When the world shut down last March, the New York Rangers were playing the best hockey that they had played in years. They were fast, fun, young and exciting. But since they tied the game late against Colorado on March 11, nothing has gone right. The Rangers were quickly swept in the bubble by the Carolina Hurricanes, and have started the 2021 season an abysmal 1-4-1. After four straight one-goal losses, it is time to dive deeper to figure out what is going on with the New York Rangers.

First and foremost, the Rangers might not be playing as bad as the record shows. They have a goal differential of just -2 (-3 if you include the shootout loss). While that isn’t great, it certainly should not be the reason for a record as bad as it is. By comparison, there are 4 other teams with a -3 goal differential. Those teams (Vancouver, Arizona, Pittsburgh, and Nashville), are a combined 14-14-2. So, by that logic, this goal differential should have the Rangers closer to .500.

While goal differential is important, it does not really give the true picture of what is really going right and wrong. But, regardless of what stat you look at, it seems as though the Rangers are more unlucky than anything. For example, the expected goal differential has the Rangers around +4 at 5-on-5, when in reality, they are even. 

Every single metric is like this. The Rangers are playing well, but for whatever reason, just can not win games. That starts in the back end. The defense and goaltending has to be better. It has been well documented how bad Jack Johnson has been, even saying that he has been bad is an understatement. He is quite simply not deserving of any ice time at all. That’s unfortunate because of how good Adam Fox has been. Fox has been unbelievable in every game. By far the Rangers best defenseman, and probably their best player this season. His play is seemingly canceled out by Jack Johnson’s incompetence. And putting the two of them on the same line is a slap in the face to Adam Fox.

In addition to Fox, K’Andre Miller has been way better than expected. It took him a game or two, but in the last week, outside of Adam Fox, Miller has been the Rangers’ best player. His +/- of 6 leads the team by a wide margin. Not only has Miller been great, but when paired with Jacob Trouba, even Trouba looks a lot better than when paired with anyone else. The top 4 defensemen of Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren, Jacob Trouba, and K’Andre Miller have been great this year. But the bottom pairing of Jack Johnson and Tony DeAngelo has been absolutely atrocious. That’s a shame too, because when subbed in, Brendan Smith has actually been pretty good on the back end. 

It is hard to be worried about the offense, but a team with as much skill as the Rangers has really struggled to score in the first two weeks of the year. Mika Zibanejad has looked lost at times, Chris Krieder seems to have forgotten how to move the puck, and Alexis Lafreniere still has not recorded a point. Despite all of this, it still seems like it is just a matter of moments before it all clicks. The constant line and position shakeups certainly have not helped, but it seems like one of these games the Rangers will finally break out a little bit.

In the last few games, Artemi Panarin has been more in control. He was a Hart Trophy finalist for a reason last year, and the Rangers certainly need him to be better than he has thus far. Alexis Lafreniere is beginning to get his feet under him a little bit and his play has been encouraging. He has been shooting the puck more, and a little stability on his line will do him some good. Kaapo Kakko has had brief flashes of brilliance. While he has just two goals, there is no denying how good he has been for the majority of the season. Pavel Buchnevich has been arguably the best forward so far this year, and before being hurt, Filip Chytil was right there with him. But, even with all of this, the guy I am most excited about is Julien Gauthier. He has an occasional shift where he is absolutely dominant. He is big, fast and extremely strong. He has generated so many scoring chances since being traded to the Rangers last season and it is an absolute shame that he still has yet to score his first NHL goal.

So again, while the offense has struggled early on, it seems like it is close. They are too skilled to be averaging just 2.5 goals per game. They are poised for a breakout.

Ultimately, I think the early season struggles can be chalked up to a lack of stability more than anything. David Quinn has consistently rotated lines, defensive pairings, and goaltenders. For a team that is so young, not having consistent lines can definitely be an issue. With no training camp, these guys are still trying to develop chemistry with one another. While that should not be an excuse because no one else had training camp either, it is tough on these young players to not know who they are playing with until gametime. There has to be some time to let them jell alongside their linemates, and that is not something that just randomly happens in one night. The lines need to stay the same for a few games in a row to let everyone adapt to each other.

The same thing applies for the goalies. Rotating the goalies every game does not help. Igor Shesterkin is the clear cut starter. So if you are David Quinn, you have to let him start. Let him play four or five nights in a row and try to get in a groove. He deserves the chance, and it is not fair to expect him to play well after sitting out 4 days between starts.

If I were David Quinn I would pick the line combinations and starting goalie, then stick with it for about a week. Let these lines play together for more than just one night and see what happens. With consistency usually comes success. While it does not always work out like that, it is certainly worth a shot.