Broadway, we have a problem. It’s 2019 and the New York Rangers only have one win under their belt. Yes, that win was against the New York Islanders and after losing the last eight games to our foes from Brooklyn, it does feel good. However, that does not forgive the fact that they are giving up far too many goals (-31 goal differential) and leaving Henrik Lundqvist out to dry, per usual. With last year’s mandated rebuild from the front office, the Rangers should be improving on issues that have existed for over four years. If 2019 is going to be salvageable, here are the things the New York Rangers need to do.
What the New York Rangers Need to Change in 2019
Bolster the Blueline
“The defence is terrible,” can be heard echoing throughout Rangerstown. It has been for years, at least since 2015. I love Brady Skjei as much as the next girl but his performance is not solving our problems on the blueline. The Rangers defence continues, year-after-year, to think their presence is not a necessity to win. Their internal monologue must read something like the following, “If we don’t get back, Henrik has it. He’s the king, he’ll save us.” Fortunately for them, that’s been true. Unfortunately, it’s becoming less true every year.
Lundqvist remains elite and continues to play some of his best hockey this year. However, unless Jeff Gorton has a map to the fountain of youth, the Swedish-savior won’t be around forever. When that day comes, the Rangers defence and front office will shed tears of regret as number 30 is hoisted into the rafters. Kevin Shattenkirk, as I have previously lamented, is a waste on this current squad. The defensive roster is a mismatch of ageing veterans and young players prone to mistakes. Marc Staal should have been out years ago and Dan Girardi should have stayed on in his place. Girardi, an undrafted Rangers ironman played with more gumption and integrity than given credit for.
The New Kids
On one end, Neal Pionk and Skjei remain bright spots for the Rangers future, especially Pionk. His highlight reel coast-to-coast goal was a thing of beauty. However, Anthony DeAngelo and Brendan Smith continue to fizzle out on this team. DeAngelo was not worth the trade for Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta. He makes costly mistakes mismanaging the puck in the neutral zone and continue to repeat them. When given a chance to play, DeAngelo puts the team in an even worse spot. For example, playing for the first time since New Years against the Vegas Golden Knights on Jan. 8 DeAngelo takes a bad boarding penalty. To add insult to injury, he was saddled with a 10-minute game misconduct. DeAngelo should be making the most of his chances to play, not playing with a chip on his shoulder.
Smith was given arguably the biggest warning last year when he was put on waivers on his birthday, the same day management’s open letter sent shockwaves through the Rangers community. Sadly, Smith has remained subpar this season, bringing nothing more to the table than an average player with a knack for carelessness. He’s a -7 for the team and contributed only 2 goals and 6 assists in 31 games played. Judging from David Quinn’s interview following the Rangers loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, he’s just as irritated with the blueline saying, “Our lack of ability to be physical and fish for pucks, looked like we’d never been over ‘D’ zone coverage.”
Extend Effort to 60 Minutes
The New York Rangers need to play the full 60. They have had many games where they have choked leads late and it is becoming incredibly frustrating. This has been a pervasive problem for the Rangers for the last three seasons. The Rangers will be up and then get too comfortable. They forget that the opposition is still trying to win. With one minute ticking down on the clock, the other team scores to tie the game. Next thing the Blueshirts know, they’re heading back to the locker room with one less point than they should have had.
In December 2018 alone, the Rangers had five games that ended in this exact manner. The Rangers get complacent when they’re sitting with a lead. Keeping alive the urgency and fight for a win is crucial, no matter how likely it seems. Perhaps this means shorter shifts for every line – keeping feet fresh and younger, thirstier players on their toes. Quinn needs to decide what lights a fire under this squad and implement it ASAP.
Increase Offensive Production
In addition to not being able to keep the puck out of their net, the Rangers haven’t been experts at getting the puck in the net either. Sitting 23rd in goals for with 126, the Rangers are desperate for more offensive production. The quickest way to improve this will be special teams. The New York Rangers need to capitalize on the man advantage whenever they can. It’s the quickest way to increase their offensive production in the short term. They’re below the league average on the PP with 19.05% success (the league average is 20.03%) and 126 goals vs the average 138. The second power-play unit has Brett Howden who’s showed real promise this season. However, Howden doesn’t have a single goal on the power play this year. He has the potential to have a breakout career and giving him more minutes on special teams could be a great way to increase his confidence and bolster the team’s offensive productivity.
There have been too many occurrences this season that a pass will be sent to a ghost at the top of the crease. There have also been far too many penalties for too many men on the ice. These large issues can be remedied with a simple method. Communication. With any relationship, communication is key. It’s clear from the errors being made on the ice that the team isn’t meshing as one yet.
2019 should be the starting point for remedying that reality. Whether it’s team bonding, practicing during the bye week, whatever it takes, these New York Rangers need to play for the name on the front of their sweater, not the back.