New York Rangers: 3 Areas That Need Improvement After Poor Start to 2013 Season

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New York Rangers: 3 Areas That Need Improvement After Poor Start to 2013 Season
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

It's almost time to panic in New York.

The Rangers came into the 2013 NHL season as a top Stanley Cup contender, but after a 3-4 start to the season, the Blueshirts are out of the playoff picture in 11th place in the Eastern Conference.

The Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Rangers for the second time at Madison Square Garden this season on Thursday night, shutting out their Atlantic Division rival 3-0.

"It's probably the worst we've played all year, collectively," said Rangers head coach John Tortorella following his team's sixth straight loss to the Penguins.

"I think we take two steps forwards beginning with those last couple of games, and I said to you that we still have a lot of things to work on. We're not even close tonight and it's dumbfounding to me, but we have to try and find a way to figure it out and get ready to play Tampa."

New York will have to find ways to improve quickly because the team's schedule doesn't get any easier over the next two weeks.

The Rangers' next six games are against teams in the top eight of the Eastern Conference standings, including two games against the Southeast Division-leading Tampa Bay Lightning, two games against the surging New York Islanders, one game against the rival New Jersey Devils and the last meeting of the season with the Boston Bruins.

The absence of captain Ryan Callahan was certainly evident throughout Thursday's game, but the Rangers were outworked by a Penguins team that wanted to win that game much more than their opponents.

Let's look at three areas where the Rangers must improve to turn their season around.

 

Faceoffs

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One of the most important parts of every hockey game is the faceoff, and it's an area that the Rangers have struggled in this season.

Brian Boyle leads the team with a 53.6 faceoff winning percentage, and the only other players on the roster who have won 50 percent or more of their faceoffs are Derek Stepan (51.7) and Brad Richards (50.3).

Richards has taken the third-most faceoffs (163) in the league, but he has not been able to win many faceoffs against top-tier centers such as Patrice Bergeron of the Bruins and Penguins star Evgeni Malkin.

As a team, the Rangers have won the faceoff battle in only three of their seven games thus far. They also rank 16th in the league with a 50.3 faceoff percentage.

Tortorella needs his team to improve on faceoffs, or the Rangers' power play and penalty kill will continue to struggle.

 

Special Teams

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Stupid penalties and poor special teams are largely responsible for the Rangers' poor start to the season.

The Blueshirts were caught with too many men on the ice against the Penguins on Thursday night, which was the fourth time already this year that Tortorella's team received that penalty. These types of lazy penalties are unacceptable at the NHL level, especially for a veteran team like the Rangers.

As a result, the Penguins went on the power play with about a minute left in the second period. James Neal deflected a Sidney Crosby shot past Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist to give Pittsburgh a 2-0 lead.

The Rangers' penalty kill ranks 14th in the NHL, which isn't terrible, but they have spent 59:11 killing penalties this season. Only the Colorado Avalanche have spent more time shorthanded in 2013.

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New York's power play has also struggled this season, despite Tortorella having the luxury of being able to put Rick Nash, Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik, Michael Del Zotto and Marc Staal out on the ice at one time. There aren't many power-play units more talented than that group of five.

The Rangers' power play ranks 27th in the league, and they have converted on just two of 28 opportunities with the man advantage.

It's very difficult to win games when you are spending a lot of time killing penalties and your power play is unable to give the team a boost. The Rangers have to improve their special teams; otherwise, their struggles will continue.

 

Scoring Goals

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The Rangers are 24th in the NHL in goals scored. They have found the back of the net just 16 times this season, and the top line of Nash, Richards and Gaborik has accounted for half of that total.

Of the 20 players on the Rangers' roster who have played in three or more games this season, 13 of them still haven't scored a single goal.

Henrik Lundqvist is arguably the best goaltender in the NHL, but the Blueshirts cannot rely on him to stand on his head every game because the offense is having difficulties scoring goals.

Unfortunately for Tortorella, he doesn't have a lot of different line combinations to use if he doesn't want to break up his superstar trio on the first line.

For the Rangers offense to improve, Derek Stepan and Ryan Callahan have to be more productive. They have four and two points, respectively, and both of them have been scoreless in four games.

Rookie forward Chris Kreider was supposed to provide the Rangers with some needed scoring depth this season, but injuries have limited him to just three games.

If the Rangers' second and third lines do not play well over the next few weeks, a trade might be the only option to improve the team's depth. It's very hard to win in the playoffs with just one reliable line.

 

Nicholas Goss is an NHL columnist at Bleacher Report. He was also B/R's on-site reporter for the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL Playoffs in Boston. Follow him on Twitter.

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