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Rangers searching for answers to fix struggling power play 

Brendan Lemieux of the Rangers controls the puck

Brendan Lemieux of the Rangers controls the puck against Matt Niskanen and Carter Hart of the Flyers in the second period at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on Monday night. Credit: Getty Images/Mitchell Leff

The ending of their game in Philadelphia Monday night was so sudden, unexpected and devastating that Rangers coach David Quinn wasn’t even mad. He was just kind of bummed out.

“There’s a difference between playing well and winning,’’ Quinn said after his team surrendered three goals within the final five minutes and lost to the Flyers, 5-1, to close out the pre-Christmas schedule on a 1-3-1 skid and with a 17-15-4 overall record. “Right now, we’ve got to do a better job of playing winning hockey.’’

Quinn said a power play goal now and again would help. The Rangers came up empty on four power plays in Philadelphia, including a one-minute, four-second stretch midway in the first period where they had a two-man advantage.

“Our power play, obviously, it’s really hurt us lately,’’ Quinn said. “Our power play had plenty of chances. We get a five-on-three and we just – it’s a teamwide problem, slowing the play down and not shooting pucks.’’

The Rangers' power play is 0-for-17 over the last five games. The penalty killing unit has outscored the power play, 2-0 in that span, with the penalty kill unit getting a shorthanded goal in each of the last two games, against Anaheim Sunday and Philadelphia Monday. The last time the Rangers scored with the man advantage was in their last opportunity of a 6-3 road win over San Jose on Dec. 12.

The Rangers are 23-for-128 (18 percent) for the season on the power play, good for 19th overall in the 31-team league. The penalty kill is 22nd in the league, allowing 29 goals in 133 times shorthanded (a 78.2 percent kill rate), but their eight shorthanded goals are tied for most in the league with Carolina.

Earlier in the season, the power play was fine, with the first unit featuring Artemi Panarin, a righthanded shot, operating in the left wing circle, where he could take advantage of one-time shots. Rookie Kaapo Kakko, a lefthanded shot, operated in the right wing circle, while Chris Kreider stationed himself on top of the goal crease, to screen the goalie and tip shots. Mika Zibanejad roamed the high slot area, where he could shoot or make plays, and a righthanded-shooting defenseman – first Jacob Trouba, then Tony DeAngelo, then Adam Fox, and, most recently, DeAngelo again – manned the point.

In the first nine games after Zibanejad returned from a 13-game absence with an upper body injury, the power play went 7-for-33 (21.2 percent). But since the San Jose game, that unit has struggled to find itself. Zibanejad and Panarin are both righthanded shots who like playing in the left circle, so the Rangers have been moving the two around. For a brief time Panarin moved to the right circle, and Kakko to the left, which meant no one-time shooting threats from either circle. Then Zibanejad moved to the left circle, Panarin stayed in the right circle, and Kakko moved to the high slot. With Kakko out the last two games due to a lower body injury, Pavel Buchnevich replaced him and set up in the right circle, with Zibanejad in the left and Panarin in the high slot.

All the while, Quinn has been imploring his players to just shoot the puck. They haven’t done that nearly enough, as far as the coach is concerned. And after the three-day Christmas break is over, Quinn and his staff are going to have to go back to the drawing board and try to figure something out with the power play.

“We're going to move some pieces around, I'll tell you that,’’ Quinn said Monday night. “Our mentality [has been] we get it, we hold it, we stick handle it. We look for the pretty pass, instead of just moving around and playing hockey within a power play. And it's killing us right now.

“I mean these are games that, you know, we've done a lot of good things five-on-five; we put ourselves in position to win,’’ he said. “We've improved in a bunch of areas. But you’ve got to win the special teams battle. You've got to score power play goals when you get five or six a night.’’

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