The Rangers began November with a bang, beating the Philadelphia Flyers on home, Madison Square Garden ice. After that win, the Rangers’ win streak moved to three games and looked to have righted their ship after a mediocre first month of the 2022-23 National Hockey League season, but the National Hockey League has some of the best parity in professional sports for a reason and since then Gerard Gallant’s club have recently struggled to win games against teams who missed the playoffs last season.
Before the Rangers Win Streak
In summary, the struggles that the New York Rangers have been having early on in the season are really not that surprising because they are simply finding out that the rest of the league is catching up to them. So far, the Rangers have played like a team that thinks that since they made it to the Conference Finals last year, they expect to beat all the teams who missed the playoffs, this season. And with the exception of beating the Arizona Coyotes and Philadelphia Flyers in recent weeks, the Broadway Blueshirts have won just three of nine games against teams who missed last year’s playoffs, so far during this 2022-23 NHL season.
This is a troubling trend for a team that was picked by broadcasters like TNT’s Rick Tocchet to be a serious contender to win the Stanley Cup. However, there are reasons for these struggles which includes that three of the 18 skaters who dress for the Rangers each night are under the age of 22; Zachary Jones, Braden Schneider, and Alexis Lafreniere. This explains the growing pains that Gallant’s men have had this season but it does not explain the ineffectiveness this team has had late in games this season. So, let’s take a deeper dive into the issues that the New York Rangers have had during the 2022-23 NHL season.
The Rangers Recent Losing Streak
The current three-game losing streak started with the Rangers losing to the Boston Bruins on Nov. 3. Aside from being trampled by a conference rival, the worst thing that happened to the Rangers during this game was that one of their best defensemen, Ryan Lindgren suffered an upper-body injury in the first period. Throughout the first month of the 2022-23 NHL season, Lindgren has selflessly blocked shots, fearlessly cleared the front of the Ranger net and hit everything that moves, but for now he is out until further notice and while its impossible to replace his intangibles, the Rangers need to find a way to snap their losing streak without Lindgren.
As a replacement for Lindy, the Rangers called up 24-year-old defenseman Libor Hajek to fill in for him on their second defensive pairing alongside Adam Fox. Hajek has done alright by logging around 14 minutes of ice and being the defensive defenseman counterbalance to Fox’s offensive style. However, you cannot measure a player’s heartbeat and the Rangers have missed Lindgren for the last three games because they have lost three in a row. The effect Lindgren’s absence has had on this team stood out during the Rangers’ recent loss to the Islanders.
Every time the Rangers play the Islanders, the games are more intense because there are bragging rights on the line and both teams are fighting to get ahead of the other in the ever-competitive Metropolitan Division. Additionally, the Islanders have a lot of rugged forwards like Matt Martin who allow them to play a more physical game than other teams in the Eastern Conference. Yet, during Nov. 6th’s game against the Isles, two of the Rangers’ top six forwards Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad both played badly defensively as evidenced by their minus-two ratings.
After the game, Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant offered his thoughts on the way his team played during a heartbreaking defeat to the Islanders.
I liked the way we played. Competed, battled hard [but] the Islanders [have been] the best team in the league in the third period. They found a way to get three goals again in the third, but I liked the way we played most of the game.”Gerard Gallant
It was Panarin who left his zone early while his teammates were trying to breakout with 15 seconds left, when Kaapo Kakko was tripped by Islander defenseman Oliver Wahlstrom lost the puck which ended up in the back of the net. These are issues that teams who are looking to contend for the Stanley Cup should not be having, and the Rangers need to clean them up sooner rather than later.
The Ranger ‘Kid Line’ Must Step Up
First, let’s hit you with the hard truth for Rangers fans via some team statistics. This season, the New York Rangers rank 25th in the NHL with 2.8 goals per game. Meanwhile, the New Jersey Devils (currently first in the Metro division) have averaged 3.6 goals per game which rank fifth out of all 32 teams. Of course, the Rangers have only played 14 games thus far this season and they have plenty of time to turn it around. Yet at this juncture, the primary reason they sit all the way back in fifth place in a competitive metropolitan division has been their offense and specifically, the inability of their team to score timely goals in the third period.
The next question is when will members of the Ranger ‘Kid Line’ last season like Kaapo Kakko, Alexis Lafreniere and Filip Chytil start showing signs that they are developing into consistent offensive contributors to a team that needs them to be. The Kids may not be dominating at the NHL level yet, but they have played alright. Ranger third-line center, Chytil returned from an upper-body injury for Monday night’s game against the Red Wings and scored in the Rangers’ most recent game. However, the players that should be producing more offensively are Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko who both earn time on the Rangers’ second power-play unit.
For instance, let’s look at Kakko’s stats this season, the talented winger who the Blueshirts picked second-overall at the 2019 NHL Draft. The Fin has played on the Rangers’ first line pretty much all season long and has averaged 16:12 minutes of ice time this season. Kakko’s average ice time this year has been right behind Lafreniere (16:59 ATOI) but Kakko has still only managed to score six points in 14 games. On a positive note, Kakko dazzled fans when he scored this highlight-reel goal against Detroit, last Sunday night.
However, plays like these have been few and between for the former second-overall draft pick who has not scored a single power-play point this season while playing on the second power-play unit. While the Rangers rely more on their first unit, it would help if their second unit could contribute as well. Meanwhile, another key member of the Rangers ‘kid-line’ fraternity is Alexis Lafreniere who has also struggled, having notched five points during the Rangers’ first 14 games of the season despite the fact he’s played on the second power-play unit with Kakko. As a result, Lafreniere was bumped from the second line to the third line before the Rangers’ most recent game.
Overall, the Rangers have been a streaky team during the early going of the current season and this should not shock fans of the Broadway Blueshirts. The Rangers named veteran defenseman Jacob Trouba their 28th captain in franchise history during the offseason and he offered some sound thoughts on where his team is at, during the press conference after their game on Nov. 8.
It’s been a tough start to the season for us. We’re going to keep working. We’ve got a lot of games left here, but I don’t think it’s lost on anybody [on our team] the start we’ve had. Time’s a tickin’ and we don’t have all the time in the world, but we’ve got to find a way to play a better game.NY Rangers Captain, Jacob Trouba
main image credit: Embed from Getty Images