The New York Rangers have pulled themselves out of a brutal hole to start the season. In a stretch filled with bad turnovers, easily-stoppable pucks going in, and an out-of-synch power play, the Rangers couldn’t get out of their own way. However, starting with a 6-4 win over the Vegas Golden Knights, they have been playing much better hockey. Despite this 2 month stretch where they have stepped up their game, questions remain to be asked: what have they been doing that’s different, and will it last?
Arguably the biggest free agency signing in all of the NHL this past offseason, Kevin Shattenkirk has been money since coming to Broadway. He’s been a great quarterback on the power play, a unit that is 6th in the league currently despite hard-shooting Mika Zibanejad missing time with a concussion. His vision while moving the puck is very evident too, with 17 assists so far through 33 games.
The only thing I would like to see Shatty change is cutting the penalties a little. He took a bad one last night in Boston and is on pace for around 64 penalty minutes. But that’s not too big of a worry — especially with how the penalty kill has looked lately, with emphasis on the Boston game.
He’s also prone to make some mistakes in his own end, but that’s to be expected; he wasn’t brought here to be a shutdown defenseman. Shattenkirk has been worth every penny so far, and will be a big factor into determining how far the Rangers will go this season.
The Ranger power play has been dynamite all season. A unit that has historically disappeared for the past 5+ seasons has finally returned and is consistent. Bringing in Shattenkirk has paid huge dividends for the club with the man advantage. Zibanejad’s shot from the left side is also a big-time weapon teams need to watch out for. Those two coupled with Chris Kreider or Rick Nash in front of the net, and guys like Miller, Hayes, Vesey, Zuccarello, or Buchnevich on the wings make for an abundance of scoring options.
Too often last season, the Rangers would struggle to enter the zone, and when they would enter the zone, they’d either lose the battle and have to reset, or get forced to the outside with the only shooting opportunities coming from the points where there wasn’t much of a shot for a goal anyway. It was a problem, especially evident versus Ottawa and Montreal in the playoffs last season.
Fast forward to now, everything has changed. Shattenkirk not only makes smart passes but takes smart shots. Zibanejad has an absolute bullet of a shot. Pucks are cycled around quickly to prevent defenses from setting up, and shooting lanes are opened up because of this. Put a big body in front of the net and the goalie’s gonna have a hard time tracking the puck.
This article on Fansided sums it up beautifully. Bottom line is, the Rangers seem to have finally solved their power play woes, and a dangerous scoring team now is a whole lot better in that department.
It’s no secret that the Rangers ride and die on the play of Henrik Lundqvist. Saying that The King got off to a rough start is putting it nicely. I mean, how many times did it seem like a minute into the game the opposing team would score and the Rangers would be playing from behind? Henrik’s save percentage was at .898 through October. Yeah, not great. Since then? .932 for his save percentage.
Hank has been more aggressive in challenging shooters, and appears to have taken a sip out of the fountain of youth, as he’s channeled vintage Lundqvist over the past month and a half, and he’s been playing superbly.
Lundqvist has also said himself that he feels mentally locked in, a big thing for goaltenders to be. He wants to play every game, and seems to have a lot left in the tank, having to make 66 saves in 24 hours, but this challenge doesn’t seem to be fazing him. A locked-in Lundqvist is a disaster for opposing teams, and he seems to be pretty locked in right now. Watch out, NHL…
Will this Good Play Continue?
The way the Rangers will finish the season solely depends on how well they defend. They can score goals at will, and having Zibanejad return healthy is huge. With McDonagh starting to find his game again, and Skjei playing at a very high level right now, the team is starting to settle down. They’re making smarter decisions with the puck, and are moving it quickly. Lundqvist playing well right now is also a good thing. If he can keep playing this well, the Rangers are in really good shape. At this rate, they will be a playoff team. But it’s December, and a lot can happen in 3+ months…
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