Rangers Must Be Better Everywhere To Avoid Being Swept

By WFAN Sports Radio 101.9 FM/66AM New York

The Rangers are down 0-2 in a best-of-five series, it isn't difficult to pinpoint why they are staring in the face of elimination: look up and down the Rangers' roster, and you'll be hard-pressed to find more than a couple of players performing to their talent level.

Kaapo Kakko is an exception. The 19-year-old Finn is playing engaged and energized. Though he is yet to record his first career playoff point, he's clearly been the Rangers' top performer.

The Blueshirts sorely need others to join the party by raising their levels, though; it shouldn't be up to a teenage rookie to provide the spark.

Aside from Kakko, Mika Zibanejad is the closest to his typical standard, but his impact in Game 2 wasn't on par with his one goal, one assist contribution of Game 1. Even when David Quinn paired Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin on the top line, it didn't produce the desired effect.

Panarin registered his first playoff goal as a Ranger in Game 2 by scoring the lone Blueshirts tally in the 4-1 defeat. The Broadway Breadman has shown only intermittent flashes of his Hart Trophy-caliber talent, and for the Rangers to stand any chance of extending the series, Panarin must reignite to his game-changing best and transform into a go-to guy.

Chris Kreider hasn't adequately used his size and speed to break through Carolina's vaunted defense. Pavel Buchnevich has hardly been noticeable, aside from a couple of undisciplined penalties. Tony DeAngelo and Ryan Strome served as leading men throughout the regular season, but have turned error-prone under the playoff spotlight. The Rangers need an immediate uptick in play from their core group.

As a whole, the Rangers have been a defensive nightmare. Being careless with their execution, slow-footed, and frequently out of position has allowed Andrei Svechnikov, Sebastian Aho, and the Canes to feast on a cavalcade of miscues. Even if the Rangers were at their best, it's not an easy feat to keep Carolina's key men quiet. Giving them wide lanes of space and unobstructed paths to the net is a recipe for disaster.

DeAngelo, Jacob Trouba, Marc Staal, and Brendan Smith haven't played anything close to experienced blue line veterans. Understandably, rookie Adam Fox has experienced some difficulties in his first playoff go-round.

Surprisingly, 22-year-old rookie Ryan Lindgren has been the most dependable defenseman of the bunch. The Rangers need their higher-earning backend veterans to add measures of poise and calmness.

Igor Shesterkin's absence from Games 1 and 2 has been a factor, forcing an older, less nimble version of Henrik Lundqvist into action. Though the 38-year-old Lundqvist played outstandingly in Game 1, he surrendered a couple of soft goals in Game 2.

It would be unfair to place much of the blame on Lundqvist's shoulders. Given the shoddy defending that he's been subjected to, it's hard to imagine Shesterkin, or Alexandar Georgiev, or anyone else for that matter fairing significantly better under the circumstances.

The Rangers have continually been pinned in their end of the rink, and have largely failed to breach Carolina's defensive stronghold. Petr Mrazek has rarely been tested to make a challenging save. A 1-for-11 Rangers' power play has lacked sharpness and shot generation.

For the struggling Rangers, it's not just one player or one aspect that has gone wrong. Nearly everything has gone wrong and unless that changes, the Blueshirts will be swept on Tuesday night.

Follow Sean Hartnett on Twitter: @HartnettHockey


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