Enough with the optimism, the Rangers are not well prepared for the playoffs

Bobby Bevilacqua

Henrik Lundqvist save great pic 2-23

Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

For the most part, I may be one of the most optimistic Ranger fans out there. But this season has tested my patience, and yesterday’s pathetic performance against the San Jose Sharks was the tipping point.

The Rangers gave up 52 shots against the Sharks, with 47 of them coming at Henrik Lundqvist in 49 minutes. They had almost no extended periods of pressure or possession. They had half of the amount of shots on goal that the Sharks had, and the team finished as a -21 in Corsi For.

After this game, the Rangers are now 3-5-1 in their last nine games, and their last 10 games won’t be a walk in the park. They still have to take on the Penguins, the Islanders, the Bruins, the Panthers and the Lightning. At the rate they’re playing now, there’s a chance that Pittsburgh and the Islanders, both of which have at least one game in hand, could surpass the Rangers and put them in a wild card spot.

Something needs to change because the Rangers are playing just like they did when they were losing constantly back in December. And that’s bad for multiple reasons. One big concern is the fact that this team might just limp over the finish line and into the playoffs with no momentum and a diminished confidence.

Another huge problem is the fact that this team have made the same mistakes for 72 games now, and there have been no adjustments made to solve them. There have been two constants from the Rangers all season long.

The first constant has been the stellar play of Henrik Lundqvist for a large majority of his starts. He has an incredible .937 save percentage at even strength, which speaks to how many times he has bailed out the Rangers when they make an inevitable mistake.

The other constant has been terrible defensive play. I don’t know how this happened, but Dan Girardi and Marc Staal had two tremendously quick and drastic drop offs. They both have struggled to keep up with the pace of the game, they’ve been beaten constantly, they’re out of position on a lot of plays, and they don’t have the puck moving and passing skills to fit into Alain Vigneault’s system. Henrik Lundqvist has had to face shots from open players and on odd-man rushes because of poor coverage.

This isn’t meant to shoulder all of the blame on Girardi and Staal, although they have been the biggest offenders. Ryan McDonagh had a really bad stretch early in the year, Dan Boyle has had his issues and inconsistency problems. Kevin Klein has been the most consistent defender, and Keith Yandle has been solid too, despite his countless critics.

The defense from the forwards has been lackluster at times too. My biggest gripe is with Mats Zuccarello and Derick Brassard. Sure, they provide a ton of offense, but both have been pretty damn lazy in the defensive zone this year. Zuccarello was late to backcheck on Joe Thornton’s goal yesterday. Derick Brassard was unaware in front of the net and left Kyle Clifford wide open for his goal on Thursday.

On top of the poor defensive play is the terrible penalty kill, which has been an issue all season long. They currently own a 77.3% penalty kill, which is 28th in the league and the worst out of all of the current playoff teams. Their 47.2 Corsi For% is also the worst amongst all playoff teams.

Normally I wouldn’t question a team’s mentality, but I will with this team. When they blew the lead against the Kings, it was on Anze Kopitar’s game tying goal with 4:10 to go. That marked the 15th time this season that the Rangers had given up a goal that either tied the game or gave the other team the lead with five minutes or less remaining. The Rangers used to be invincible when leading after two periods. Now they’re extremely fragile.

On top of that, the team looks totally disinterested at times. Some nights, certain players are just absolutely invisible and have no positive impact on the game at all. In the third period, the team tends to just go into a defensive shell, let the opposing offense pummel them, and hope Hank makes the big saves. It’s a stupid tactic that has bit them in the behind on numerous occasions.

Couple this with the fact that Alain Vigneault still hasn’t learned how to properly roll four lines, deploy his defenseman properly, or deal with these problems, and it’s hard to be confident in this team going into the postseason.

The first round matchup will likely be against the Islanders. The Rangers have not beat them this season, and the Islanders always seem to have their number. With their playstyle, that’s not a matchup I’m confident in. The Capitals have slapped the Rangers around this season and they’re the favorites to win the Stanley Cup; also not a matchup I’m not confident in. If the Rangers were pushed down to a Wild Card spot, they’d have to play the Atlantic Division teams. The Panthers are a very dangerous team with a good goalie, the Bruins are a well-rounded team, and the Lightning have been playing well lately, plus they beat the Rangers last season in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The 10 games remaining realistically isn’t enough time for Alain Vigneault to fix up all of the gaping holes in this team. These problems could also cripple the team come playoff time. Sure, the Rangers could get by against a weaker team with their bad defense and poor penalty kill, but a good playoff team will jump all over them and take advantage of the flaws.

A team with Henrik Lundqvist, Keith Yandle, Ryan McDonagh, Rick Nash, Eric Staal, Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello and others should not be this bad or flawed. But they are, and it’s a reality they need to face. Alain Vigneault will have to do everything humanly possible to whip this team into shape, or a first round exit could be what awaits the Blueshirts.

Posted on March 20, 2016, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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