Can Rangers break out of funk after bye week?

Getty
5 Comments

A couple months of competitive play cooled the once-hot seat of New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault considerably, but there was plenty of grumbling going into the team’s bye week (which began after Sunday’s loss to Vegas).

If there’s one thing Rangers fans and media could see eye-to-eye on, it was that the team’s been struggling lately, particularly when it comes to scoring. Blueshirt Banter captured some of this frustration while calling for GM Jeff Gorton to “stop the madness.”

The Rangers haven’t won a game in regulation since 12/19 when they beat the Ducks 4-1. In that span they’ve needed overtime or the shootout to beat the objectively bad Sabres and Coyotes, lost to the mediocre Red Wings, got totally dominated by Chicago in an embarrassing loss, and got dominated again by Vegas on Sunday. The only reason the (scores) have been as close as they have been is because of the Henrik Lundqvist and Ondrej Pavelec duo standing on their heads.

Indeed, it’s true that Lundqvist has played his typically vital role in the Rangers turning things around, even at his advanced age.

To some degree, there’s a “Groundhog Day” element to all of this: Lundqvist standing on his head to mixed-yet-arguably-inoffensive results, goals being tough to come by, and people calling for Vigneault’s ouster thanks to some head-scratching lineup decisions.

Heading into the break, fans were especially frustrated with the continued yo-yo-ing of Pavel Buchnevich.

The disdain bubbled up enough that the New York Post’s Brett Cyrgalis called for Rangers fans not to “lose their composure” over the scratch.

Plenty of hand-wringing takes place regarding lineup choices, but it all brings up an uncomfortable question: are the Rangers truly equipped to handle this problem? Is this something that’s a matter of will, or is there simply not enough skill on this roster?

Just today, the Rangers announced that Chris Kreider underwent “rib resection surgery” on Sunday and will be evaluated again in six weeks. (Click here for a brain-full on what that procedure entails, if you enjoy going deep on medical jargon.)

There are plenty of Rangers fans who will always want more from Kreider, fairly or not, but he’s been a steady 20-goal scorer as is. With Derek Stepan in Arizona, Mats Zuccarello dealing with some injuries, and Rick Nash experiencing the sort of lousy puck luck he usually only suffers from during the postseason, it’s less and less surprising that the Rangers’ options boil down to “hoping Lundqvist will save the day.”

All of that makes scratching Buchnevich feel more egregious, although perhaps that snub and some rest might light a fire under the young scorer (and the rest of the Rangers’ offense)?

Such a thought might be excessively optimistic, although give the Vigneault-era Rangers this much: they seem to do their best work once people give up on them.

Considering how road-heavy the rest of their schedule looks, they shouldn’t struggle to find odds that they must defy.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.