The New York Rangers currently have three problems going into one of their toughest stretches of the season.
Problem one is that the team doesn’t have a lot of time to get some of their newcomers up to speed. Problem two centers around the fact that the Rangers don’t have a lot of depth on the roster because of their most recent moves. The third problem though is arguably their largest and it centers around their defense.
With injuries and suspensions plaguing the team in recent weeks, the Rangers’ defensive units have needed to play long amounts of hockey. It’s a big reason why the team has lost five of their last seven contests. And if the Blueshirts are going to be seen as true title contenders, their defensive woes need to be solved immediately.
In the last few games alone, top defensemen like Adam Fox and Jacob Trouba have notched over 20 minutes of ice time. And while head coach Gerard Gallant believes that the increase in ice time does not affect the team’s overall health, there can be no denying it’s put the defense in a lose-lose situation.
Playing just five defensemen is always risky. There’s a chance an injury could come and alter the season entirely. But while the key cogs of the Rangers’ defensive units have remained healthy and prepared for a playoff run, the defensemen aren’t the only group that’s struggled to live up to their name.
New York has had an issue with defending in front of the net, and that has left Igor Shesterkin and Jaroslav Halak in a difficult situation. It’s hard for any goaltender to make a save from point-blank range with no one around them to help.
That is the central problem of the Rangers though, over the last few games. In their 4-2 loss to Boston, three of the Bruin’s goals came when the New York forwards were caught napping, or the defensemen did not properly push Boston out in front of the crease.
The lack of physicality in front of the net has been an issue for the Blueshirts in recent weeks and calls into question how good the team could be in a seven-game series against more physical opponents.
There is good news to come out for the Rangers amid their recent slump. K’Andre Miller’s three-game suspension is over and the four-day break in between games could make it easier for Ryan Lindgren to recover from his upper body injury. Having Lindgren and Miller back will also help with the defense in front of the crease as neither is shy of getting physical against tough opponents.
Rest is imperative for this Rangers club heading into March, but having their full lineup is a key part of that.
“We have been shorthanded for a little bit here. Especially our defense, they’re going to have a good break for two days and then we’ll get back to practice.” Gallant explained after the Bruin’s loss.
Even with the addition of Patrick Kane, the Rangers still have a ways to go before they are considered top title contenders. The team understands that, but they also understand that their defense is in desperate need of some reinforcements to come back and help get them to where they need to be.