The New York Rangers defeated the Ottawa Senators, 4-1. After facing a firing squad in the Winnipeg Jets for the season opener, there were a lot of questions remaining despite the victory. Those questions were answered in game number two.
Here are five takeaways from the second game and second victory of the 2019-20 season.
Contenders for Best Power Play in the NHL
For years, one of the biggest missing pieces for the Rangers was the power-play unit. From the 2016-17 season until last season, the Rangers were 15th, 16th and 20th in the NHL in power-play goals, respectively. That has certainly changed with the new additions.
The first unit of Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Pavel Buchnevich and Jacob Trouba has been magical. There is no denying that it could be the best and most effective powerplay unit in the NHL. So far this season, while maintaining constant control in the offensive zone, they have registered all three power-play goals for the Rangers. Two of those coming from Zibanejad and the other from Panarin.
New defenseman Trouba has been excellent at facilitating the puck and commanding the power play. He has been smart with the puck and able to keep the puck moving toward the opposing net. This has been a perfect tandem with Kreider, who is still in his comfortable role of sitting in front of the net. Despite not having a deflection or rebound between the two of them yet, that will certainly change once the season gets in full swing.
After having a lackluster opening night on the first line and first power-play unit, Buchnevich used the power play to his advantage in the second game of the season. He was able to pick up an assist on the man advantage and one during 5-on-5 play.
Georgiev Had a Great First Start
The goaltending battle is heating up in New York. Henrik Lundqvist will still be the number one goaltender going forward, but Alexandar Georgiev made a statement in his first start of the season. With 31 saves on 32 shots, he was able to keep Ottawa at bay.
The goaltending split is likely to be a three-way switch-off between Lundqvist, Georgiev and Igor Shesterkin. After a shaky preseason, there was a bit of concern surrounding Georgiev’s ability to still be an effective backup. But, after that performance, he may have just shown his ability to be the franchise’s next starting goaltender.
There is a lot riding on his ability to keep improving. With Lundqvist’s career nearing completion, it is crucial for the Rangers to find another solid and dependable goaltender. Especially when the rest of the roster was carefully crafted and built to sustain a successful future. That would all mean nothing if there isn’t a valuable piece to the puzzle guarding the cage.
Georgiev should be that piece. He is consistently improving, and this season will be his chance to prove that to the Rangers front office. It is not likely that the Rangers keep both Georgiev and Shesterkin once Lundqvist is done playing and it would seem to be a “one or the other” circumstance.
Until Shesterkin sees time in the NHL, which he inevitably will, the go-to-guy should be Georgiev.
Defense Seems to Have Fixed Itself
With a slight change in defensive lines, the Rangers’ biggest problem may have just gotten a much-needed band-aid. Trouba had Libor Hajek to his left and Brady Skjei had Adam Fox to his right. Using the veteran/rookie pairing seemed to do the trick to handle the rookie jitters.
The second most consistent defenseman on the ice through two games has been Fox. The youngster, who’s entire career has been the first two games of this season, is playing like a seasoned veteran. With smooth hands and undeniably smart awareness in both the offensive and defensive ends, the Rangers truly have a special player. On a number of occasions, he has embarrassed opposing players with a dangle or a saucer pass in the tightest of windows. He will be a spectacle to watch with every passing game.
At the end of the first game, there were two disappointing players that stuck out in many ways, one as a forward and one on defense. The forward being Buchnevich, and the defender being Skjei. In the season opener, Skjei looked lost on the ice, often seeming out of it. He had no direct impact on the game and there wasn’t much positivity that came out of it. But with game number two against Ottawa, he turned it around and had a noticeable game. He was able to have five shots on goal, deliver two hits and most importantly, he didn’t do it while having the man-advantage. He was only on the ice for 5-on-5 play and was a key member of the penalty-killing unit.
Overall, the defense looked like a complete unit. From lines one through three, the pairings were comfortable with each other and comfortable with the forwards. The Senators are obviously a much different team than the Jets, but the Rangers were able to snuff out much of the imposing threats. They were able to give Georgiev a clear view of the puck, minus the only goal Ottawa scored, and let him make an easier save. It was night-and-day between the first two games.
Buchnevich Redeemed Himself…for Now
One of the takeaways from the first game of the season was that Buchnevich looked like he didn’t belong on the first line and needed to improve. He was out of place on a line with two elite players on the ice. But, against the Senators, he was able to make up for it – slightly.
Buchnevich was much more effective but didn’t show his true potential against Ottawa. He did pick up two assists, with one of them being a highlight real passing play with Zibanejad. He seemed to fit in with the top trio a bit more, but it wasn’t perfect.
Overall, he will remain as the first-line right winger for now. The only player that can really take his spot is Kaapo Kakko, and he has yet to register a point this season. Kakko has had a good amount of chances, one could say more than Buchneivich, but just hasn’t been able to punch it home. If the two were to swap, it likely won’t happen until much later the season.
Mika Zibanejad is Truly a Special Player
The future of this franchise runs through Zibanejad. He has been incredible in every sense of the word. Through two games, he leads the NHL in points with eight (four goals, four assists). He made it clear on opening night that this could be a career year for the 26-year-old, but the second game assured it.
With a hat-trick consisting of one goal on the power play, one goal on the penalty kill and one at even strength – along with an assist – Zibanejad single-handedly beat his former team. It was the third hat-trick of his career and second with the Blueshirts.
The possibilities are endless on what he can achieve this season. Alongside Panarin and Buchnevich, the trio could give the Boston Bruins a run for their money as the best first-line in the NHL. Last season was the best of Zibanejad’s career with 30 goals and 44 assists for 74 points, and those marks could be shattered this season.
Zibanejad is not only scoring-at-will and dishing the puck around, but he is also doing a lot of the other things. At the faceoff dot, he is 25-39, which is a 64.1 win percentage. Additionally, he has been able to add three blocks and two hits to his stat line.
If ever there was a time to name the next captain of the New York Rangers, it would be now. The Rangers are going to go with the four alternates, for now, but it could change as the season goes along. Zibanejad would be the leading candidate for the honor and he has shown he deserves it.