If any team needed a break from the grind of the NHL, a fresh start, it’s the Rangers, who are having some issues scoring.
In the three games since the Winter Classic, they have only four goals: two in a 5-2 loss to the Blackhawks at home, one in a 2-1 shootout win in Arizona that essentially was made possible by an outstanding 41-save performance (including three in the shootout) by Henrik Lundqvist, and one in the 2-1 loss on Sunday in Las Vegas.
The Rangers had 79 shots on goal (29 Sunday, 25 on Saturday and Wednesday), and not enough of them found the back on the net — two by Mika Zibanejad in regulation (and one in the shootout) and one each from Jimmy Vesey and Nick Holden.
In his postgame remarks Sunday, Ryan McDonagh, who hasn’t scored a goal all season, pointed the finger squarely at himself and the go-to skaters on the team.
“They [the Golden Knights] made more plays than us and their top guys played better, and that’s probably been the biggest thing with this team this year,” he said. “We don’t have enough of our best players stepping up, and you can look for sure right away at me there and my play. You need your top players to carry your team, and we haven’t done that nearly enough.”
McDonagh didn’t name names, but it isn’t hard to identify at least two of them: defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and forward Rick Nash. Shattenkirk, who had 13 goals last season for St. Louis and Washington, has five and hasn’t scored since Nov. 6, a stretch of 26 games. Nash, who had 23 goals in 67 games last season, has created plenty of opportunities but has scored only one goal in his last 15 and nine overall.
Remember, the Rangers are without Chris Kreider, who is likely to undergo rib surgery this week and is out indefinitely. The power forward scored 28 goals last season and was on his way to 20-plus again. They also miss center Derek Stepan, who went 17-38-55 last season before being traded to Arizona.
Last season, J.T. Miller had 22 goals, Kevin Hayes 17 and Mats Zuccarello 15. Their current numbers? Eight, nine and eight. The offense also could use more help from defensemen Brady Skjei and Brendan Smith. Smith has no goals in 33 games and Skjei has two in 42.
After Sunday’s game, Zibanejad said he believed some players were lacking confidence with the puck.
“You’ve got to build confidence [in making plays]. If that means playing simpler, maybe that’s it,” he said. “We’ve got to find ways of building confidence.”
Scoring more would help.
Notes & quotes: Hayes, who suffered a lower-body injury Sunday, believed to be on a check into the end boards from Vegas defenseman Nate Schmidt in the first period, was being evaluated by doctors in New York on Monday . . . Vinni Lettieri was assigned to Hartford but could be back on Friday when the Rangers return to practice.