That talk about an “accelerated rebuild?”
Buried somewhere in the rubble of the Rangers’ extended early pratfall that continued with Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime defeat to Arizona at the Garden that stretched the club’s losing streak to five games (0-4-1) after a pair of victories.
“We’re obviously not in a great spot right now,” a somber and realistic David Quinn said after the match in which the Blueshirts were nearly blown crosstown into the 30th Street Heliport during the first period in which they were outshot 21-4 before steadying. “We’re nowhere near where we need to be if we’re going to have a season.”
You might have heard. The Rangers are young. That’s not the problem. The fact that the Blueshirts are playing like peewees is the problem. Compounding the problem exponentially, the kids aren’t the only ones struggling. The veterans with the responsibility to pick them up, they require a pickup, too.
The Mika Zibanejad-Artemi Panarin power couple on the first line has had difficulty connecting over the last handful of games and have encountered an almost impossible time getting into open ice. Chris Kreider has still not scored a goal. Brady Skjei hasn’t been able to locate his game. Marc Staal has had a couple of pretty bad ones in succession.
“There’s a lack of confidence out of the gates,” Kreider said. “Maybe we’re trying to do too much. There’s not enough support. There’s not enough talking. It’s not easy for young guys to have the confidence to be loud on the ice, but there needs to be more talking. Veteran teams are loud. You can always hear them.”
Well, OK, we’ll buy that. But there’s more to it. Much more. Or maybe much less. For the Rangers, who rallied from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits on a pair of goals by Tony DeAngelo, just don’t seem to have enough pieces to paper over the holes and the pieces in place seem disjointed.
If players aren’t ready, there is no point in putting them in position to fail. But come on. Filip Chytil had a disappointing camp, and that was obvious. He earned his assignment to the AHL. But if you’re telling me that he still needs more time in Hartford following a pretty spirited start in which he has recorded eight points (three goals, five assists) in six games, if you’re suggesting that more of a message needs to be sent, that I am not buying.
Chytil should be here for Thursday’s match at the Garden against the Sabres and he should have Kaapo Kakko on his right and Kreider on his left. Pavel Buchnevich should return to the first line. Honestly, I just do not understand why Quinn insists on forcing Brett Howden into a top-six role for which he does not appear to have the skill set.
There is no shame in that. Howden is a hard-working young man of 21 who is as diligent as can be in all three zones. The coaching staff trusts him. But when the Rangers acquired him as part of the package in the Ryan McDonagh deal at the 2018 deadline, the organization pegged his upside as being a high-end, third-line center.
But faced with that gigantic hole in the middle of the second line created by Chytil’s demotion, Quinn seems determined to pound a square peg into it. I just don’t get it. Since the start of last season, the sophomore ranks third from the bottom in Corsi among NHL forwards with at least 800 minutes at five-on-five, fourth worst in xGF percentage and 14th from the bottom in goal-share percentage The staff has been careful about not putting players in position to fail, but unless I am missing something, that’s what’s happening with Howden.
Kakko, who expressed disappointment with the general state of things in an interview in his native language with a Finnish journalist, couldn’t have been too pleased with this one. Twice in the first period he held onto the puck way too long and wound up turning it over. He got only 7:12 of ice through the first two periods, and sat for a stretch of 9:04 through the guts of the second. Quinn said that it was “a flow of the game” thing after the 18-year-old finished with a season-low of 9:51.
And as for Lias Andersson, if the Rangers don’t believe he can handle more than 5:03 of even-strength time in a fourth-line center role, then what is he doing here?
This isn’t all on Quinn or on GM Jeff Gorton or on president John Davidson. But the start of this season has been lousy. And it is creating more questions than providing answers. In fact, they’re piling up. Accelerating, even.