GREENBURGH, N.Y. –- At this point of the Rangers’ four-game skid it seems as if everything that could go wrong has -– mounting injuries, bad bounces, stalled power-play, inconsistent goaltending. It would be wrong to pinpoint one player.
New York Rangers
But in terms of the Rangers’ anemic offense -– 27th in the league with a paltry 2.25 goals per game -– there are expectations of certain key producers.
Veteran Brad Richards has probably been the most consistent forward to date, but he leads the team with only nine goals. Rick Nash was held off the scoresheet Thursday night for the fourth time in six games, failing to even register a shot against his former club, the Columbus Blue Jackets. Chris Kreider’s game has taken a detour that coincides with the current skein.
One of the most damning stats, though, is that Derek Stepan has only one goal in the last 18 games. The talented 23-year-old pivot, who led the team in scoring with 18 goals and 44 points in the lockout-shortened 2013 season, last scored on November 23.
“I’m not far off,” Stepan said. “I’ve just got to create more chances offensively, find a way to get a goal in front of the net, maybe have something bounce off you or something goofy like that.”
Stepan has gotten the looks, but like so many of his teammates, hasn’t been able to finish. And it’s not Vezina-caliber goaltending that is stifling the Rangers. Consider the last four goaltenders they faced: Mike McKenna (making his first NHL appearance since the 2010-11 season), Curtis McElhinney (who lasted only a period before leaving the Blue Jackets’ 4-2 win Thursday with an injury), Carter Hutton and Philipp Grubauer.
Not exactly a who’s who in nets.
Vigneault indicated that Stepan may be pressing but seemed encouraged by the type of chances he was still getting.
“He’s getting some looks. He’s getting the right time –- a lot of offensive zone faceoffs, a lot of power-play time –- but without a doubt his production has slipped a little bit, and he’s obviously concerned about it,” Vigneault said.
“Stepan is a player that spends a lot of time analyzing his game, analyzing what he needs to do to have success. As a coach, you can only be supportive there, confident that he’s going to help us win games.”
Could part of that over-thinking part have to do with a potential Olympic spot that hangs in the balance? Stepan is expected to garner strong consideration as a candidate for the U.S. Men’s Hockey team that will compete in the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
“It’s hard to tell you that it’s not on your mind,” Stepan admitted. “As a guy that was invited to last summer’s camp and maybe could possibly be a bubble guy it’s something you think about. But, in order to give yourself the best chance, you have to kind of forget about it and worry about, like I said, the Calgary Flames at this point.”
The Rangers host the Flames at Madison Square Garden, the fifth of a nine-game homestand as they aim to snap their four-game losing streak. According to Vigneault, Lundqvist will get the start, his sixth straight.