It’s easy to say that the New York Rangers loss to the San Jose Sharks in overtime Thursday night could simply be a case of a good team sleeping on a weaker opponent. There are 77 games left in the regular season and these things are going to happen.
It doesn’t take away from the early warning signs of an issue that has plagued New York since opening night.
Igor Shesterkin is the reigning Vezina winner for his exploits in leading the league in GAA, and save percentage. A top goaltender like him, entering the prime of his career can only be expected to reach further heights with a loaded team around him.
But the goals given up have increased over the last few games and concern over who is to blame has begun to creep up.
It’s hard to blame Igor Shesterkin fully. Even in Thursday’s loss to San Jose, the Russian netminder saved 24 of 27 shots and continuously bailed out poor defensive plays and bad passes to keep the Rangers in the ballgame.
“Igor is Igor. He’s played really well and we’re really happy with him.” Gerard Gallant said before the game Thursday night.
But even Igor’s numbers have risen due to the number of shots from point-blank range that have become a staple in the early part of the season for the Rangers. New York gave up three goals to Winnipeg in four minutes in the third period that ultimately led to their first loss of the season.
Then there was Minnesota scoring two goals in the third period of the Rangers’ 7-3 win just over a week ago. Recently a 6-4 win over Anaheim saw the Ducks score twice in the final period to keep the game close.
To the Rangers’ coaching staff most of it can be attributed to lazy defense.
“I think it was lackadaisical play because of the score. We had big leads and we laid off them a little bit, some turnovers in the neutral zone that didn’t have to happen.” Gallant said, “The games were in hand both times so nobody likes that when it happens but it wasn’t big mistakes or something I’ve seen before.”
Lackadaisical play doesn’t take away from the alarming third, and overtime period that was put up by the Rangers on Thursday night. New York was outshot in the final period 16-2 with the Rangers’ second shot on goal coming with just a minute left in the game.
It wasn’t much better in overtime either. New York failed to get a defensive stop with Adam Fox and Artemi Panarin looking lost while Erik Karlsson scored the game-winning goal. Shesterkin’s numbers don’t look very solid compared to where they were last season, but Thursday’s game was a perfect microcosm of the deficiencies that New York has on the defensive end right now.
Leading 2-1 in the second period, New York allowed defenseman Radim Simek to skate right in front of the crease with very little resistance to tie the game up. There’s little the Blueshirt faithful can ask of their goalie when he’s dealing with high-percentage shots like that.
“We know it’s not a formula that is going to breed success in this league. You look at successful teams, they are good defensively and the offense comes when it comes and we know we have that but didn’t have the defense dialed in and focused and that’s what we need to do better at.” Jacob Trouba said after the loss.
In a game filled with offensive miscues and defensive lapses, it’s no wonder how the Rangers fell to the San Jose Sharks on Thursday. But the defensive miscues have reared their head back into the fold for the third straight game for New York.
If the Rangers aren’t careful, it could lead to much worse results than Thursday night.
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