The New York Rangers started off the season strong. They currently sit in sixth place in the East, but they are only two points in front of ninth seed Ottawa. The team, which is 3-6-1 in its last 10 games, must turn their game around now if they hope to make the 2016 Playoffs.
Head coach Alain Vigneault was hired after the team fell apart thanks to their poor play under former coach John Tortorella. The team has been great in its last few seasons; they made Stanley Cup appearances multiple times, and last season, they made it all the way to the Conference Finals, where they fell to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Though the team has fallen behind, they would not be in the playoffs without the play from Henrik Lundqvist. “The King” has been spectacular this season for the Rags, but believe it or not, statistically, this is one of the worst years of his career, even though he has a .920 save mark and a career-worst 2.51 GAA. The only leaderboard the netminder sits on involves winning: he has 17 wins on the season.
He has also allowed ten goals in his last three starts, and in his last ten, he has escaped with three victories. It is not his fault alone; it is also thanks to poor defense. The entire team has struggled this season, and a usually top-performing netminder is having one of the worst seasons of his career.
“As a goalie, it’s important that you analyze it the right way. I think I was feeling pretty good about my game, but still, I give up five goals,” Lundqvist said of his troubling stretch. “That’s the tough part. I just have to stay confident in that situation.”
In order to get back on track, the team must fix their problem on defense. Don’t forget in 2014, after falling in the Stanley Cup Finals, they let Anton Stralman walk, leaving them with poor choices on the backend. That offseason has been the worst one for the team, especially after they fell in the Stanley Cup final. And unfortunately, Keith Yandle and Ryan McDonagh have not been able to fill those holes on defense. Dan Girardi and Marc Staal, who lead the defensive corps in ice time, are struggling as well.
Not to mention the offense has struggled, too, but not nearly as much as the backend. Sure, Mats Zuccarello and Rick Nash have both scored two goals in their last five games,and yes, they have had slumps, but the team scores on average around 2.6 goals a game, which is fifth in the league. The team lets in on average about 3 goals a game.
If the Rangers want to get back on track, the defense has to step up, or they need to start looking at improving their corps and trying new players in those positions. The team is halfway through the season, and if they want another shot at the cup, they have to fix their game. And fast.
“As bad as it sounds, I’m experienced in these situations,” Nash said, regarding the team’s woes. “I know there’s only one way out of it, and that’s to stick together. When you start pointing fingers and blaming people, that’s when it gets worse.”