Mailbag: Rangers up-and-down play, production of Ducks forward Terry

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What is the New York Rangers’ issue with consistency? They have games when they play like world-beaters and then games when they look like they don’t know how to play hockey. What do you make of it? — @MattFitz2838

I asked Rangers coach Gerard Gallant a similar question after their 4-3 win against the Florida Panthers at Madison Square Garden on Monday. The Rangers led 4-0 in the second period before the Panthers made it a one-goal game in the closing minutes. The win came two days after a 6-0 loss at the Calgary Flames, which came 24 hours after the Rangers blew a 4-1 lead against the Edmonton Oilers and lost 6-5 in overtime. The Rangers also couldn’t hold a 2-0 third-period lead against the Vancouver Canucks and lost 3-2 in overtime on Nov. 2. There also was a 5-1 loss to the Flames at home Oct. 25, two days after they scored three goals in the final 5:23 to defeat the Ottawa Senators 3-2. The Rangers followed that loss against the Flames with arguably their best game of the season, a 4-0 home win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Oct. 29. 

“I wish I had the answer for you right now,” Gallant said. “We’ve been talking about it, we’ve been showing some video about it, but it just seems that we give up the slot shots more than anyone else. It’s frustrating.”

The slot shots are a concern for the Rangers, who allow 4.62 shots per game from the high slot, which is second-most in the NHL, according to NHL Stats. There were 16 teams allowing more shots on goal per game from the low slot area than the Rangers (8.46 per game), but Gallant is right to be concerned about what they are giving up in that area. A big part of that is the Rangers don’t have the puck enough. They are last in shot-attempts percentage at 43.3 percent. They are 27th in face-off winning percentage at 46.8 percent, including being last in defensive-zone face-off winning percentage at 39.1 percent. Take face-offs for what they are, a glorified puck battle, but when you’re losing more than 60 percent of them in the defensive zone, it means you’re playing defense more than you’d like. 

Another problem is inconsistent play at even strength from their top players. The Rangers have scored 16 goals at 5-on-5, which is tied for 28th in the NHL. Chris Kreider and Alexis Lafreniere lead New York with three 5-on-5 goals each. Mika Zibanejad has scored two. Ryan Strome has scored one. Artemi Panarin and Kaapo Kakko have scored zero. Kakko hasn’t scored a point in nine games this season. The Rangers won Monday by scoring a power-play goal, a shorthanded goal and two 4-on-4 goals. That’s unsustainable.

But the good news is they’re 7-3-3 and have played nine road games, including three trips to Canada. They have a lot of work to do. They rely way too much on goalie Igor Shesterkin, who is an early-season Vezina Trophy candidate (10 games, 6-2-2, 2.37 goals-against average, .931 save percentage). What they are going to be this season remains to be seen, but they risk falling apart if they don’t fix their inconsistencies, particularly at 5-on-5 at each end of the ice.

Video: The guys discuss the Rangers recent struggles

 

How about that Troy Terry? — @Mkton31

He’s showing himself to be a top-six forward, something the Anaheim Ducks absolutely need now and in the future. Terry has scored a point in 12 straight games (nine goals, seven assists). 

The problem with the Ducks the past few seasons is we’ve seen and heard a lot about their young players, but we haven’t been impressed enough by them to fully believe in them. Are they going to take the Ducks from a rebuilding team to contending team? It’s been a fair question, especially when Anaheim has a world-class goalie, John Gibson, who is in his prime at 28 years old. Terry has been a part of that question, particularly the past two seasons, scoring 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) in 47 games in 2019-20 and 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists) in 48 games last season. There have been flashes, but the 24-year-old couldn’t establish himself. He may now be showing he’s part of the answer. 

