When the best player on your team is your goalie, you probably can get by without having to produce as many goals as some other teams need to score.
But to be a playoff team, you still have to put the puck in the net more often than the Rangers have. Through the first 35 games of the 2018-19 season, they just haven’t done enough of it.
At the three-day Christmas break, the Rangers have a record of 15-14-6, which is good for 36 points and has them six points out of the nearest playoff spot. And while some solid work by goaltender Henrik Lundqvist (.915 save percentage) and backup Alexandar Georgiev (.899) has them hanging around the periphery of the playoff race, their 97 goals in 35 games (2.77 per) is a problem. They are 26th in the league in goals scored, and if they are to stay in the hunt for a playoff spot, that will need to improve.
As the late Herb Brooks used to say, “You are what you are.’’ That surely applies to the Rangers.
The team admittedly is in a rebuild, and though there definitely are some quality players on the roster, they don’t have an Alex Ovechkin, Patrik Laine or Connor McDavid.
Their leading goal-scorer is Chris Kreider, who has 17 and is on pace for what would be a career-high 40. That’s good. But Ovechkin already has 29 goals and 12 others have at least 20. Kreider’s goal total is tied for 18th in the league.
The Rangers’ leading scorers are Mika Zibanejad and Kevin Hayes, who have 30 points each. Ten players in the league have more assists than the two Rangers have points.
OK, there’s no need to beat the point to death: The Rangers aren’t going to light the league on fire scoring-wise. To stay in it most nights, and to win often enough to remain in the playoff race, they must check their higher-scoring opponents like crazy and hope to sneak in some key goals on counterattacks and power plays.
The Rangers point to how well they played recently against some of the top teams in the league (a 4-3 overtime loss to Winnipeg and a tough 5-3 loss at Toronto) as evidence that they can compete this season.
Can they do that every night, though?
Plan for improvement
One thing that would improve the Rangers’ lack of goal-scoring is to generate more shots on goal. Their 28.8 shots on goal per game ranks 27th in the league, so the first order of business is to get more pucks to the net.
Of course, to shoot the puck, you must have the puck, so puck possession is the key. Taking it away from the other team and holding on to it in the offensive zone is where it needs to start.