GREENBURGH, N.Y. — David Quinn was adamant: The Rangers’ defensive structure is not irreparably shattered.
It just needs some maintenance, and an increased consciousness.
“We just have to be a little bit more thorough,” Quinn said after Monday’s practice at the MSG Training Facility before the Rangers flew to Dallas. “We’ve got to get back to being thorough all the time. You can’t be [thorough for] 53 minutes. It can’t be 58 minutes. It’s got to be shift in and shift out.”
On the eve of a three-game road trip against the Stars, Avalanche and Coyotes, the Rangers are coming off a 1-4 stretch against the Flyers, Blues, Capitals and Devils in which they allowed 24 goals. These last five games followed a 22-game stretch between Jan. 7 and Feb. 27 in which the Rangers allowed only 55 goals. They went 16-6 in those games and put themselves in the playoff race.
So what changed?
“If you look at the way we play in our own zone, in the neutral zone and the offensive zone when we don’t have the puck, we’re pressuring everywhere,” Mika Zibanejad said. “I find the first and second guys have been really important but the third and fourth and fifth guys kind of don’t latch on to that one. We go as a five-man unit, defend as a five-man unit, and that’s where breakdowns come. We come a little bit too passive or out of position. That’s been the biggest thing.”
When the breakdowns have occurred, the goaltending has not been able to make course corrections. Igor Shesterkin, Alexandar Georgiev and Henrik Lundqvist have a combined .852 save percentage and have allowed 22 goals (the Blues and Devils scored empty-net goals in their wins over the Rangers), with each goalie allowing five goals in a game.
But causation does not always equal correlation. And in this instance, Quinn believes, it’s not an issue of one aspect of the team failing the rest.
“I think it’s a little bit of both,” he said. “I think if you talked to our goaltenders, they probably want to be a little bit better, but we also have to do our part. So when we talk about everybody, everybody’s got to be better: the goalies, the defensemen through our forwards. It’s a team-wide commitment.”
Still, there was the acknowledgment that with 14 games left in the regular season, the Rangers are only three points out of the second wild card.
“Obviously, we’ve been in a little bit of a rut here,” Ryan Strome said. “But at the same time, we’ve done some decent things as well and we have to draw from the positives. At this point in the year, it’s about getting wins any way we can.”
Notes & quotes: Quinn said Shesterkin will start Tuesday against the Stars: “Igor has earned an opportunity to get another kick at the can.” . . . The NHL named Zibanejad the first star of the week for scoring seven goals in three games, including five against the Capitals.