Before the season started, it was a foregone conclusion that the New York Rangers would be one of the top teams not only in the Metropolitan division but the Eastern Conference.
New York has since been hit with a hard reality through the first 13 games of the NHL season: what made them plucky darling in their playoff run last year won’t be enough to make them winners this season.
At 6-4-3, it’s easy to say that while the Rangers haven’t played well, they’ve done enough to show that once they figure out the struggles that an early-season slide can bring. But the same issues that plagued New York in the first month of the season, have been a constant as we get into the middle of the November stretch.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. For the Rangers, turning the puck over in attempts to clear to the neutral zone, odd-man rushes, poor communication, and missed offensive chances have run rampant in the team’s first 13 games.
It’s easy to say a lack of puck luck has been hurting the Rangers. Players like Kaapo Kakko, Alexis Lafreniere, and Vincent Trocheck have all played well but haven’t been able to score as much as they want.
A high expected goals for average isn’t enough to deter concerns about the team’s offensive approach. On Sunday’s 3-2 overtime loss to Detroit, the same issues continued to creep their ugly head back into play. Sporting a 2-0 lead after the first period, New York’s lack of puck discipline and poor defense led to one of the worst periods the team played throughout the entire year.
It’s left Gerard Gallant no choice but to shift his lines around.
“I don’t think we’re playing good enough as a team game.” Gallant told reporters Monday. “We do a lot of good things offensively, but not last night…so little shakeup and hopefully things work.”
Part of that shakeup is moving Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad together on the top line, Alexis Lafreniere playing in his natural left-wing spot, and Chris Kreider being bumped down to the bottom six.
As Gallant and the Rangers look for potential solutions to their frustrating play to start the season, injuries are also a fair point of emphasis. Ryan Lindgren is doubtful to play against the Islanders Tuesday, Vitali Kravtsov hasn’t totaled over 10 minutes of ice time yet this year due to injuries, and the Rangers just welcomed the return of Filip Chytil from a six-game absence.
But this Rangers team has several stars on their roster that are playing. And those stars aren’t gelling well enough with the rest of the club to find ways to win games a team with this much talent should be doing.
The excuses of unlucky bounces and aggressive play must stop if the Rangers are to prove they are among the league’s best. The stars have to play like stars, the role players need to stick to their roles and only then can New York start a winning streak similar to last season’s.
Until that time, it’s not far-fetched to question if this team is as good as they actually say they are.