COVID, major injuries and time off played a big part in New York Rangers’ poor record against top teams

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March 4, 2021; Newark, New Jersey, United States; New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin (31) is helped off the ice in the third period of their game against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers will miss the playoffs. It’s certainly a shame after the series of games they played from mid-March to April. When you look back, it’s hard not to see why they won’t play in the playoffs.

Major injuries, COVID-related issues, and time off work played a big role. The Rangers struggled in some crucial games against the best in the division. When your best players aren’t in the roster, it’s tough to win.

  • Artemi Panarin: 11 games (2 LBI, 9 leave – 21% of all games played to date)
  • Jacob Trouba: 14 games and count (8 broken inch, 6 UBI – 27%)
  • Igor Shesterkin: 10 games (10 groin games – 19%)
  • Kaapo Kakko: 7 games (7 games related to COVID – 13%)

New York Rangers suffered significant injuries and absences

April 1, 2021; Buffalo, New York, United States; New York Rangers left winger Artemi Panarin (10) on the ice for warm-ups before a game against the Buffalo Sabers at KeyBank Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

It’s pretty hard to do the big dance when your best player misses 21% of the season played so far. Artemi Panarin missed 11 out of 52 games and his loss was not easy to overcome. To make matters worse, the Rangers have lost their best veteran defender Jacob Trouba for 27% of the year and more.

Much is written about the Rangers’ inability to beat the teams ahead of them in the standings. At the last check, they are a 10-14-4 combined against the East Division playoff teams (NYI, BOS, PIT, WSH). While this is a telling statistic, the Rangers only appeared to have struggled against the Islanders (2-5-1) and to some extent the Penguins.

If we add a bit of context, of the 11 games Panarin missed, 4 were against the Bruins, 2 against the Penguins and 1 against the Flyers before Philly collapsed. The Rangers have gone 1-6 in those crucial games without their MVP.

A look at Trouba’s missed games shows 2 against the Islanders, 2 against the Bruins and 1 with the Capitals. In his absence against the top teams, the Blueshirts have gone 2-3. Anyone who wants to be really fair would say he made 2-4 because he was injured early in a blowout loss to the Islands.

As for Shesterkin, he was coming back before his groin strain which forced him to miss 19% of the season. During his absence, Alexandar Georgiev struggled so much that Keith Kinkaid had to be called in to keep the team afloat. During his time on the injured list, the Rangers faced the Capitals, Penguins and Bruins twice each with a score of 2-4.

As for Kakko, in an important second season, it didn’t help his development to be twice on the COVID list. The first time was for a single game, the next time he actually contracted the virus and missed six contests. It would take him nine games to find the back of the net after his return.

Mika Zibanejad receiving COVID-19 had lasting ramifications

mika zibanejad
February 8, 2021; New York, NY, United States; New York Rangers’ Mika Zibanejad # 93 skates against the New York Islanders at Madison Square Garden on February 08, 2021 in New York City. The Islanders shut out the Rangers 2-0. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Bennett / Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Finally, the biggest reason the Rangers missed the playoffs was the terrible downfall of Mika Zibanejad. The Rangers’ top scorer last season and the top two scorers missed the camp because he was hit hard by the virus. For a player whose game is based on speed with and without the puck, he struggled. Although he played down COVID and refused to use it as an excuse, it contributed to his poor start which had a domino effect on the team.

The Blueshirts opened the season 4-7-3 with Zibanejad having just three points in that span. During this time they lost twice to the Devils and once to the Sabers. If they had those six points, they’d be in the thick of it right now.

So while Zibanejad didn’t miss a game, his COVID-induced collapse had lasting ramifications for the Rangers season. While each team deals with injuries, some are designed to overcome them. For example, the Tampa Bay Lightning didn’t have their best player of all season at Nikita Kucherov and they did well. But would they be as good if Victory Hedman and Andrei Vasilevskiy were lost for a long time? What if Brayden Point started to get cold in the ice too?

These questions are just food for thought. The Blueshirts will miss the playoffs. They need to mend their last six with a little more courage to beat a team like the Islanders. However, in a game of and ifs, I think the Rangers would have made the playoffs if Zibanejad hadn’t collapsed or if they hadn’t lost so many games by human force.

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