But the Ducks (7-4-3) need to get to the point where Terry isn’t their only younger player among their scoring leaders. They’re trying to establish a new core while they slowly move out of the Ryan Getzlaf era. Forward Trevor Zegras, 20, and defenseman Jamie Drysdale, 19, are big parts of it, but so are forwards Max Comtois, 22; Sam Steel, 23; Mason McTavish, 18; Isac Lundestrom, 22; Benoit-Olivier Groulx, 21; Max Jones, 23; and Jacob Perreault, 19. It’s Terry followed by veterans Kevin Shattenkirk (three goals, nine assists), Getzlaf (one goal, 11 assists) and Adam Henrique (five goals, six assists) among the Ducks’ scoring leaders. Comtois, who led the Ducks with 33 points (16 goals, 17 assists) in 55 games last season, scored his first point of the season with an assist in his 12th game, a 3-2 overtime win at the Canucks on Tuesday. But Anaheim has won some games and is staying relevant. That and Terry’s point streak have fueled optimism around the Ducks for the first time in a while.

 

Now that the Colorado Avalanche are getting back to full health, is coach Jared Bednar on the hot seat if they don’t play better? Could general manager Joe Sakic make a lineup change to right the ship? — @theashcity

They’re 4-5-1, but I’m not ready to judge them through their first 10 games so I think it’s too early to put heat on Bednar. Forwards Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen, and defenseman Cale Makar and Samuel Girard each has missed either two or three games. Makar has missed two games and is on injured reserve with an upper-body injury. MacKinnon didn’t practice Tuesday because of a lower-body injury. Colorado has had those five players together in two of its 10 games: a 4-1 loss at Florida on Oct. 21, and a 4-3 shootout win at the Tampa Bay Lightning on Oct. 23. The Avalanche need to get Makar healthy and try to build some momentum with what they have. If they can’t do it by early December, then I think it will be fair to start wondering about Bednar’s job status because it would be a two-month step in the wrong direction after three straight seasons of losing in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Injuries or not, the Avalanche are not as deep as they used to be. Look no further than the departures of forwards Brandon Saad and Joonas Donskoi, the former via free agency to the St. Louis Blues and the latter in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft to the Seattle Kraken. Forwards Darren Helm and Logan O’Connor have been filling those roles, but they’re not threats offensively in the way Saad and Donskoi were. Saad and Donskoi combined to score 55 points last season (32 goals, 23 assists), with Saad playing 44 games and Donskoi playing 51. O’Connor and Helm won’t score that much in an 82-game season.

It’ll be on Sakic to add depth scoring. But the Avalanche have to put together a strong second 10-game stretch to avoid falling into too deep of a hole in the Central Division by early December.

 

With the strong start of the Edmonton Oilers duo and the hunt for the all-time goals record, do you think Alex Ovechkin‘s great start to the season gets overlooked? He’s playing a lot, getting assists and really carrying the Washington Capitals through all the injuries. — @MeierGilles

Ovechkin’s strong start to this season isn’t getting overshadowed by anything, not even the strong play of Oilers forwards Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. The talk about Ovechkin chasing Wayne Gretzky’s NHL goals record (894) and the legends he’s passing along the way is bringing more attention to him this season. The Capitals forward has already motored past Marcel Dionne (731) and his next goal will move him past Brett Hull into sole possession of fourth place; they’re tied at 741. Ovechkin this season could pass Jaromir Jagr, who is third with 766. He needs 25 goals to tie him. Ovechkin is playing terrific hockey. He’s first in goals with 11 and third in points with 21. These aren’t lucky goals being scored by a goal-scorer who doesn’t do anything else. I’d argue that this season Ovechkin is skating as well or better than he has in his entire NHL career. It’s part of the reason he’s averaging 21:46 of ice time per game. He’s earning it and isn’t tiring despite being 36 years old. He’s motivated by the goal-scoring record and to defy the odds of being this much of an impact player at his age. The excitement and energy in his game are noticeable as always, and he’s in better shape than he has been in a long time. A lot of that is because of his offseason training program, which NHL.com staff writer Tom Gulitti detailed in this story.

Chasing the goals record might be the best thing Ovechkin has going for him. It has given him a renewed sense of purpose. The Capitals are the beneficiaries.

Video: BUF@WSH: Ovechkin ties Brett Hull for 4th all time

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