Right now, the Rangers don’t seem to have any answers.
They entered this season as one of the favorites to win the Metropolitan Division, but entering Sunday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes at the Garden, they were in the middle of the pack instead. The Rangers sat fourth in the eight-team division, with a very middling record of 7-6-3, and on a 1-3-1 run over their previous five games.
They had lost Saturday in Nashville to the previously struggling Predators, 2-1, and afterward, they tried to reassure themselves that though they had lost, at least they had played well. The puck simply wasn’t going in for them, despite their having outshot the Preds 35-18.
“We didn't play a bad hockey game,’’ defenseman Jacob Trouba said after Saturday’s game. “I think they capitalized on some of their chances, their goalie played well, and we’ve got to start to burying more of ours… We’ve just continue to play good hockey that we believe in, and believe it's going to, over the course 82 games, you're going to win enough.’’
But when asked how the Rangers can keep the faith as they continue to shoot pucks into goalies’ stomachs, or off goalposts, all Trouba could come up with was, “You don’t have a choice.’’
The Rangers had scored 16 goals over their five games prior to Sunday, but eight of those came in one game, Thursday in Detroit. So that meant they’d scored only eight goals in the other four, an average of 2.00 per game. Given that Sunday night’s starting goaltender, Igor Shesterkin, began the evening with a goals-against average of 2.53, that didn’t seem like a winning formula.
The most notable culprit in Saturday’s loss was the power play, which is one of the Rangers’ most dangerous weapons, but which went 0-for-5 against the Predators, including coming up empty on a four-minute advantage with 6:19 left and the Rangers trailing by one goal.
“When they're real good, they're really quick and they're snapping the puck around,’’ coach Gerard Gallant said in his pregame media briefing Sunday. “And (Saturday) night it just – it looked almost like they were bored, to be honest with you… and they just weren't sharp. I’m not going to jump all over them because of that, because they're one of the best power plays in the league, when they're sharp. And (Saturday) night it just, it didn't seem nearly as sharp, and they weren't as crisp, and the execution wasn't as good. And they still get a couple of good looks. But… not the ones you'd expect.’’
In analyzing the power play, Gallant suggested the unit may need to simplify things. Shoot more.
“You’ve got to get pucks to the net,’’ he said. “And then they’ve got to collapse and then they're out of position then the (Mika Zibanejad one-timer from the left circle) opens up. You just can't go out there and say 'We're going to do the Mika play tonight.' You got to do other things that open that lanes up.
“The bottom line is you got to get shots first, and then things open up for you.’’
Still, according to Gallant, the Rangers’ power play is the least of their problems.
“I'm happy with them,’’ he said. “I wasn't (Saturday) night, but most nights I am.’’
Dissecting what had gone wrong for the Rangers is never so simple as to be able to focus on one thing. While the offense needs to do more, the defense hasn’t been perfect, either. The defensive pair of Trouba and K’Andre Miller were on for both goals against in Saturday’s game, and entering Sunday the pair were each minus-5 on the season.