The New York Rangers fell woefully short last night at MSG, losing 6-1 to the visitors from Pittsburgh while getting outshot 38-17.
It was by far the worst performance of the Rangers’ mostly excellent season, and it left head coach Alain Vigneault perplexed.
“I can’t explain to you at this time exactly what happened,” Vigneault told reporters. “Obviously I’m disappointed. The players are disappointed in our game. I know our fans are disappointed.”
Now, granted, every team has a few stinkers over an 82-game season. The Rangers are still a very respectable 14-6-1, with a plus-29 goal differential. Only Montreal (14-4-2) has more points in the overall standings, and nobody has a better goal differential.
The question with these Rangers is a matter of sustainability — just like it was last season, when they started 16-3-2, only to play .500 hockey the rest of the way before getting tossed aside by the Penguins in the playoffs.
This year’s Rangers, unlike last year’s, have not been riding the goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist. In fact, Lundqvist (9-6-1, .911) has been outplayed by his backup, Antti Raanta (5-0-0, .934). Those two combined, the Blueshirts have been getting around league-average goaltending.
What hasn’t been average is the Rangers’ shooting percentage, currently at an NHL-high 13.5. The next highest percentage belongs to Columbus, at 11.2, then Montreal, at 10.8. Last season, only one team finished with a shooting percentage over 10, and that was Dallas (10.1). The Rangers finished second, at 9.95.
You look at the Rangers’ top scorers and almost all of them have been shooting the lights out:
History suggests that it’s not if the Rangers shooting percentage regresses, it’s by how much, and whether they can make up for it in other areas, like goaltending or increased puck possession.
Speaking of puck possession, in the Rangers’ last 10 games, their score-adjusted Corsi ranks 29th out of 30 teams, with only the Islanders below them. On the season, they rank 22nd, just below Buffalo and just above Vancouver. Which isn’t the greatest company to be keeping.
We do not mean to pour cold water on what’s been a very encouraging start to the Rangers’ season. GM Jeff Gorton still deserves much praise for adding the likes of Jimmy Vesey, Michael Grabner, and Brandon Pirri in free agency. And let’s not forget that Mika Zibanejad just got hurt, and that may help explain last night’s stinker.
This is simply something we’ll be monitoring, whether the Rangers maintain their winning ways or they don’t. That’s the problem with getting off to such a great start. Everyone starts poking holes, wondering how long it can last.
The Rangers take on the Flyers in Philadelphia tomorrow afternoon. The game can be seen on NBC, starting at 1 p.m. ET.