As the Rangers prepare to face two of the NHL’s best teams this week, Vegas and Colorado, the conversation around the team is far different than what was expected for a club that was in the Eastern Conference Finals last season.
The questions should have been: Are the Rangers on the same level as the defending Stanley Cup champion Avalanche? Can they assert their dominance over two elite teams and establish themselves as part of the NHL’s elite?
Now, it seems like a tough matchup for the Rangers, who are both ranked above the Blueshirts in their respective divisions. Instead, the Rangers are facing questions about what is missing or whether significant personnel and management changes need to be made to turn things around. And one more thing: how did the team get here?
Rangers fell short of their expectations to start the season, even after Monday’s 6-4 win over the Blues. Perhaps most surprising of all, the team is playing mostly with players it started the 2021-22 season with, with centers Ryan Strome and Vincent Trocheck and backup goaltenders Aleksandar Georgiev starting for Jaroslav Halak. changed. .
This makes me wonder: At what point will the Rangers feel like they have nothing to lose and start trying things that could change the narrative this season?
Rangers manager Gerard Gallant has begun to tackle one of the few aspects of the team’s game that has been set in stone for some time. In the last few games, the second power play unit of Jacob Trouba, Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, Sammy Blais and Filip Chytil (now injured)/Vitali Kravtsov has taken up more than 20-30 seconds as usual. human preference.
Typically, the top unit of Adam Fox, Mika Zibanejad, Vincent Trocheck, Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider hardly ever leaves the ice. Despite Zibanejad’s power play goal late in the second half in Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the Blackhawks, they’ve struggled a bit lately. Given how much the Rangers rely on their power play offensively, why not replace him and give the second half more opportunities to show what they can do?
Also, sending out a No. 2 seed to start a strong game will likely knock down opponents who have been relentlessly preparing for the No. 1 seed. Every time the upper division seems to take the ice, other teams seem to have the Rangers’ first power play memorized.
Waiting your turn… and waiting… and waiting…
It all boils down to how the Rangers manage their young talent. They have two NHL draft picks in Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko, who are in their third and fourth years in the league, respectively, and their average ice time of 14:12 and 14:57 over each of their careers was not nearly enough. . correctly assess what kind of players they are.
Of course, a large part of the Rangers team is surrounded by long-term contracts for star players. There is an obligation to agree with this. But if the stars don’t come, what’s the harm in letting the kids fly and see what happens?
Kakko started the first 14 games of the season on the right wing of the top line with Kreider and Zibanejad. Lafreniere played 12 games alongside Panarin and Trocheck on the right wing of the second division. Since then, both have been relegated to the third line with limited ice time, given their lack of significant playing minutes.
“He doesn’t have the same opportunity as some of the guys ahead of him on other teams,” Gallant said of Lafreniere earlier this month. “It probably frustrates him a little bit at times, but that’s the way our team is built. So just keep working hard and keep getting better. I don’t resent him in the slightest. He works hard, plays a full game, completes his checks. He would like to see better numbers, and so would we.
The Rangers look at the situation with tunnel vision, so to speak. The Rangers are able to manage their young players in a way that allows them to find their game at the NHL level. But it is already known that they are not trusted in such roles, which is a problem in itself. Jimmy Vesey was as deserving of a top-six pick as any Rangers player, but not when there are questions about what the club’s two top draft picks are for the future.
The Rangers must also know what Kravtsov has, but has he shown more than Lafreniere and Kakko? Everyone from the players to Gallant has acknowledged that changes need to be made, the question is when will they actually be made?
A mail bag
Thanks to our texts from Blueseats subscribers for all the questions in the mailbag. There’s been a lot going on this week, so tune in to our Up in the Blueseats podcast, where I’ll be answering more than I can do here.
Based on the team’s performance in the first quarter, how long do you think management will wait before taking action, and what do you think that action will be?
That’s the No. 1 question facing the Rangers right now. When do they hit the panic button? I believe that after the 2021-22 season, a coaching change at the start of the year will be nothing more than a bellwether in the dressing room and will rob the players of any confidence they may have had from last season. That said, if the Rangers continue on their current path and fall out of the playoff race, there could be changes at the end of the season. I don’t expect anything drastic for at least another few months, unless things blow up behind closed doors.
It was Ryan Strom this is there a lot of locker room guy? Did losing acquisitions like Andrew Copp, Frank Vatrano, Tyler Mott, Justin Brown shock the team more than we thought? Did we not appreciate Alexander Georgiev as a reliable backup?
– Chuck Biczak, Mark Thiessen, William Gallagher
It’s fair to wonder how much Strome has lost. For Panarin in particular, I wonder how comfortable he has become around Strome and if that has had any effect on his play this season. Strome is also very calm in the locker room, except for the voice that gets everyone excited.
As for the trade deadline, it’s hard to discuss because there were no scenarios where either of them could be saved. Maybe Motte, who wanted a multi-year deal, couldn’t afford to buy Rangers and couldn’t find it elsewhere. I think Kopp, Vatrano and Motte have rounded out the Rangers in a way and the team is used to their contributions. Now that that’s gone, it’s down to the younger players, who aren’t making an impact and aren’t being given a full chance.
I don’t think Georgiev appreciated himself as such a goalkeeper. He was never going to be a backup in New York, but it was clear from his performance in Colorado that he was a great prospect.
The Rangers have been struggling to figure out who they are of late. Are they a tight control team? Speed/pass team? A team that checks the defense hard? I don’t see any real system or personality anymore.
— Robert Hanley
I think Rangers have lost a bit of their identity. They are such a highly skilled group that range in physical tone and speed. But they are not playing fast enough or taking advantage of the fact that they have too many players who can win puck battles first. Kreider probably said it best yesterday during our interview after the win in Ottawa: “When it comes to skill, will comes first.” Part of that is finding space on the ice and playing a physically imposing game that creates opportunities for their elite talent to shine.
Why no Will Coyle or Matthew Robertson?
– Michael Shalette
Coyle and Robertson are far from the answer to Rangers’ problems. Bringing in a player like Coyle, who will be a fourth line player, will not help the team to score more goals. Robertson didn’t do much in training camp, even warranting a few exhibition games, which should tell you a lot. If anything, the one who needs more of a shot to find his place at the NHL level is Zach Jones. I understand the thinking behind sending him back to AHL Hartford and wanting to get him significant minutes, but not when he didn’t get more than six games in a row (every other game was two or three games) to get going before being pulled. . out of content.