The Rangers have improved as of late with points in four of their last five games and a 3-1-1 record against a formidable slate of playoff-bound teams. This impressive stretch was started by a revenge win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, who bounced the Rangers from the playoffs last year, and was highlighted by a staggering 6-2 rout of the Dallas Stars who hold the best record in the Western Conference.
In these handful of games the team has looked as good if not better than they did for any stretch this season. Some of the reasons for these recent winning ways have been:
Rolling Four Deep:
During their best stretches under Vigneault, a Blueshirt hallmark has been to commit to using all four lines. When the team has met success, it has been with contributions from 18 skaters. The last five games Derick Brassard, Jesper Fast and Dominic Moore have had GWGs, representing three of the four lines from the latest line combinations. Add to this an impressive stretch from the newest forward Jayson Megna and the renaissance of Viktor Stalberg and the team is getting contributions from up and down the roster.
The combo of Brassard, Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello already have double figures in goals along with the breakout performance of Oscar Lindberg. Several other forwards look poised to join them by year’s end as the team enters the halfway mark. This would be a repeat of some of the better seasons in recent Rangers history where they have derived success from depth of scoring. In 2013-14, the year they made a Cup run, 10 players hit double figures in goals scored.
Analysts have been quick to point out the offensive output of the Rangers blueliners as a sign of success. The catch-22 is that while getting contributions out of your back end is always a plus, it can come at the expense of good back-checking. Over the tougher stretches of the season, mental mistakes have led to giveaways and on a shift in shift out basis the defense hasn’t done a good enough job in front of Lundqvist to make his job easier. Odd man rushes on botched pinch attempts combined with subpar zone clearing have exacerbated the goaltenders’ recent struggles with easy chances given to opponents. Over the past few outings the defense seems to have righted the ship defensively led by the always reliable assistant captain Marc Staal.
The Little Things:
More than anything the Rangers have improved their performance with the little intricacies that win and lose games on a regular basis. Faceoffs have been a huge problem for the team during past seasons but in this small sample they have won the faceoff battle three out of five games and been near even in the losses. Third period scoring is perhaps the most consistent aspect of winning teams and an 11-2 clip over the past five is the kind of late game performance that usually translates to victories.
Finally and most importantly, the Rangers have shot the puck. Shooting leads to scoring. Though that may seem self-explanatory, sometimes watching New York hockey you wonder if they realize this simple reality. In the past five games, the Rangers have averaged just over 30 shots a game and it has led to them capturing seven of 10 possible points.