San Jose, Calif. — Not far from finishing the first quarter of the season, the Rangers are still trying to establish themselves amid a patchy start that has seen them finish fourth in the D.C. Division.
There were losses that should have been wins, wins that should have been losses and ups and downs in their game from one period to the next that led to injury. It seems the “it” factor every opposing team has – and the Rangers certainly had it last season – hasn’t appeared since their season-opening victory over the Lightning just over a month ago.
The Rangers may only be in game 19 of 82 on Saturday against the Sharks, but enough of the 2022-23 season has passed for the stiff competition to form in their division.
Devils fans at the Prudential Center last night were chanting to apologize to coach Lindy Ruff for calling him his position early in the season. Now, the Devils have won 11 in a row and lead the Metros with a 14-3-0 record for 28 points, which is tied with the Golden Knights for second in the NHL.
The Islanders are trying to make this season a redemption season after a losing campaign in 2021-22, and they’re off to the kind of start that could allow them to do just that. With a 0.611 points percentage and an 11-7-0 record, the Islanders are currently third in the division. As expected, the second-place Hurricanes are just as strong as they were last season.
The Rangers — particularly their superstars — have the onus to cut out the mess of mediocrity if they want to remain competitive in a loaded Eastern Conference.
“[Opponents are] We will have opposition. We’re not only going to be able to dominate for the full 60 minutes the NHL team we’re still playing against,” said Mika Zibanejad after the Rangers lost 3-2 in overtime to the Kraken. “But I think with that being said, there are probably a lot of things we can do better in terms of when you feel the momentum swing. When you feel like they get their chances. I would say they get a lot of their chances from our mistakes.” And our malfunctions and other things.
Scoring during a five-on-five game has been a problem lately. The Rangers have simply been a quality shooting team when they need to be otherwise. They are currently tied with the Wild for the second most losses in games in which they have outscored their opponents (five), behind only the Flames’ and Panthers’ six.
Artemy Panarin, who leads the Rangers with 22 points, went three straight games without a shot in five-on-five for only the second time in his NHL career. Rangers aren’t built to persevere through matches in which their top six players don’t lift their weight – at least when the team isn’t getting goalkeeping from another world.
The Rangers also struggled mightily when they were pushed into the perimeter, which is something opponents seem to focus on.
There is certainly a mental hurdle to clear as the team tries to claw its way out of a jam. However, nothing should be more motivating than what is happening around them in the department.
“We have good five-on-five chances and we can’t expect every shot to go in,” Zibanejad said. “When you start that conversation it becomes frustrating because you can’t score five-on-five. Maybe you’re thinking about it too much, maybe you don’t have the confidence, maybe you’re looking for an extra pass to make sure it’s a better chance than you have because you don’t feel confident you’re going to score. They are small things and can get swayed easily.
“I don’t think it will come from fear or thinking about it too much. We’ll just fight through it. It goes up and down all season.”