NHL

The Rangers don’t have the same time to fix problems as last year’s team

The Rangers don’t have the same time to fix problems as last year’s team

Thirteen games into this time last season, Rangers were in a state of disarray. They were 7-3-3, all right, but the record was sandcastle-type material, constructed almost entirely from Igor Shesterkin’s otherworldly work in the nets.

In fact, the Blueshirts were coming off a Nov. 8, 4-3, win over the Panthers at the Garden in Game 13 in which so many of the early-season warts had revealed themselves. Shesterkin was under siege, his team outscored 45-18 overall and 17-3 in the third period. Also, the Puddy Tats bumped and crashed into the watcher with impunity and no meaningful response.

“It’s not like we didn’t face any adversity last year,” Mika Zibanejad told The Post on Monday. “I think we were worse at that point.”

Coincidentally, though, the Blueshirts had a three-day break after the Florida game that allowed Gallant to put his players through recovery work in an abbreviated training camp II. When they left the lab, they were a tougher, more disciplined team, had changed their defensive zone system and went on a 10-1 run to essentially lock up a playoff spot in the first week of December.

It was a reset. A necessary reboot.

This year, after Sunday disturbing 3-2 overtime loss to the Red Wings which left Rangers 6-4-3 but 3-3-3 in the last nine and their leaders on the wrong end of an impressive (for him) public Gallant rebuke, there is no such auspicious break in action

Instead, the Rangers got the ravenous Islanders at the Garden on Tuesday and then hit the road to visit Nashville and Detroit on Thursday and Saturday. The Rangers will have to create an identity on the fly.

Mika Zibanejad during the Rangers game against the Red Wings on November 6, 2022.
Mika Zibanejad during the Rangers game against the Red Wings on November 6, 2022.
Corey Sipkin/ NY Post

“We’re still trying to figure out who we are,” K’Andre Miller told The Post. “We lost personnel from last year’s team. It will take time. “We have guys and new guys who occupy different positions of responsibility. We need to clean up our game. I certainly don’t detect any panic. We’re looking to get on our game.”

It has been said many times that this year’s team would play under the expectations created by the team’s run to the conference finals last year. But that charge featured top-six Ryan Strome, Frank Vatrano and Andrew Copp and third-pairing defenseman Justin Braun. They are all gone.

Not that you should cry for them, but this group of players is being measured against this one. That shouldn’t have stuck with anyone. But that hangs over the Rangers, who entered the season as the hunted rather than the hunters. And without a Stanley Cup to justify being a target.

“It’s definitely a different situation,” Zibanejad said. “Last year there weren’t a lot of expectations. Maybe teams overlooked us. But this year, every team in the league is looking at us a little differently.

“There is pressure, but this should not be negative. I’m sure we can handle it. It’s not that we’re not playing well, the first period against Detroit was great, but we need to do it more consistently. We continued to build last year. This is where we are now. This is what we have to do, I think everyone expects a little more from themselves.”

Copp, Vatrano and Braun arrived around the trade deadline last season when general manager Chris Drury had an abundant amount of cap space. At this point, the Rangers, still at the 23-man roster, project to have roughly $765,500 to work with at the deadline, according to CapFriendly.

In other words, there is no point in anticipating reinforcements. The cavalry is here.

That, of course, features prominently in Zibanejad, who leads the team with seven goals and is on pace for a sweet 43-goal season. Six of the tallies have come on the power play, including the sweet spot that connected at home on Sunday. One of them came while skating.

Gerard Gallant on the Rangers bench on May 13, 2022.
Gerard Gallant on the Rangers bench on May 13, 2022.
AP

That would mean going five-on-five in 173:39 of ice time.

Zibanejad almost burst out laughing when, a few minutes into our conversation on Tuesday, I asked him if that weighed on him. “It’s not funny, but I knew you’d ask,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for this question.

“Obviously I want to score. I think I’ve been in position and had enough good chances to have one now. But it would be a lot worse if I didn’t get a goal.

“You go through stretches, but one of the things I learned during the playoffs is that you can’t hang on to things. I’m working hard, looking to create more offense, but it’s not just five-on-five. When they set me up on the power play, I’m going to keep shooting.”

This is a formula that has worked. The Rangers, this year’s Rangers, need to find a formula that works for them.



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