Rangers must finally eliminate costly in-game pauses from their DNA

RALEIGH, NC — Regarding the Rangers, whose best opening minutes of the season were 20 minutes short of getting them across the finish line in a Game 1 overtime loss to the Hurricanes on Wednesday.

1. Rangers have spoken out about the need to play a full 60 minutes all season. Rarely have they succeeded. Rarely was there a steady progression from the first to the last shift. At times there were slow beginnings. At other times there were bad second periods. Sometimes there were third periods when Rangers broke up.

All teams face fluctuations and swings in momentum, even more so in the playoffs when emotions become a constant companion. The Rangers seem to be having an extremely difficult time identifying these fast enough to cut them down quickly. Instead, it’s common for them to run tracks of 12, 15, 17 minutes or more where they get stuck in a ditch and their wheels spin.

This characterizes this team as well as its resilience.

Such was the case on Wednesday when two periods of structured, disciplined and intelligent play were almost wiped out in conjunction with the third period’s opening bulloff. Despite chasing the puck and ‘Canes while being pinched in their own zone or caught by switches to the neutral zone most of the time, Rangers were able to defend their 1-0 lead until the inevitable happened. Carolina usually tied the score at 2:23 and won it at 3:12 in overtime.

Sebastian Aho scores the winning goal in the third period of Game 1.
Sebastian Aho scores the winning goal in the third period of Game 1.
Corey Sipkin for the NY POST

“We sort of talked about it [Wednesday] Night with some guys,” Ryan Strome said after a Thursday team meeting ahead of Game 2, which will be Friday night. “It feels like we’re going to get on the ice, get out of our zone and switch it off and change. We don’t get a forecheck and we just play on our heels.

“I think we need to do better, involve their first forechecker more and get the first touch with pucks. I think sometimes I see that we’re getting the puck out of the zone, we’re playing pretty solid defense but we’re not getting any pressure on the ice and we’re so on our heels.”

That’s a fairly fair analysis of the problem that has plagued Rangers all season, but it doesn’t address why the club couldn’t implement the solution. It’s imperative to do so for the rest of this series, where 40 minutes – even the best 40 minutes – won’t do.

2. There’s something so odd about Artemi Panarin’s game that I just wonder if these finals will wipe that ever-present smile off his face. Perhaps Panarin is playing through an injury. Maybe, as Ron Duguay suggested on The Post’s “Up in the Blue Seats” podcast, he’s just rethinking things.

Frank Vatrano’s game has been going back and forth lately, playing with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad on the right flank. I wouldn’t believe head coach Gerard Gallant would dump Panarin and Vatrano on the street where Carolina would simply send his line of control, centered by Jordan Staal, as a matchup to wipe out the club’s top three threats (allegedly) all at once.

But if the Blueshirts are beaten in Game 2 while Panarin continues to play pedestrian hockey — almost the ultimate insult to this world-class artist — Gallant could choose to make that change when the series heads to the Garden for Game 3 on Sunday .

3. It is widely agreed by acclamation that the Kids were Rangers’ best line in Game 1. The ebullient Alexis Lafreniere-Filip Chytil-Kaapo Kakko unit scored the club’s only goal, consistently throwing the puck deep behind defense when there was nothing on an entry and dominating his match against trio Vincent Trocheck.

Then why would this line have received the third highest ice age of the four units of the Blueshirts? As recorded by NaturalStatTrick, this unit reached 9:43 while the Zibanejad line played 15:09, the Strome unit played 12:32, and the fourth Kevin Rooney line got 8:33 ice.

Gallant has increased the unit’s time in each period, from just over 3:00 in the first to just over 4:00 in the second to almost 5:30 in the third, so that might be something to monitor.

4. The Rangers were able to keep Carolina’s Top 6 off the ice for faceoffs in the blueshirts zone by sending the Zibanejad unit to win eight of the 13 five-a-side draws in that end of the ice. The Staal checking unit was on for seven of them, the Vincent Trocheck line for one early in the third period. Rangers must finally eliminate costly in-game pauses from their DNA


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