The New York Rangers recently dropped a divisional match up to the Columbus Blue Jackets two nights ago on Jan. 27 in a 5-3 defeat on the road. They had success against the Blue Jackets in previous games as they secured wins in both meetings. In fact, the Blue Jackets are the only fellow Metropolitan team the Rangers met more than twice so far this season. Only nine of the Blueshirts’ 44 games played were against divisional teams.
Despite that loss, the Rangers fared very well against other Metro teams thus far. The Metro division that houses these east coast teams perenially produces Stanley Cup contenders that are tough opponents season after season. The club is making a run for the postseason and finding a way to hang tough in the standings with the steady Carolina Hurricanes, resilient Pittsburgh Penguins, and seasoned Washington Capitals. With a strong 6-3-0 record against their fellow Metros thus far, can the Blueshirts prolong success against their neighbors?
Currently sat in third place, with 60 points in 45 games, the team faces several challenges ahead, as recently discussed. The Penguins, who are experiencing a revival, snuck up in the standings thanks to the excellent play of netminder Tristan Jarry. The Hurricanes and the Capitals were day one competitors for the Rangers. At the halfway mark, the Rangers will continue to face challenges like injury, illness, and of course, the other seven teams they will have to face several more times.
In order to hang with the tough teams, the Rangers added reinforcements like Ryan Reaves and Barclay Goodrow. Meetings against the Capitals should be more manageable with a grittier roster, yet the Rangers dropped their lone meeting to the Caps in their season opener, 5-1. Alas, the Rangers are a different team since that game and will have three more opportunities to prove that.
Any visit against the peculiar Penguins, who have yet to meet the Rangers this season, will produce an extremely informative result regarding how serious the Rangers can contend this season. A team like the Penguins will exploit any weakness the team has yet to address, similar to the singular meeting against the Hurricanes. Last season, the Rangers performed horribly against the Penguins–due to the virus mitigation season format– the Blueshirts met the Penguins eight times and dropped all but two games. This record includes a loss in overtime and in the shootout.
Fast forward back to this season, the Rangers only saw the New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils once thus far. Both of those were Rangers victories, though the Devils forced the Rangers into overtime and eventually a shootout. The organization was incessantly chasing a “relentless” style of hockey but still, it is too soon to tell if this is attained, though it required seven rounds of a shootout to secure the extra point, the Devils are not one of the main competitors for the Rangers, now, anyway.
The Rangers met the struggling Philadelphia Flyers twice, which resulted in four enviable points, but they were not necessarily blowouts either. The second of the two meetings was a much closer game than it should have been, as the Rangers struggled to keep a lead. This makes for some concerns to appear.
Rangers Takeaways From the Metro Matchups
One positive takeaway from the limited sample size is that the Rangers are able to shut down the teams in regulation, with only one exception. The only divisional losses occurred at the hands of teams with better records, again, with one exception in Columbus. In years past, the Rangers have succumbed easier to troubled franchises. Still, six wins in nine meetings against their competitors is a strong start to their string of division meetings.
The Rangers proved several times already that they are a comeback club but these backyard matchups particularly reveal their weak areas and where improvement is crucial as they will have to rise above the Metro teams to go further into the playoff race. When the team faces any team in the division, the performance should indicate a better gauge for prolonged success. Though some teams in the group may be struggling, they can still be considered a more fierce competitor than some clubs out West.
A quick glance at the numbers will show that the differential between the goals Rangers scored and the goals against is slim. The Blueshirts collected 31 goals on Metro teams but 26 goals were scored on the team collectively in these nine games. It is clear the regular strength scoring is struggling to produce and even recently the power play has not been as effective. Though the most recent example being Columbus, only coughed up three power-play chances, New York cashed in only once.
Since the team possesses a strong power-play unit, this is disappointing to see a dip in productivity especially when regular strength scoring is inconsistent. The concern is even more so amplified as these points are more important to separate themselves in the standings. The added pressure in the division comes from several other teams in midst of a similar situation, like the Rangers.
A rebuilding team is in need of one or two pieces. A scorer, a goaltender, a shutdown defensive duo. For the most part, each team in the Metro is an experienced, older team (not looking at you, New Jersey, or Columbus) and Carolina is somewhere in the middle. The young Rangers are going against these veteran teams, though what the Capitals, Islanders, Flyers, and Penguins lack in age – they make up for with experience, and that is an intangible advantage working against the Rangers and will continue to.
The losses to the Hurricanes and Capitals, plus the lone loss to the Blue Jackets, highlighted the positive strides the Rangers made but what is left to improve. Scoring was low in these three games, only seven goals for the Rangers and 16 against them. However, it was Alexandar Georgiev who was in net for all three losses.
Yet, he cannot be accounted for the entirety of the losses, but his reliability could be improved upon especially down the road against these teams. Against the Capitals, the Rangers struggled to stay out of the penalty box. Against the Hurricanes, the Rangers cracked down but gave an offensively threatening team three advantages, two of which, the opponent scored on.
Despite such impending challenges ahead, the team should feel confident in their early record against these teams. Thankfully the rest of the season is backloaded with Metro matchups. Especially in March and early April, the Blueshirts have some time to address their weak areas, maybe make an acquisition, and suit up to face their biggest competitors before the postseason begins.
Rachel is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh. She can be followed on Twitter @RachelNHL.