The New York Rangers' had a golden opportunity after breaking a four-game losing streak with wins over the Washington Capitals and Seattle Kraken, facing the Vegas Golden Knights, missing key players like Jack Eichel, William Karlsson, William Carrier, Chandler Stephenson, Micheal Amadio, Shea Theodore, and starting netminder Adin Hill.
The Rangers wasted that chance with a disappointing 5-1 loss on Thursday night at T Mobile Arena. Despite a solid offensive effort and 11 shots in the first period, more defensive lapses against the rush haunted the Blueshirts.`
The Rangers (28-14-2) have lost five of seven games and are a 10-10-1 team over 21 games since December 5. They've regressed to mediocrity from being the hottest team in the NHL. No, they haven't been bombarded with dangerous shots; it's more about opponents converting chances at a high rate.
The Rangers' offense remained solid. Yet despite generating 11 shots on goal in the first period and numerous opportunities against Logan Thompson, they found themselves trailing 2-0 after 20 minutes. Vegas turned pucks over, and the Artemi Panarin-Vincent Trocheck-Alexis Lafrenière line pounced. They had a solid 1:20 shift, controlling the play, but couldn't score. It would've helped if the Blueshirts hadn't missed the net on several other shot attempts.
Either way, things fell apart shortly after.
Again, it came from costly puck decisions, weak defense against the rush, and average goaltending.
Interestingly, they outshot the defending Stanley Cup champions 30-25 and had some quality looks. Thompson thwarted Kaapo Kakko's powerful drive, and a chaotic sequence involving Lafrenière and Trocheck saw chances blocked by Vegas defenders. It was the start of a night that saw Thomson make 29 saves to the tune of a + 1.44 goals saved above expected.
The Rangers brought the heat, but sadly, they couldn't cash in on their efforts or play defense properly.
Golden Missed Opportunity: Rangers' Lose Against Depleted Knights:
Vegas seized their chances. Reigning Conn Smyth winner Jonathan Marchessault kicked things off with a three-on-two goal, making it 1-0 in the first period. Then, just 3 minutes and 13 seconds later, there was another rush, and Nicolas Roy left Blueshirts captain Jacob Trouba in the dust, setting up Ivan Barbashev for a finish at the far post. As reporter Adam Herman noted about New York's captain, "Trouba got roasted by a checking-line center, and in January, he's been on the ice for 4 goals and 10 against at 5v5."
The tally involving Barbashev's skate got a close look during an official review. Despite the debate about kicking motions, the subjective call stood, and the Rangers again found themselves outpaced by the Golden Knights. They managed to steady their defense for a bit, thanks to solid efforts from Igor Shesterkin, K'Andre Miller, and Vincent Trocheck towards the end of the first period. Then, the middle frame came, and everything snowballed. It was as if this team fell apart mentally, tactically, and physically, which has been a theme during this stretch. They fought tough times earlier, but adversity seems to eat them up now. It's likely due to the recent slide, but that's something New York put on itself by getting away from their structure.
Their latest downturn began with an interference call on Braden Schneider. It opened the door for Barbashev to score his second of the night, pulling off a power-play one-timer after sneaking into the slot past Nick Bonino. And as if that wasn't enough, Keegan Kolesar jumped in, tipping in a shot from Kaedan Korczak just 25 seconds later for the Knights third goal off the rush, pushing Vegas's lead to a daunting 4-0. The Rangers got on the board with a Mika Zibanejad power play clapper and applied offensive zone pressure to begin the third period, but the writing was already on the wall.
Former Blueshirt Brett Howden put the nail in the coffin with an empty netter with 1:28 to play.
After stellar outings against Seattle and Washington, Shesterkin couldn't keep the momentum rolling. He made 20 saves on 24 shots, with a -2.3 goals saved above expected.
It marked the fourth time in his last seven starts that the 2021-22 Vezina Winner finished with a save percentage of .833 or worse. Here's a tough stat for you – according to Clear Sight Hockey, Shesterkin has let in 5.41 more goals than expected when the Blueshirst are trailing. That doesn't even factor in Thursday's data. In the last couple of seasons, when he's been on fire, he was contesting everything, no matter the score. Yet he's unraveled when New York is behind this season – whether it's bad luck, his teammates not holding up, or mental struggles.
While the defense would like their netminder to make some saves, it eventually won't matter if they don't play it correctly or consistently. Until the worst team in the league at defending the rush fixes the mess, as they did earlier this season, expect the slide to continue. No trades or line changes will affect this. It's a culture and a mindset thing. It's on the players to step up and not waste golden opportunities like Thursday night, as teams in the Metropolitan Division, like the surging Philadelphia Flyers (25-14-6) who've won five straight, and others around the league, such as these Knights (26-14-5) , continue to breathe down the Rangers' necks.