There were many issues that were identified by the players and coaches for the New York Rangers during their 1-4-1 start to the season. It is not like the Blueshirts are getting blown out in these games. Outside of the opening night loss to the Islanders, the other losses have come by just one goal. Of the issues, there is one that needs to be addressed immediately if the team is going to turn things around in a hurry.
Sorry Ranger fans, it is not Jack Johnson. Despite the fact that Jack Johnson’s name became a top Twitter trend after he took a penalty which led to a Sabres power-play goal, he is not at the top of the list of issues for this team.
The related issue is special teams, which were awful on Tuesday night. In this early part of the season, the Rangers do not kill penalties nearly consistently enough. Then they allowed a way too easy pair of power-play goals in this game.
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) January 27, 2021
Speaking of penalties, they take too many bad ones, even if they had been a bit better recently.
Much of this has been focused on the top six, as mentioned by head coach David Quinn in his post-game press conference. “We’re not getting enough from our top six. That’s for sure,” Quinn said.
In all fairness, it is not everyone on the top six, but especially the veteran leadership on the team that needs to go out and set the tempo to help correct all of the flaws that the Rangers have shown over the first six games.
This leadership is especially important for a team that has seven players 22 years old or younger on their active roster (Chytil, Fox, Howden, Kakko, Lafrenière, Lindgren, and Miller). They also have had more players who are 22 years old or younger play at least one game this season, which is more than any other NHL team.
While it is nice to talk about the play of K’Andre Miller and Phillip Di Giuseppe, we should be hearing more about the outstanding play of Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, and even Ryan Strome, something that is not happening. It is something that needs to happen. Any coach or player will tell you that in any sport, veteran leadership is extremely important, especially with a roster of young players.
The worrisome part of Zibanejad is that he knows it, but is he healthy enough to do it? After the game, Zibanejad knows that the “top six” need to play better. “We’re supposed to contribute. We’ve got to figure a way out of this.”
Even though Zibanejad says he is healthy after recovering from his bout with COVID-19, one has to wonder if there are any lingering effects. There have been a handful of healthy MLB and NFL players who have talked about the virus “kicked their butt” for quite a while after contracting it.
Kreider also knows that they need to step up. Talking about it one thing, doing it is another such as not taking one of the bad penalties like he did Tuesday night.
“It’s about finding ways to win,” Kreider said in his post-game Zoom conference. “It’s four in a row? I mean, we’ve got to hate losing in that room.”
That mentality must start with the guys who were the big “A” on the jersey.
Hopefully, it will when the Rangers and Sabres meet again in Buffalo with a 7 p.m. puck drop. The game will be televised on MSG.