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Defense remains the biggest problem for Rangers

New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) braces

New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) braces for a shot from Calgary Flames' Sean Monahan (23) during third-period NHL hockey game action in Calgary, Alberta, Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020. (Jeff-McIntosh/The Canadian Press via AP) Credit: AP/Jeff McIntosh

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Rangers coach David Quinn clearly was unhappy with his team in the moments after its 4-3 loss to the Flames in Calgary on Thursday, the first game of the new calendar year.

As they had two nights earlier in Edmonton, the Rangers fell behind early — this time 2-0 as opposed to 6-0 — before rallying to make a game of it.

“The silver lining is we only gave up one goal after the first period [Thursday], so I guess we’re making some progress,’’ Quinn said in breaking down the loss to the Flames. “But this is about winning and losing. And we’re not doing enough good things to win hockey games the last two nights.’’

The most immediate thing the Rangers need to do is cut down on their goals against. They have allowed 11 goals in the last two games and 15 in the first three games of this four-game road trip.

“Yeah, it’s hard to win when you give up four goals,’’ said goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who took the loss Thursday.

Overall, the Rangers are allowing 3.35 goals per game, which is tied with Florida for third-most in the league. They are scoring 3.30 goals per game, 11th in the league. That simple math explains the Rangers’ 19-17-4 record.

Forward Chris Kreider was asked if there was any solace in getting goals Thursday night from 20-year-old Filip Chytil and 18-year-old Kaapo Kakko and three assists from 21-year-old defenseman Adam Fox.

“I take solace in the ability to generate offense on a consistent basis right now,’’ Kreider said. “But for us to be consistent, it’s got to be on the defensive side of the puck.

“And you can generate even more offense from playing good defense. It’s something that Rick Nash used to always say: ‘Play good defense; that leads to offense.’  ”

The Rangers lead the league in goals (30), assists (83) and points (113) from their defensemen, and three defensemen — Tony DeAngelo, Fox and Jacob Trouba — have more than 20 points each. It’s the first time since 1985-86 that three Rangers defensemen have had 20 or more points through 40 games.

But the Rangers have allowed more goals (134) than they’ve scored (132). None of the 16 teams that made the playoffs last season had a negative goal differential, and the lowest goal differential of any Eastern Conference playoff team was plus-22.

To make a run at a playoff spot, the Rangers are going to have to turn their negative goal differential into a positive.

The best way to do that is to cut down on the goals against. And the way to do that, according to Kreider, is this: Make the simple play and don’t turn the puck over.

“The offense is there, and things we’re doing in the ‘O’ zone are vastly improved from what we were doing early in the season,’’ he said. “But our ‘D’ and our ability to get up the ice, it comes in spurts. And against good teams, that [aggressiveness] leads to turnovers, and it leads to opportunities for the other team.

“If you break it out of your own zone and you play in the other team’s zone, it’s pretty easy to play defense when you don’t have to play defense.’’

Notes & quotes: The Rangers canceled Friday’s practice scheduled for Rogers Place, the Canucks’ arena .  .  .   The AHL announced its All-Star rosters and two Hartford players — goalie Igor Shesterkin and defenseman Joey Keane — are on the Atlantic Division team, to be coached by Hartford’s Kris Knoblauch.

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