The Rangers ended their two-game winning streak with a 2-0 loss to the Islanders. I keep thinking at some point the top two lines will produce offense, but the season is now one-fifth over and they have yet to do so. When are they going to end this drought?
Here are 10 thoughts on the Rangers.
1. When the Rangers lose it’s always painful. Not because they can’t afford to lose games in a 56-game season at the rate they have been (they can’t), but because it’s actually painful. Aside from the Rangers’ season-opening blowout loss to the Islanders, they don’t just lose, they have to lose in the most excruciating way possible. Whether it’s trailing early and coming back only to fall one goal sort of completing the comeback, or blowing a two-goal lead, or blowing a third-period lead, or having a chance to break open a 0-0 game with breakaways and odd-man rushes and failing to do so only to eventually lose, the Rangers have mastered the art of losing in the worst ways in 2021.
2. You can place blame all around the team for their 4-5-2 start to the season, (well, it’s no longer a “start” since 20 percent of the season is over), however, the majority of the blame has to be placed on the top two lines. Within that blame, David Quinn takes partial blame for his top-six combinations which change by the shift and rarely ever include the No. 1 overall pick from the 2020 draft or the No. 2 overall pick from the 2019 draft. Instead, spots are filled by veterans as if it’s a high school team and seniority matters. Quinn keeps using the same players in different combinations and he keeps getting the same result: a lack of offense.
3. Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad are always locks for the top six and nothing should ever change that. (They should be on the same line, but I have learned to semi-accept that is never going to happen on a permanent basis, and will only happen when the team trails in the third period and desperately needs a goal.) After them, the other four spots could go to anyone at anytime under Quinn.
4. Pavel Buchnevich has earned one of the spots with the way he has played this season. That leaves three spots. Unfortunately, the Rangers’ lack of a second center with Filip Chytil out means either Ryan Strome or Brett Howden has to take one of the three remaining spots by default. That leaves two spots.
5. One of them has to go to Alexis Lafrenière. The kid did things in the Q that only Sidney Crosby has. He was the most anticipated No. 1 pick since Connor McDavid, and he’s playing third-line and second-power play minutes. How is that responsible? How has no one from the front office stepped in and override Quinn’s idiotic usage of the star in waiting? The other needs to go to Kaapo Kakko. The No. 2 pick from the 2019 draft needs to be allowed to show what made him the second overall pick.
6. If it were up to me, the lines at full strength would be:
7. Those lines make winning a priority and also help with the ongoing rebuild, which is the line Quinn needs to toe. If he’s coaching for results right now then he’s doing a horrible job and should be replaced. If he’s coaching for the future and to progress the rebuild then he’s doing a horrible job and should be replaced. The Rangers aren’t winning (they have lost seven of 11 games) and they are stunting the development of their young players by giving them limited ice time and close to no special teams time.
8. Quinn needs to pick a side or he won’t be the Rangers coach at some point in 2022. Barring an internal or cultural issue, the Rangers could finish in last place and Quinn will be back for 2021-22. This season can easily be categorized as yet another rebuilding year and a weird shortened season with no training camp and every other odd element this year. But next year, results will matter. Next year, the Rangers will have to have arrived. Quinn will have been given three years to figure it out, and if he doesn’t have it figured it out next year, that will be it for him.
9. Quinn could do himself a favor if he were to stop relying on players who aren’t getting it done. At times, he has shown he can make the intelligent move like removing Kreider from the top two lines or playing Lafrenière with one of the two already superstars or removing Strome from the first power play. Eventually, though, he reverts back to his comfort zone, which is playing veterans, letting Lafrenière and Kakko waste away on the bench while they watch Kreider and Strome turn the puck over the power play and doing things like pairing Jack Johnson with Tony DeAngelo in a real game.
10. The Rangers’ next three games are against the Bruins (twice) and Flyers. These three games over the next five days will be an enormous test for this Rangers team. Last season, the Rangers made their miraculous run with 16 wins in 22 games against non-playoff and mainly non-contenders. Of the 16 wins, only the first win against the Avalance in Igor Shesterkin’s NHL debut was against a truly elite opponent. (Yes, the 2019-20 Rangers beat the crap out of the Islanders and they went to the Eastern Conference Finals, but that Islanders team overachieved in a weird tournament four months afer the season was stopped.) The East doesn’t allow for any soft parts in the Rangers’ schedule this seaosn. If they want to go on the type of run they did a year ago at this time, they will need to do it against the league’s best, and that starts on Wednesday.
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