Dive into the rollercoaster ride of the New York Rangers, from struggles on the ice to setbacks with key players and dreams of expansion on the horizon.
The New York Rangers have been hovering around .500 (12-12-2) since December 5, which isn't inspiring confidence. They had a decent run when Filip Chytil and Adam Fox were out, but things took a nosedive when Kappo Kakko got injured and missed 21 games.
Sure, both are back now, but it's tough to view this team as a true contender, given the struggles they've endured.
Igor Shesterkin: The Backbone Amidst Turmoil:
Igor Shesterkin's been doing his best, but the defense before him hasn't been holding up their end of the bargain. Before their third-period collapse against the San Jose Sharks and humbling loss to the reigning Stanley Cup champion, albeit undermanned Vegas Golden Knights for the second straight week, Stathletes gave us the numbers we've been waiting for. Before the holiday break, the Blueshirts were 18-4-1. They ranked first in power play conversion, fifth in penalty kill rate, sixth in rush chances, eighth in transition chances against per game, and seventh in danger chances differential. Their commitment to North-South hockey turned them into world beaters.
Entering Wednesday, the 6-7-2 rut was 22nd in the league. The power play had sunk to 13th, and the penalty kill to 25th. They'd also fallen out of the top 10 in rush chances for and were in eleventh while sinking to 23rd in rush chances against and 16th in high danger chances differential.
Their sloppy east-west play from the Gerard Gallant days has returned, leading to them giving up too many goals, especially in crucial moments, putting extra pressure on Shesterkin to bail them out. The former Vezina winner has a track record of doing so, but even he hasn't looked his true self. The netminder, whose save percentage on the season is below league average at .899, has finished below .890 in seven of his last ten starts. He's been .900 or below in 15 of 32 appearances and has slipped to 19th in goals saved above expected on the season amongst goalies who've started at least 25 times.
Chytil's Setback: A Heartbreaking Blow:
There's also the brutal Filip Chytil situation. The 24-year-old's potential return to the lineup was met with enthusiasm, but unfortunately, his journey took an unexpected turn. After an extended recovery period back home in Czechia, the center returned to New York for practice. However, at Friday's optional skate, he fell and sustained another concussion.
Concerns have arisen about his ability to resume his career following the setback. The news has forced management to reconsider their lineup and deadline strategies, with a possible extra $4.4 million in their hand if their third-line center, who's been out since November 2nd, is done for the season. It adds another layer of uncertainty to an already complex situation.
Yet, as the Rangers hit the all-star break, it's time to take a closer look at the lineup and figure out what's working and what's not. Unfortunately for Nick Bonino, he's been taking a lot of heat lately, and it's not entirely unwarranted. While he's got a great hockey mind and has used it to the tune of 868 NHL games and two Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins, his body doesn't seem to be keeping up, hence the waiver placement and designation to Hartford.
Head coach Peter Laviolette has been making some lineup changes to try to keep things afloat. Braden Schneider skated alongside Ryan Lindgren for Friday's game, while Adam Fox played with Erik Gustafsson. Yet the real culprit on the Rangers defense is K'Andre Miller, who remained with the now two-game suspended captain Jaco Trouba.
Miller has been on the ice for 49 of the goals the Bluehirts have yielded this year. First is Trouba at 55. It was supposed to be a breakthrough season after the 24-year-old was disappointed in the bridge deal he received last Summer, but it's gone sideways. The latest example was his giveaway to Ottawa Senators captain Brady Tkachuk, which put New York in another early hole on Saturday.
Expansion Dreams: Salt Lake City and Beyond:
It's interesting to think the franchise may have a new rival soon. The NHL is considering expansion again.
This week, Salt Lake City made a formal request to be team #33, and it looks like it's next in line, so we'll be gearing up for another expansion draft before we know it.
As for the future of the league, who knows where we'll end up? Houston seems like a safe bet for a possible 34th team, but beyond that, it's anyone's guess. Maybe we'll see more than one team added this time, or perhaps the NHL will try to revive some failed expansion attempts from the past.
And hey, for what it's worth, the Rangers are still atop the Metropolitan Division as we head into the all-star break. The 6-2 loss in Ottawa in early December is where the slide started. The hope is Saturday's 7-2 drubbing in their revenge visit sparks a new streak. They have what it takes to win the Stanley Cup. They've hit a rough patch lately, but it's all part of the game. Let's see how they're doing come playoff time before we start counting them out.