The Rangers made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Final last year after making a visit to the Stanley Cup Final a year earlier, but this team that was built to “win now” is suddenly not winning much lately. The frustration continues to mount as the Rangers have failed to post back-to-back wins since Nov. 21 and 23 (when the Blueshirts tacked on their 10th and 11th victory in a 12-game span), and the losses to the Capitals and Islanders are piling up.
Veteran Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi, who recorded a minus-2 in the Rangers’ 5-2 loss to the Capitals on Sunday, is as puzzled as anybody as to why the Blueshirts are mired in this funk.
“I feel like it’s been déjà vu in here for the last two months,” he told The New York Post after Sunday’s contest. “We come in the room after a game in which we do the right things to win, and then the next day it’s, ‘Oh, we let it get away from us.’”
The Rangers’ defeat at the hands of the Capitals on Sunday, who have now extended their lead in the Metropolitan Division over the Blueshirts to 18 points, is a microcosm of how New York’s season has been going lately. Ranger centers not named Derek Stepan went 16-for-45 in the faceoff circle against the NHL’s leading team and the Ranger penalty kill, which was ranked just 20th going into Sunday’s contest, gave up two more power play goals to the red-hot Caps.
The Blueshirts are now 1-3 against Washington this season and 0-2 against the Islanders, who just eclipsed the Rangers for second place in the division.
If the Rangers were a young team failing at fundamentals it would be understandable, but the Rangers are the third-oldest team in the NHL, and the prospect cupboard is nearly bare. Twenty-year-old Anthony Duclair, who the Rangers gave up for Keith Yandle last year, has put up 24 points with the Coyotes this season and is making meaningful contributions on a competitive team. Meanwhile Yandle is wanting for ice time as the sixth-most-used defenseman on the Rangers, and with his pending free agency he might be thinking about playing elsewhere next season. To make matters worse, the Rangers still owe Arizona a first-round pick either this year or next due to that deal. All told, the Rangers have traded four first-round picks and three second-round picks in just over four years and have no Stanley Cup banners to show for it.
With the Rangers’ core aging, including franchise goaltender Henrik Lundqvist who is now 34, newly-minted GM Jeff Gorton faces a quandary just a few weeks away from the trade deadline. He can either double-down and try to sure up this roster for another postseason run, or sell high while he still can and avoid future years of mediocrity.