What is causing the Rangers’ defense to crumble?

New York Rangers defenseman Erik Gustafsson (56) at Madison Square Garden
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers have taken a quick 180-degree turn in their defensive end following a spectacular start to the season. The Blueshirts have won seven of their last ten games, but those victories have not come easily. Poor defensive play has certainly made remaining as the top team in the NHL an uphill battle.

It’s strange to see the Rangers playing this badly in their own zone after watching almost perfect defense be executed at the beginning of the season. Head coach Peter Laviolette had his players working overtime to improve their skills, and it was working well. For one reason or another, this is no longer the case.

The Rangers’ defense shattered once again against Ottawa

Last night, the Blueshirts had an ugly performance against the Ottawa Senators. They were clear favorites to win entering the matchup, but the Senators managed to pull off an incredible upset in a 6-2 loss for the Rangers. The defense looked sloppy right from the start, and the defensive corps’ performance led to many goals against, including two from former Ranger Vladimir Tarasenko.

There were very few New York defenders who impressed against Ottawa. K’Andre Miller seemed to be the best throughout the game, but even his performance was mediocre. Jacob Trouba struggled immensely, as at least one of the Senators’ goals can be directly blamed on him. Outside of the defensive corps, even the Rangers’ forwards failed to contribute in their own zone throughout the game.

The Rangers might be getting too confident following early success

Nobody expected the Blueshirts to be as dominant as they were when the season first began. But with elite coaching and every single player contributing solid play, the Rangers have managed to remain the No. 1 team in the NHL for a decent amount of time.

This success has led to positive vibes in the locker room, and everyone is enjoying playing with confidence. But now, it seems like the players might be a little too confident in themselves. There’s no explanation for the Rangers beating Boston one game and then losing to Buffalo in the next, except for playing down to their opponent.

The Blueshirts have the skill required to beat any team in the NHL. But when the Rangers enter a game expecting a guaranteed win, non-playoff teams can, and have, gain momentum and upset the favorites. This mindset was likely a major factor in the Rangers’ loss to Ottawa last night.

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Laviolette needs to get a grip on his defenders

Throughout this entire season, Laviolette has been known to work his players extra hard in practice. He’s implemented a very structured system to improve his players, and it was working almost perfectly up until recently. The lack of effort and over-confidence from the Rangers’ defenders is a simple issue that can easily be fixed. The Blueshirts’ defenders are aware of this problem, but even they just want to ignore it and continue onwards.

“I think we were pretty loose that game. Seemed like especially that second period was run and gun, guys behind us, odd-man rushes. Just a sloppy one out of us, definitely one to forget.”

Adam Fox via Mollie Walker

As soon as Laviolette is able to get a hold of his defenders and bring them back to reality, he should be able to reinstate a level of effort like what was seen earlier this season. Once again, these problems are fixable. The players just need to put the work in on the ice. Luckily, the Rangers have a few days off and won’t play again until December 9th, giving the Blueshirts three days to improve in practice.