Rangers answer David Quinn’s pleas with net-front presence

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The Rangers’ 3-2 shootout win over the Flyers Thursday night was no “Picasso,” as head coach David Quinn put it, but it ended a four-game losing skid and served as an opportunity for the team to implement parts of their offensive game they knew were missing.

For several days leading up to the team’s first win since Feb. 4, a span in which the Rangers were outscored 11-4, Quinn had been saying that his players simply weren’t competing around the net enough.

Their offense was suffering from a lack of aggression on second and third scoring chances, hesitancy to chase rebounds and failure to battle in front of the crease. Quinn pointed out how players were skating through the net, rather than stopping in front of it and fighting for the space to be there and clean up any loose pucks.

But the Rangers broke through with a strong net-front presence Thursday, culminating in a third-period go-ahead goal from Brendan Smith in which he buried a back-handed pass from Artemi Panarin after lingering on the other side of the Flyers’ net.

Asked if he would put a clip of Smith’s goal on replay for the rest of the team to learn from, Quinn said he’d like to show it “quite often” going forward.

“I thought we did a much better job being around the net [Thursday night],” Quinn said after the win. “I thought our guys took the message to heart. We just got to shoot more, I think our D in particular have to risk more pucks down there. I think we get pucks back to our point and we’re looking to make the D-to-D pass or looking to see if we can make a perfect shot. Sometimes you just have to get it down there.

“That’s something that we’ve certainly talked about with our defensemen, certainly something we have to implement into our game. But the fact that Smitty stops at the net, gets rewarded for it, I think our forwards can take a page out of his book to do that consistently.”

For an offense that has struggled in the last handful of games with their veterans in the midst of a significant cold streak, the Rangers have taken time to figure out an alternate way of generating goals.

Considering the team’s best shot creators are Panarin, who returned to the lineup Thursday after missing two games with a lower-body injury, and Mika Zibanejad – who have both been less effective this year – it’s been an adjustment for the team’s offense that heavily relied on those contributions last season.

The Rangers have seen their bottom six carry their offense the last four games, with two goals from Colin Blackwell, one from Kevin Rooney and another from Pavel Buchnevich when he was demoted to the third line in the 5-2 loss to the Devils.

Quinn is hoping Smith set a new precedent with his competitiveness in front of the Flyers net Thursday. And until the Rangers’ usual offensive weapons get back on track, it’ll be up to the rest of the team to find new ways to put the puck in the back of the net.

“We talked about getting pucks to the net, and a lot of times when you put it to the net, good things happen,” Smith said. “Stromer put it to the net, and obviously it went for a rebound to Breadman, and that guy makes plays. He’s an elite player and there’s a reason why he’s on top of the league in points all the time.

“But I think we have to do a little bit more of stopping in front of net. That’s what we kind of preached and coach was preaching before the game. It worked out for me.”

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