New York Rangers: 3 Keys to Defeating the Boston Bruins

The Boston Bruins head to Madison Square Garden Thursday night to take on the New York Rangers, in a battle that features a lot of firepower. Boston currently sits atop the NHL standings with 74 points and a 35-5-4 record, while the Rangers are in third place in the tightly contested Metropolitan Division with 57 points and a 25-13-7 record. It’s a tall task defeating the league’s best team, but the Rangers will look to exact revenge on a 5-2 defeat to the Bruins back on Nov. 3.

Gerard Gallant’s group has been off since Monday, when they defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-1. They will be the more rested team Thursday, as Jim Montgomery’s squad is coming off a 4-1 win over the New York Islanders Wednesday night. The matchup with the Rangers will also be their third game in four nights.

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A battle with the Bruins will be an indicator type of game for the Rangers, allowing them to see if they are ready to compete with the league’s best at this point in the season. It won’t be easy for the Blueshirts, as the Bruins are 5-1-0 in the second game of back-to-backs this season. They find ways to win, and for the Rangers, they will have to play a near-perfect 60 minutes to come away with two points.

Here are three keys for the Rangers to defeat the big, bad Bruins.

Key 1: Rangers Need to get the Power Play Rolling

The Rangers’ power play over the past six games has been awful. They are currently in a 2-for-19 slump on the man advantage, but they did tally a power-play goal in the victory on Monday. The goal was scored by a net-front redirection by Barclay Goodrow and the Rangers’ second unit. The first unit has been anything but special, failing to create the high-danger opportunities fans saw early on in the season.

Over the course of the 2022-23 NHL season, the Rangers have 134 high-danger chances on the power play, the fourth most amongst all teams, per Natural Stat Trick. They rank second in expected goals at 41.15, but 14th in power-play goals with just 32. You can say they are snake bitten, but as of late, they have just not clicked when on the man advantage.

The Bruins’ penalty kill ranks first in the NHL at 86.7%. They pressure the puck and don’t allow passes through the seam, which is the Rangers’ preferred method of attack. Boston will have the edge on most teams in nearly every facet of the game statistically, but for the Rangers to have success Thursday night, they will have to win the special teams battle.

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More movement, more shots, and less predictability are needed from the Rangers on the power play. If they remain stagnant, the Bruins’ penalty kill will have a field day picking off passes and clearing the puck all night.

Key 2: Chris Kreider’s Impact Upon Return to Lineup

After a three-game absence due to an upper-body injury, Rangers’ winger Chris Kreider will return to the lineup against the Bruins. His return reunites the top line of Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, and Kaapo Kakko, a trio that was creating numerous chances at five-on-five, and has looked like the Rangers’ best line grouping of the season.

Chris Kreider Rangers
Chris Kreider, New York Rangers, Mar. 22, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Kreider’s net-front presence will also impact the aforementioned power play, stepping back into his usual spot in front of the net on the man advantage.

The Rangers’ offense has looked out of sorts since Kreider went down, mainly due to Alexis Lafreniere struggling to step into the top-line role and a lack of depth scoring that came with the lineup shuffle. The veteran forward has 19 goals and 30 points this season. Although not at the 52-goal pace we saw a season ago, Kreider is still on pace to pot nearly 40 goals this season, which would be two consecutive 30-plus goal seasons after he failed to pass that milestone for the first eight years of his career.

Against a big, physical team like the Bruins, it will be good to get Kreider back in the lineup. At 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, his mix of speed and power allows him to get in on the forecheck and create offensive chances for the Rangers. He also has been a key penalty killer over the past two seasons, improving his defensive play drastically since being given the increased responsibilities.

Kreider is a leader for the Rangers, and if impactful in his return, the Rangers will get a big boost against the Bruins Thursday night.

Key 3: Rangers’ Need Vezina Igor Shesterkin

Igor Shesterkin has been solid this season, but has not played at the same level he did en route to a Vezina Trophy a year ago. He has a 20-7-6 record on the season, with a 2.43 goals-against average (GAA) and a .918 save percentage (SV%). Surprisingly, he has just one shutout on the season, which happened all the way back on Nov. 1 against the Philadelphia Flyers.

You cannot defeat a team like the Bruins with average goaltending, and the Rangers will need Shesterkin to steal this game for them. If he can play at an elite level for 60 minutes, the Rangers have to like their chances against the Bruins.

Igor Shesterkin New York Rangers
Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The problem this season has been a lack of consistency on a night-to-night basis in Shesterkin’s game. Boston will generate chances, and Shesterkin will have to be sharp to keep the Rangers afloat. It is no secret that the Blueshirts’ defense can be leaky at times, and good teams like the Bruins tend to expose those weak spots.

The reigning Vezina winner has a 2.63 GAA and a .908 SV% at home this season. Those numbers are a stark contrast to the 2.12 GAA and .931 SV% he sports on the road. Gallant will need Shesterkin’s road splits to creep into MSG tonight for the Rangers to beat the Bruins.

Puck drop will be at 7:08 PM ET at Madison Square Garden Thursday night. This has all the makings of a great hockey game, as the Rangers look to hand the Bruins their sixth regulation loss of the season.

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