Originally posted on The Rangers Tribune  |  Last updated 3/8/12

It’s at the point where the problems of the New York Rangers are becoming repetitive and maybe have more to do with the personnel of the team rather than just the way they are playing. We’ve watched this team ride a high from late October into mid-January, but since then we have yet to see that dominant hockey club come out and win on a consistent basis. In fact, they’re streaks have progressively increased in the loss column since the All-Star break, and after tonight’s 4-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators, it’s the first time that the Rangers have lost back-to-back games in regulation since December. We’ve waited on this for a while, but I think that the other shoe is beginning to drop.

The Rangers actually got off to a solid start in this game, as they got on the board just 4:36 into the opening period when Brad Richards set up a crashing Ryan Callahan with a perfect cross-ice feed from along the boards. The team was doing everything right at that point; they were forechecking, keeping Ottawa off the puck and pinching at the right times.

But then the puck finally made its way into the Rangers’ end and in came the turnovers. Just over a minute after the Blueshirts scored to make it 1-0, both Brian Boyle and Marc Staal coughed the puck up at their own blue-line, and eventually Zack Smith ended up with it at the top of the circle. From that exact spot he fired a low slap shot far side on Marty Biron and in to tie the game.

The double turnovers were atrocious in their own right, but the actual goal allowed by Biron may have been even worse. Yes, I know MSG Network was making a case that it was deflected, but I didn’t see it, and even if it did, the deflection didn’t change the course of the puck dramatically. That’s a shot Biron must stop.

Don’t worry, though, as Biron’s hiccups throughout the night were not over just yet. At 18:50 of the first period, Biron bobbled a simple shot from O’Brien in the crease and in swooped Nick Foligno to bang in the loose puck. Granted the Rangers needed to pick Foligno off defensively on that play, but once again, another simple error by Biron led to a goal.

So after a strong start to the game, the Rangers quickly found themselves in a hole going into the second period. However, they were given plenty of opportunities to knot the score up in that middle stanza. They were handed four powerplays in total, two of which they did absolutely nothing on and the other two they struggled to finish. How many times this season have I had to write about the powerplay ultimately costing the Rangers the game? I don’t have an exact number because it’s far too many to count; the powerplay is no longer fixable in my opinion. If they’ve struggled with it the entire year, there’s little hope that it will start clicking in these last few months, especially with so little practice days remaining on the schedule. 

Meanwhile, New York was strong defensively in the second, holding the Senators to just three shots on goal. I’ll give them credit there, but they weren’t able to maintain that tight defense in the final 20 minutes. Actually, their blue-line was far from tight in the third.

After registering just seven shots through the first two periods, the senators came out and compiled an overwhelming 15 in the third. What does that say about the Rangers? First, they are a fatigued team being that they were unable to maintain a certain level of intensity towards the end of the game. Secondly, they are lacking desperation/motivation right now. The squad looked lifeless out there in the third, which is simply unacceptable considering they were down by just a goal.

Ottawa scored just under six minutes into the period when Michael Del Zotto was guilty of another turnover and Marty Biron fumbled another rebound. Kyle Turris ended up getting the goal – left all alone in the slot – to add insult to injury at that point. When your defense is going to be irresponsible with the puck and your goaltender cannot even handle the puck, you are in for a beating without a doubt, kind of like what the Rangers received tonight.

Jason Spezza scored the empty-netter with 1:27 left in regulation and the Sens went on to win, 4-1.

Marty Biron needs to be better. That’s as simple and as kind as I can put it right now. Yes, he’s a great guy in the locker room and yes, he’s a fantastic teammate. But at the end of the day, your contributions to the team are judged upon how you perform on the ice, and Biron has now performed well as of late. The weak goals are multiplying on a gamely basis, he looks shaky in net, his positioning is off and God help him with that damn rebound control. The Rangers will need Biron to step in often in this busy month of March if they want to give Henrik Lundqvist his proper rest, but they cannot afford to do that if Biron continues to disappoint. I know, you want to pull hard for this guy, but he needs to be better.

This was also the most distorted defensive game I think I’ve ever seen the Rangers play. And it’s not only because they were so bad, but it was because they were so bad and also so good at the same time. They turned the puck over way too much, yet still held the opposition to just seven shots through 2 periods. Those two don’t usually go hand-in-hand like that, so I’m a little confused myself as to how to go about assessing the defense tonight.

I guess I’ll go straight to the Del Zotto – Stralman pairing, because they were by far the worst in this game. Del Zotto looked like a lost peewee playing in his first house league game tonight. On one of the plays he had his back turned the Senators as they were breaking into the Rangers’ zone on an odd-man rush. Ummm, what the hell? 

And then, as head coach John Tortorella put it, Anton Stralman was absolutely “spanked” tonight. The Sens were walking right around him all night long, especially when Spezza burned him on one of the goals. As far as defense goes, that pairing has been the weakest for the Rangers as of late, but unfortunately they don’t have many options there. As sad as this may sound, Stralman is probably the best option when put up against Steve Eminger and Jeff Woywitka.

Offensively, the club’s inability to get the puck to the back of the net has become alarming. Senators goalie Ben Bishop was rarely challenged in this game, and when he was, it was from the usual suspects (Gaborik, Richards, Callahan). Tortorella even benched Derek Stepan towards the end of the game, as Step botched at least two prime scoring opportunities tonight.

Is their lack of goal scoring finally catching up to them? It doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out that one goal per game will not get the job done.

That being said, there’s no need to completely panic here. The Rangers are still in first place in the Eastern Conference for the time being and have plenty of hockey to play before the postseason rolls around. There’s time to make the proper adjustments in their game before then, but the question is if they are capable of doing that.

The Rangers will now travel to Chicago where they will take on the Chicago Blackhawks tomorrow night, and then they will come home for a seven-game homestand kicked off by a rivalry match-up with the Islanders on Sunday. If they fail to get up for that one, then it may be time to panic. 

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