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The hidden defensive problem the Rangers must fix

It’s clear Alain Vigneault wants offense from his defensemen, but one thing that might get lost in that demand from the Rangers coach is he also desperately needs defense from his forwards.

Looking back on Thursday night’s 4-2 loss to the Islanders in Brooklyn, it was easy to pin a couple of defensive lapses on the blueliners. In the midst of a very difficult night for Marc Staal, he was singled out because Islanders diminutive forward Stephen Gionta pushed him off a puck and then found Andrew Ladd alone in front for an easy goal to put the Islanders up, 2-1, early in the second period.

But how was Ladd so open? The Rangers were changing, but neither Mika Zibanejad, Mats Zuccarello or Chris Kreider looked to see if they were needed to check Ladd.

Just before that, the Rangers struggled to get the puck out of their zone, and it ended in a beautiful tic-tac-toe passing play with Anders Lee tying the game 1-1.

“In the second, we made two puck decisions that were wrong and the puck ended up in the back of our net,” Vigneault said after the game.

Yet the biggest gaffe of all came when the Rangers started the third period with 3:52 of power-play time, and then gave up a shorthanded goal to Nikolay Kulemin to give the Isles a 3-1 lead. On the play, John Tavares had a few hacks in front of Henrik Lundqvist, then as the puck went behind the net, the rest of the Rangers just stood there and watched as Tavares found Kulemin alone in front.

“There’s no doubt we have five guys standing around looking at two of their players making plays in front of our net,” Vigneault said. “There’s no doubt that one put us behind the eight ball early in the third.”

After that play, Lundqvist visibly voiced his frustration with Zibanejad, who, for some reason, had floated behind the net to watch Ryan McDonagh check Tavares while Kulemin remained wide open in front.

“I feel like the third one is a killer,” Lundqvist said. “Power play, sometimes when you’re an extra man you might rely on someone else to do the job, and I think that’s what happened.

We didn’t communicate enough in front of the net to sort it out, and that was difference.


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