The Rangers, and their coach, Alain Vigneault, trying to keep their heads above water early in the season, have been fretting daily about turnovers and mistakes that are leading to goals against.
That’s unerringly true. They have surrendered 21 goals, or 3.50 per game which, entering Sunday, was the fourth-most in the East, ahead of Pittsburgh, Washington and Buffalo. The penalty-kill is hovering at 75 percent, tied for 26th in the league. Dependable Jesper Fast, who returned against the Devils after offseason hip surgery, should help shorthanded.
But the struggling Blueshirts (1-5) have another issue: They have produced just 13 goals in six games, and that’s as troubling as the defensive lapses as they brace for a week of home games against the Penguins, Islanders and Predators.
Yes, the Islanders and Bruins also have 13 goals, and the Sabres (11), Canadiens (8) and Hurricanes (7) have fewer, but the Rangers have played more games than each. Their 2.17 goals-per-game average is 27th in the NHL.
Consider: Only eight Rangers have scored: Mika Zibanejad (5) and Kevin Shattenkirk (2) are the leaders. Mats Zuccarello, J.T. Miller, Marc Staal, Kevin Hayes, Rick Nash and Brady Skjei have one goal each. Chris Kreider (28 last season), Michael Grabner (27), Jimmy Vesey (16) and Pavel Buchnevich (eight in 41 games) have none.
Perhaps they are just unlucky. They are 13th in the league in shots per game at 33.5, but it’s often not the shot that counts, it’s the quality. At times, the shots are long, giving the goaltender a clear view. Those don’t generate rebounds. And the offense sustains pressure only in spurts.
Vigneault and captain Ryan McDonagh believe the solution is hard work and better decision-making. “Hopefully, this is rock bottom here,” said McDonagh. “I’ve never had a start like this in my career, so it’s tough mentally. By no means is this group going to quit.” He said the team needs to play with “a little more edge, a little more desperation. You really need to lay it out every shift.”
There is little doubt that general manager Jeff Gorton is testing the waters on trades. Scouts are at other games, although that’s not unusual. Vigneault has said several times that it may take 10 or 20 games to sort the personnel out.
Internally, rookies Filip Chytil and Vinny Letteri probably need to spend a little more time at Hartford (AHL). Maybe Cristoval (Boo) Nieves will be ready for another look as a fourth-line center. Maybe a center such as Detroit’s Riley Sheahan is obtainable. Maybe a larger shakeup will be necessary.
With only two points in six games, even if the Rangers win nine of the next 14, they would stand at 20 points for the first quarter of the season. That’s not the pace to claim a playoff slot in the loaded Metropolitan Division.