get his own ship in order. Zibanejad has one goal and two assists for the entire season. “It is obviously frustrating when the puck doesn’t go in,” Zibanejad said. You wonder if Covid is still affecting his play.
The only Rangers’ Stanley Cup winning coach in the last 81 years, Mike Keenan, used to always talk about, “intensity around the net.” The Rangers haven’t shown a lot of that this season. Zibanejad took notice and could also be held accountable. “A little bit more desperation. Get in there on the second and third chances.” In other words, do the “dirty work” that’s needed to win games.
Injuries are not an excuse but it is a factor. Filip Chytil’s absence has been costly. Artemi Panarin missed his second straight game but the good news is, he’s close to returning. K’Andre Miller was out of the lineup (he was sorely missed) with an upper body injury and the Rangers were playing with five defenseman, after Jacob Trouba missed the third period with an upper body injury.
There were some positives. Shesterkin’s play for one, as he is firmly establishing himself as the #1 goaltender. Defenseman Libor Hajek has played very well since he returned and is showing progress with each succeeding game. Kappo Kakko is doing everything on the ice except getting on the score sheet and maybe, Pavel Buchnevich can get going as he scored his fourth goal of the season but only his second goal in the last 12 games.
The Rangers have one off day to address their lack of effort and get some things straightened out before they play Philadelphia in their next game on Thursday night. Quinn needs to be held accountable for his team’s lack of effort so it’s up to him and the staff to get the team going in the right direction. “It will be addressed in practice, before practice and after practice and before Philly,” Quinn said.
If the Rangers don’t turn things around quickly, it will be a very long, final three-quarters of the season.
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