Almost two weeks into the NHL season and the Rangers find themselves a top the Metropolitan division at 4-2. Yes, it’s very early in the season, but this is a great start as it’s beginning to look like the off-season strategy of becoming a team built on speed is working.
The Rangers are winning the battles in the corners and taking every open shot opportunity they get. They’re creating scoring chances by getting pucks deep, cycling, and getting shots from the points. The Blueshirts are scoring averaging almost 4 goals and 31 shots on net through their first six games. They have strong wins over the Islanders, Sharks and Capitals and even dominated in their only two losses of the season. It’s not all perfect in Rangerland but they are certainly heading in the right direction.
Did anyone see Chris Kreider being this hot to start the season? He’s developed instant chemistry with Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich and, even without playing against Arizona on Sunday, leads the team with 7 points in five games. That line has been all over the ice and has been the Rangers best offensive trio to start the season. They even moved up Rick Nash when Buch went down with injury to get him more scoring opportunities. But Kreider and Zib are on fire and have been generating the most scoring opportunities on the team. Sky’s the limit for these two.
In addition, the off-season additions have already begun paying dividends. Jimmy Vesey scored the game-tying and game-winning goals against the Caps. Zibanejad is second on the team is scoring to Kreider and has complimented his game perfectly. Brandon Pirri has been a great addition to the power play and Josh Jooris and Michael Grabner play big roles on a 4th line. The Rangers are getting contributions from everyone and just got back Oscar Lindberg from injury.
Running into hot goalies
The Rangers losses to the Blues and Red Wings were very similar. In both games, the Rangers dominated possession, out-shot both teams by almost double, and even out-shot the Blues 13-0 in the 3rd period. In addition, to sloppy turnovers leading to scoring opportunities for the other team (more to come), the Rangers have ran into two goalies who stole wins from them (sadly, both were backups).
Running into a hot goalie is a part of the game. And to pull those games out when the opposing goalie is standing on his head, you need to score on the man advantage. The special teams play has been the difference in almost all games they have played so far. In the two games they lost, the Rangers didn’t score on the PP and gave up a PK goal in each game. In their four wins, they have scored four on the power play and only given up one penalty kill goal.
Again, we’re only six games into the season, but it’s something that can change the game. They have started to improve in both areas with the 15th ranked penalty kill and the 9th ranked power play. They’ll find those tough L’s turn into W’s against the hot goalies, if they can convert on their advantages.
Tightening Up the Defensive Zone
This is to be expected with a young team playing a fast paced style of hockey and should improve as the season goes on, but the Rangers have given up too many goals from catastrophic defensive zone turnovers. Their opponents have scored on pucks blindly thrown up the boards and not getting out of the zone, wingers missing passes on the hash marks, and not picking up guys in front of the net.
They’re young, and they’re still getting used to playing together. Turnovers are going to happen and opposing players will make nice pressure plays to create chances. But the unforced errors and fundamental breakdowns will kill a team playing well and opponents have converted on too many against the Rangers. I don’t think I could truly fault Hank on any goal given up until he wanted in on the sloppy action, and got striped by Luke Glendening against Detroit. But it’s Hank, and besides one or two I’m sure he wants back, he’s been great to start the season. Alain needs to work on tightening up the defensive zone.
The Rangers have looked good to start this season and have played five playoff teams from last season in their 1st six games. This week won’t get any easier as they welcome Boston to MSG on Wednesday night, then head to Carolina on Friday, and end the week on Sunday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning.