Brief Break Comes at Right Time for Rangers

Amidst all the buzz of the New York Rangers acquiring Patrick Kane is the fact that the team has hit a bit of a rough patch following its second seven-game winning streak of the season. Some defensive and goaltending struggles that were covered up by prolific scoring are now being magnified since the scoring is no longer…well, prolific. Then there’s the patchwork, incomplete lineups the Rangers have had to play with thanks to their pursuit of Kane, and the difficulty in making everything fit together.

It’s all resulted in an ugly 2-5-1 record over the past eight games. Fortunately, the Rangers are now in the middle of a four-day break between games, which could not have come at a better time.

Time to Become Whole

By the time the Rangers take the ice for their next game—Thursday against the Montreal Canadiens north of the border—K’Andre Miller will be back from his three-game suspension. That will go a long way in solidifying the blue line, as the Blueshirts will finally be able to dress six defensemen once again—whether or not Ryan Lindgren is also back from his injury.

Tyler Motte still might not be ready to return from the upper-body injury he suffered last Thursday night thanks to a violent but apparently non-suspension worthy hit from the Ottawa Senators’ Austin Watson (I’m no doctor, but I’m guessing the resulting injury might have been a concussion). Even if that’s the case, the Rangers should now be able to recall a forward from Hartford on an emergency basis (although, who knows with the NHL).

That means New York will finally have a normal lineup of 12 forwards and six defensemen. No more 11-5 setup, and no more 20-minute nights for Ben Harpur (with all due respect). Hopefully Lindgren and Motte are both OK and can return sooner than later, but for now, the Rangers should have a little more stability.

Time to Make Everything Fit

In addition to having a normal 18-skater lineup for their next game, the Rangers will have had some time to practice with their new-look roster. Kane, after jumping into action without any real practice time, will have an opportunity to become acclimated with the team’s systems and the tendencies of his new teammates. Perhaps too that will give him and Artemiy Panarin a chance to shake off the cobwebs of their prior chemistry with the Chicago Blackhawks, and for them to stop forcing plays to each other that are not there.

Tying to Kane and Panarin is the Rangers’ power play. It was such a weapon and driver of success for them last season, but has been a bit up-and-down this season. Since Kane’s debut, the top unit has looked extremely disjointed. That’s not surprising given the new deployments, but the man-advantage is something the Rangers need to sharpen up quickly.

The Rangers will undoubtedly consider various combinations for the two five-man units, as they have quite a bit of star power to play with. In any case, they need to rethink Mika Zibanejad’s deployment. In particular, they need to take a long look at moving him out of the bumper position and back to the left circle to be a more consistent one-timer threat. They should look to have at least one one-timer threat in one of the circles on each of the five-man units—whether that’s Zibanejad in the left circle on the first unit, Vladimir Tarasenko in the right circle on the second unit, or something else that creates that problem for opponents.

At even strength, the Blueshirts need to get back to tightening their defense; while they did not allow a bevy of chances against the Boston Bruins in Saturday’s 4-2 loss, they again had multiple lapses and breakdowns that cost them. The fatigue of the overtaxed defensemen can’t be ignored, but the forwards need to do a better job sticking with their assignments and covering the net-front area. The four-day break might be a nice chance for a “back-to-basics” refresh in that part of the game.

Look for a rejuvenated Rangers team to hopefully show some signs of beginning to figure these things out Thursday in Montreal.