Here's the playoff picture as it currently stands: The New York Rangers sit in third place in the Metro Division, tied with the Penguins in games played, wins, ROW and points. The Penguins have won six-straight games and are 8-2 in their last ten -- the type of streak you expect to see from a post-deadline team surging into the playoffs.
The Rangers are three points ahead of the Islanders for the first wild card spot, but the Islanders have two games in hand. The final wild card spot is held by Detroit, who trail the Rangers by five points with no games in hand.
These are not the New York Rangers people expected to see after they went all in before the trade deadline. These New York Rangers are not generating any hopes of a run to the Stanley Cup, let alone actually winning the whole thing.
In a way the Rangers West coast trip -- where they went 1-1-1 -- was the season as a whole in a nutshell. They won a game relying on their goalie despite getting out possessed badly in Anaheim. They failed to hold another late lead, let the wheels fall off in the third period and lost the game in overtime to Los Angeles. To cap things off, they got their teeth kicked in against San Jose in a game that continued to highlight the defensive issues of this team.
The anchor of this team continues to be the defense the Rangers refused to fix. I don't necessarily agree with the thinking Jeff Gorton couldn't unload his two biggest problems (Dan Girardi and Marc Staal if I had to name them) during the season, but even if that was true them being on the team doesn't mean Alain Vigneault needs to give them the premier playing time he has been.
And let's not even get into Vigneault continuing to play Tanner Glass while a much better player in Oscar Lindberg rots int he press box. As we talked about after the trade, Vigneault has a responsibility to do his part with this must win lineup. And as we've seen, he's either unwilling to drop his favorites (bad) or actually can't see how much of a detriment they are to the team (worse). Maybe that has something to do with this:
Three worst possession teams since the trade deadline: Rangers, Islanders, Devils.— James Mirtle (@mirtle) March 20, 2016
Penguins are first.
Promising. pic.twitter.com/yuDtKinwE4— Dave Shapiro (@BlueSeatBlogs) March 20, 2016
The ebb and flow of the Rangers possession metrics oddly coincide with their continued struggles. As the team continues to lean on Lundqvist and Antti Raanta to right the ship, the offense seems to be getting the most attention from the knee-jerk fans that hate stats but love the scoreboard. The offense has been an issue, and some of it is, of course, their own fault. But part of it is also stemming from Vigneaults system tasking the defense with moving the puck up to transition into offense -- something this group struggles with mightily. And the only player the Rangers have on the back end that can do that and then some (Keith Yandle) isn't seeing top-pairing minutes and is being buried even on the power play.
The Rangers no longer control the puck, beg Lundqvist and company to bail them out and keep deploying their worst defenders against the other team's top opponents. If there was a trade market for Girardi and Staal I think that window is closing, since other teams seem very happy to "allow" their best players to be matched up against them on the road, or purposely exploit that matchup when they have the last change. When the other team is reacting like that, you need to switch something up or maybe re-evaluate what it is you're doing. Instead the Rangers keep doing the same thing because they think something will change. It's very likely the Rangers brass agrees with the fans/media members who think Girardi and Staal are "slumping" rather than just not being very good at hockey anymore.
Vigneault's lack of adjustments came back to haunt the Rangers in California. Vigneault seems to have no problem praising his fourth line with a straight face while the rest of the team crumbles around him and costs him home ice in the first round of the playoffs and maybe then some.
This team has fully transitioned from "we should be Stanley Cup contenders" to "well once we get into the playoffs anything can happen." The scariest part of that is the Rangers brass seems to be OK with this, and their head coach is as well, since he's publicly said it himself.
That's a far cry from the way things were in 2014 and even 2015.
But then again, this team is a far cry from what those teams were, too.