Rangers need to fix floundering offense after getting suffocated by Devils
With an elite goalie between the pipes, the Rangers don't need to score much to win in the playoffs. But this team's offence can't seem to come through.
Once Igor Shesterkin established himself as an elite starting goaltender at the NHL level last season, the New York Rangers appeared to have all the ingredients to win a Stanley Cup.
The combination of a difference maker like that between the pipes, a Norris Trophy-winning, top-tier defenceman in Adam Fox, and a forward group led by Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin — who ranks fourth in the NHL in points (341) since signing with the Rangers in free agency — sounds like a potent recipe for championship contention.
New York, to their credit, was able to make a run to the Eastern Conference Final last year, but fell short against the Tampa Bay Lightning despite going up 2-0 in the series. The Rangers scored just five goals in four consecutive losses from there — wasting Shesterkin's rock-solid .928 save percentage in those games.
That script is awfully similar to what just played out for the Rangers in their first-round loss to the New Jersey Devils. After two dominant 5-1 wins to open their battle with New Jersey, the offence dried up again. New York scored just seven goals in the last five games, and got shut out by relative unknown netminder Akira Schmid — twice.
Shesterkin did everything in his power to help the Rangers escape the first round, but with the offence stuck in neutral, it wasn't enough.
When we're talking about the last two playoff exits, we're talking about a total of nine games where New York couldn't get its offence off the ground, but this team's issues with goal-scoring run deeper than that.
Over the last two seasons, the Rangers rank 15th in the NHL in scoring (3.19 goals/game). New York's ability to suppress goals allows them to work around that relative lack of firepower, but the team's moves at this year's trade deadline indicated that it was tired of being outgunned by other Eastern Conference powers.
The Rangers' trades to acquire Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane could be described as modest successes. The pair combined for 33 points in 50 games during the regular season, and managed 10 points in the playoffs.
New York's attempt to catch lightning with a bottle with some hired-gun rentals didn't result in the type of postseason success the team was hoping for, but it would be hard to blame Tarasenko and Kane for the Rangers' downfall.
Instead, the fact New York felt the need to reach for a band-aid solution like Tarasenko and Kane speaks to its inability to develop offensive threats internally. Beyond the trio of Panarin, Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, secondary scoring has been hard to come by for this team.
The addition of Vincent Trocheck in free agency prior to 2022-23 gave the team another strong contributor down the middle, and Filip Chytil took a step this season, but depth scoring remained an issue.
A big reason for that is this team is still waiting for its young talents to take the next step. It's far too early to bury Alexis Lafrenière or Kaapo Kakko before either turns 23, but it's also fair to say that New York probably expected more from guys drafted first and second overall, respectively.
Kakko is in his fourth NHL season and his 18 goals and 40 points in 2022-23 were career highs. He managed two points in the series against the Devils. Lafrenière has three seasons under his belt and he's never eclipsed 19 goals or 39 points. He went pointless against New Jersey despite being elevated to the second line with Trocheck for most of the series.
Both these players reached the NHL at an early age, and there's still plenty of room for growth with them. Even so, the Rangers' blueprint clearly calls for Lafrenière and Kakko to provide a second wave of offence behind its established stars up front — all of whom will be at least 30 by the time next year begins — and that hasn't happened yet.
There's plenty of finger pointing to be done following New York's first-round loss against New Jersey. Panarin was a no-show, for instance, and Zibanejad wasn't much better. Just two Rangers — Kreider and Tarasenko — managed multiple goals while most of the team was underwater from a possession quality standpoint.
The Rangers need to find more goals somewhere if they're going to make the most of the elite goaltending and solid defence they have at their disposal. They'll have all offseason to determine whether they think they can find that improvement in-house or if another big free-agent addition is feasible.
While some teams who get bounced from the playoffs find themselves looking for answers, at the very least the Rangers know what they need.