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Rangers Searching For Offensive Stability Heading Into Their Second Half

Shattenkirk

Let’s be realistic. The Rangers aren’t going to let Alain Vigneault go. They’re also not going to do a defensive 180 all of a sudden & become a squad who stifles the opposition. They’re not going into “fire sale” mode either. For the most part, what we’ve seen so far is what the Blueshirts are going to be the rest of the season. If you look at the underlying stats during their 15-5-1 run that preceded a recent 3-3-2 slump, not much has changed. This is the way they play the game.

Elite goalie play has been the backbone of the Blueshirts resurrection from an awful start & that’s something they can’t afford to lose. At 35 years old, Lundqvist is having his best season since he won the 2012 Vezina despite being under siege most nights. Whatever metric you want to use – shots, scoring chances, high-danger chances – the Rangers cede more than just about every team in the league whether they’re winning or losing. Nothing’s changed of late. I know a lot of fans have issues with how AV deploys his defenders but there’s no combination of these 6 blueliners that’s going to fix that. Is it a recipe for success? Probably not. But the Caps are just as accommodating to opposing offenses so it’s not impossible. At least as long as the goaltending doesn’t falter & the scoring doesn’t dry up. The latter has been the real issue of late.

When the Rangers were flying high they were averaging 3.5 goals per contest. Over the last 8 games since their last regulation win, this squad has managed to bury just 14. The power play has fallen off a cliff by finishing on just 2 of 25 advantages – one which was a 5×3 and another a 4×3 OT tally. When on a conventional 5×4 power play the Blueshirts have actually allowed more goals than they’ve scored (1-0). You can point a lot of fingers. Zibanejad’s concussion didn’t help either. But when your $26M acquisition responsible for quarterbacking the man advantage has a mere 3 PPA since November 15th, there’s a pretty obvious fall guy here.

Quite simply, when Shatty isn’t scoring he’s more of a liability than an asset. His D skills are mediocre at best, he takes too many penalties and (like most puck-moving blueliners) gives the puck away a ton. No one really cared though when he was putting up almost a point per game for the first month or so. When the team is struggling to light the lamp though, his lengthy cold streak really sticks out. Cashing in on a couple more PP opportunities these last 8 games could’ve given the Rangers a couple of valuable points in a crowded Metro. Yeah, he took a discount to come to Broadway but he’s gotta step up the second half to live up to even the discounted rate.

The Blueshirts haven’t gotten it done at even strength either lately. Zucc, Nash & Zibanejad have combined for just two 5×5 points over eight contests. As a matter of fact only Vesey, Nieves & Carey have more than 2 individually. The good thing here is they’re still getting pucks to the net and generating as many quality chances as they’ve been all year. They’re just not going in at the rate this team has been accustomed to for most of this season. NY is annually near the top of the league in shooting percentage so it’s just a matter of time before their run of bad puck luck ends.

What have we learned? Well as far as this season is concerned, everybody needs to forget about the Rangers defensive woes. They’re not gonna change – but they’ve proven they can win despite them. And because of that, anyone invested in the Blueshirts better pray every night that Lundqvist stays healthy & his Vezina-caliber season doesn’t hit a speed bump. Assuming that’ll be the case, their success lies in their scoring. That’s the sole difference in this team when they were red hot vs the last couple holiday weeks as they sputtered to this bye week.

So despite excellent 200-foot efforts out of guys like Hayes & Nash every night, the Rangers NEED more than a 33-point pace from two of their top six forwards. I don’t know what else can be done to help #61 but why not start giving #13 some regular power play time over Desharnais? Also Vigneault simply HAS TO play Pavel Buchnevich, who produces offense at the team’s highest rate, regardless of whatever perceived rookie bumps the kid has to go through along the way. With Kreider out AV is only being stubborn if he can’t find Buch a regular spot above the 4th line. And Kevin Shattenkirk cannot go another 23 games with a paltry 6 assists and MUST get this power play back on track.

The margin for error in the Metro is too slim & the Rangers started too poorly for the offense to take any more nights off. These guys are key to avoiding future slumps and, with 3 straight division games against teams nipping at their heels, the turnaround needs to come quick. No better opponent to right the ship against out of a 5-day break than an Isles squad which might be better off playing with an extra skater instead of a goalie. Enjoy the Saturday matinee.