The Rangers continue to limp to the finish line. They dropped their third in a row losing at home to the Sabres, 4-3 on Saturday night. A second straight disjointed performance against a non-playoff rebuilding team drew Bronx cheers from some partisans. The question is were those fans around between ’98-04. Never mind.
I devoted a 15-minute podcast on the Rangers’ struggles on my Hard Hits Network late last night. Take a listen:
Hard Hits Network: Derek discusses the Rangers’ issues
Right now, the same issues continue to plague a experienced team that looks headed for a first round disappointment. The defense remains inconsistent. Facing Buffalo, they fell behind early on a pair of Ryan O’Reilly goals. Even worse, Henrik Lundqvist allowed Zemgus Girgensons to put home his own rebound just 46 seconds into the second for a three-goal deficit. That ended his night. He allowed three goals on nine shots.
Somehow, even Lundqvist’s play has suffered. He can’t always bail out the mistakes made by teammates. In a season where he’s still won 33 games, the frustration has been evident. His commentary at times following losses has been critical. Though he does hold himself accountable, it’s clear he expects a lot more of himself and the team.
The Blueshirts have been consistently inconsistent. After losing in overtime to the Pens, they lost to both Carolina and Buffalo. Two teams they had owned. Both play hard and are headed in the right direction. It’s not so much that they lost but rather how. In Eric Staal’s return against the Canes, the Rangers blew a lead after the second by allowing the final two in the third. After spotting the Sabres three, they made a strong comeback attempt. But a mishap between Raanta and Keith Yandle which led to Matt Moulson’s winner was too much to overcome.
Even after getting third period goals from J.T. Miller (22nd) and Derek Stepan (19th), they still managed to blow a full two-minute five-on-three in awful fashion. It was a waste of two minutes with way too much time spent passing around the perimeter. Chad Johnson only saw two shots with each neither a threat. How bad was the execution? The Rangers’ five-man power play unit of Yandle, Derick Brassard, Stepan, Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello couldn’t even set up a one-timer.
Neither Rick Nash nor Eric Staal saw the ice. Staal drew the penalty taking a hit to his shoulder which hurt but he returned for his next shift. Speaking of the former Cane, he set up a goal from Kevin Hayes early in the second which cut it to 3-1. Jesper Fast drew a secondary assist. The only positive that can be found is the chemistry of the new third line. Hayes has been noticeably better. Their line creates opportunities down low off a forecheck. Something that’s been lacking.
If they are to figure it out and win one of the final four games to qualify for the playoffs again, it starts with getting the puck deep and working the opposition. For too much of this confusing season, it’s been the opposite. Defensively, this team isn’t as strong. Not with nuts and bolts warriors Dan Girardi and Marc Staal showing predictable wear and tear from the past two seasons that extended into June and late May. However, it’s not always them. Last night, normally dependable Ryan McDonagh struggled as did partner Kevin Klein, who had a woeful performance. Dan Boyle gave a good effort and was rewarded with more ice-time. He also was used with Yandle while Girardi and Staal partnered on the third pair. An adjustment from coach Alain Vigneault.
It isn’t easy seeing this team struggle. They have made it a lot harder on themselves. While the red hot Pens ride the wave of Jack Adams candidate Mike Sullivan by beating everyone to clinch a playoff berth and go three points up for second in the division, the Rangers try to find a way out of this. They will visit old pal John Tortorella in Columbus tomorrow. If they can’t lock it up against the Blue Jackets, there are three more chances all at MSG with the battered Lightning visiting Tuesday minus captain Steven Stamkos, who will have surgery due to a blood clot and could miss between one to three months. The same team that lost Anton Stralman to an ACL.
Then there’s the April 7th match up against the Islanders, who they haven’t beat. Both teams are a mess. Then finally, the desperate Red Wings come in next Saturday in Game 82. It isn’t so much that they won’t make it. It’s can they right themselves in time for the postseason. Only the players in the locker room have the answer to that.