Regarding the Rangers, still first in the Metro but probably far from first in your heart these days.
1. If the combination of three goals on 83 shots strikes a chord in your memory palace, it should, for that represented Rick Nash’s stat line for the 2015 playoffs in which Big 61’s 3.6 shooting percentage was the lowest in NHL postseason history for forwards with at least 80 shots on net.
The circumstances are not as urgent and the consequences are hardly as dire, but nine years later, Alexis Lafreniere entered Tuesday’s match in San Jose having scored three goals on 83 shots over his previous 29 games before exiting the 3-2 overtime defeat with three goals on 84 shots in his previous 30 contests.
This is not an attempt to turn Lafreniere into a scapegoat for the Rangers’ 3-5-2, 5-7-2 and 11-11-2 descents into mediocrity and worse. But when a team gets next to no production from a bottom-six that has been compromised since Filip Chytil left the lineup on Nov. 2, it is incumbent upon his top-six to cash in its opportunities.
But even while generating offense in getting the third most five-on-five minutes on the club behind linemates Artemi Panarin and Vincent Trocheck, Lafreniere’s finishing touch has evaporated. What’s more, those 84 shots have come off 153 attempts, with 30 blocked and another 39 missing the target altogether.
Lafreniere (11-16-27) has been one of only a handful of players who have exceeded expectations for this 29-15-3 club that is wheezing into the weekend back-to-back — home Friday against Vegas, in Ottawa Saturday — that precedes a desperately needed bye period/All-Star break. Panarin, Trocheck, Will Cuylle, Jonathan Quick and Erik Gustafsson make up the rest of this exclusive group.
But Lafreniere, denied at the doorstep in LA by goaltender David Rittich with 1:24 to go in the third period of a one-goal game last Saturday as if it were Nash being stonewalled by Jonathan Quick 10 years earlier, has a shooting percentage of 9.2 for the season, well below the career 15.1 percent the winger brought into the season.
Some can be attributed to bad luck over a somewhat small sample size. But the Rangers need their putative goal scorers to be able to capitalize on their chances. Hockey folks like to say that they worry when the opportunities dry up. But I always kind of worry when a player can’t score.
2. When Chytil is cleared for a return to active duty — barring setbacks, the second week of February seems a reasonable target date — general manager Chris Drury will face an immediate personnel decision unless the hierarchy opts to go with a 23-man roster that would limit cap space.
Presupposing good health, the call seems to place either Jonny Brodzinski or Tyler Pitlick on waivers. Brodzinski has added the important element of speed in the middle to the equation over the last two games after having been moved off the wing by head coach Peter Laviolette, but it’s very unlikely that Brodzinski would remain at center upon Chytil’s return.
Indeed, it’s likely that either Barclay Goodrow or Nick Bonino would center the fourth line while Brodzinski shifts back to wing or maybe to the Wolf Pack. But there is this: Brodzinski would likely become a top-sixer for Chicago. Other clubs might pluck him off the waiver wire. The Blueshirts may not want to risk it, even if Jonny Blueshirt becomes a regular scratch.
Pitlick meanwhile has been a healthy scratch in six of seven games since he was cleared following a lower-body injury that sidelined No. 71 four games. There is less danger that Pitlick would be selected off waivers, but if he should be, then the next guy up on the wing would be Anton Blidh or Riley Nash.
The other option that all but certainly is anathema to Drury, Laviolette and the staff would be to place Nick Bonino on waivers. Bonino — who centered Barclay Goodrow and Jimmy Vesey on the checking line for three of the four games on the trip — has been on for eight goals scored and 20 against for a 28.57 goals-for percentage. That is sixth-worst in the NHL among forwards with at least 400 minutes played at five-on-five. Bonino’s expected goals share of 38.08 percent is fourth-worst in the league among 400-minute qualifiers.
3. The problem relying on production from a power-play unit even as accomplished as the Rangers, has been exposed over this latest stretch, where the team’s potent unit has been held off the sheet in three of the last seven games and seven of the last 14 after being blanked in only one of the previous 12 and seven of the previous 33.
The Blueshirts are 1-4-2 in the last seven in which they were blanked with the man-advantage. Five-on-five matters.
4. The Blueshirts have summoned Jake Leschyshyn from the Wolf Pack in an indication something is amiss with at least one of their forwards. Leschyshyn played 6:28 for the Rangers in St. Louis on Jan. 11 and was a healthy scratch the following game in Washington in a previous stay on the roster.