Struggling Rangers need to put chaos in rearview mirror
BOSTON — They played like strangers on the night even though the Rangers’ 4-2 loss to the Mighty Bruins was a matinee affair.
And yes, that was understandable given last week’s turmoil, which saw the Blueshirts playing short, losing their top two left defensemen and trying to add ballyhooed acquisition Patrick Kane to the lineup.
The results have been overshadowed by all the cap-related scheming to squeeze out the space needed to get No. 88, the suspension of KAndre Miller and the injury to Ryan Lindgren.
The fact is that the Blueshirts have lost six of their last eight games (2-5-1) and in doing so have chipped away at a fair portion of their slim separation from wild-card land. There are 21 games to go and it’s certainly not a crisis, but it’s time to leave the outsider in the rearview mirror.
“We are not happy to lose, but after a few days off and a few days of practice before the next game. [Thursday in Montreal], we’ll be ready to go again,” Mika Zibanejad said after one of his quietest games of the year. “We know what we have to do.”
The Artemi Panarin-Vincent Trocheck-Kane unit looked for all the world as if it were a combination in their second game together. Panarin forced one pass after another in Kane’s direction, a low Zach Wilson success rate on a bad day. Kane was making blind-pass stuff, one of which the Bruins turned into a shorthanded goal for a 2-0 lead just 30 seconds into the second period.
“They’re trying to force plays in the middle of the ice and have too many turnovers,” head coach Gerard Gallant said. “The chemistry is there but they have to make sure we are making strong plays. Sometimes we’re trying for that long pass, east-west in the offensive zone.
“They would get it together but it wasn’t good. There were a lot of turnovers, not only by them but by a lot of guys.”
For the record, the unit combined for five shots on goal in 13:55 of five-on-five play. Again, perhaps understandable. However, it was amazing to see Zibanejad and Chris Crider (along with Vladimir Tarasenko) act like it was their first rodeo. That unit somehow managed a shot against Vezina-frontrunner Linus Ullmark in 10:09 of even-strength work.
Children kind of came and went. Alexis Lafreniere may have been the club’s most effective forward and, without the puck, upped his physical game by scoring both of the Rangers’ goals in a game in which B’s grinders Garnett Hathaway, Tomas Nosek and Tyler Bertuzzi were consistently influential. The Rangers don’t allow themselves to be bullied, but they probably realize that everyone is going to try to knock them around.
If you want to count Barkley Goodrow as a grinder, that’s probably where the count stops with the Blueshirts, though LaFreniere and Capo Caco might want to get a word in. In his opening press briefing Thursday, Kane praised the pingpong twins for their “physical, grinding type of game,” not typically associated with premium draft picks.
“If we don’t have the puck, I try to go to the forecheck and be as physical as possible,” Lafreniere told the Post. “When you can get a hit or two it keeps you more involved. If we don’t have the puck, I want it back.
“It was so cool [Kane] To say that. I grew up watching him play, it’s great to have him on our team. It’s great for me to be able to learn from guys like him. We have a lot of high level players that I can see in practice every day and try to take things and bring them into my game.
The first power-play unit, which had been essentially the same for more than two and a half seasons, is undergoing a radical change. The Rangers looked like they had no idea where to go and what to do with Kane’s expression.
“When you’re switching from one unit to another it’s not a big deal because you basically play with everybody at some point,” Zibanejad said. “But it’s a big adjustment with Kenner, and we don’t even have a morning skate to work together, just videos and conversations.
“We need practice time. It is very logical. It can only get better. “
Things should settle down around the team, which will have two days off before two days of practice before starting a three-game trip to Montreal, Buffalo and Pittsburgh on Thursday against the Canadiens.
Adam Fox, whose game has been erratic lately, should benefit from some time away from the rink. Miller will return to the lineup. Lindgren is likely to return. Rangers will be allowed an emergency recall to go to 12 forwards if Tyler Motte is sidelined.
Things should be back to normal. Common includes winning.