The New York Rangers sit at 17-5-3 through their first 25 games. Take a second, Rangers fans — re-read that, and smile. It has been a phenomenal start for a team that many considered to have still enough flaws to be on the playoff bubble. Yet, through almost one-third of the NHL season, the team sits amongst the league’s elite atop the standings.
Only the Florida Panthers (.760) have a better point percentage than the Rangers (.740). They have one game in hand on the Metropolitan Division-leading Washington Capitals, sitting just one point out of first place. Gerard Gallant‘s group is top-10 in both special teams categories, killing 83.1 percent of their penalties (ninth) and scoring on 24.0 percent of their power plays (seventh).
After allowing seven goals to the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday, the Rangers are now eighth in the league in goals allowed per game (2.64), a mark well below their 3.04 goals per game (14th). Ultimately, the Rangers have shown that they are for real, and through 25 games, they have the numbers and record to prove it.
There have been a lot of goods for this squad in the 20221-22 season, but let’s dive into what has stood out the most.
5. Rangers’ Fourth Line Impacting Games
Most thought general manager Chris Drury went overboard when acquiring Ryan Reaves this offseason after signing Barclay Goodrow and trading for Sammy Blais. Instead, the trade for Reaves and the signing of Goodrow has seemingly created one of the most formidable fourth lines in all of hockey. Add an excellent start for veteran Kevin Rooney, and the Rangers’ fourth line is noticeable every night.
The latter has already scored six times this campaign and needs just two goals over the remaining 57 games to tie his career high. Reaves has been a physical force, tallying 95 hits, the third-most in the NHL. Then there is Goodrow, who moved around the lineup before finding a home on the fourth line. He has 10 points this season and has meshed seamlessly with his two linemates.
All three forwards hit everything that moves in all zones. This fourth line is aggressive on the forecheck on each shift, yet structured enough to not get beat on the rush. No one expected the offense they have brought, but their most prominent attribute is the camaraderie they bring to the locker room, exemplified by Reaves’ persona.
4. Forward Chemistry and A Snubbed Captain
The Rangers’ offense was sluggish at the onset of 2021-22. However, since the 10-game mark, they have returned to form, led by a man many thought would have the “C” on his sweater, Chris Kreider. Kreider has registered 17 goals, 10 of which came via the power play. He is well on his way to his first 30-goal season and has been an absolute force at the net front.
Despite Kreider’s success all season, no other forwards were scoring until Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome started up their bread and butter tendencies again. Panarin (31 points) has been remarkable, surpassing 500 points in a 6-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. His chemistry with Strome (18 points) has been noteworthy since they started playing together in 2019-20.
Together, they have generated offense nightly, picking up the slack when other lines struggle. Players like Mika Zibanejad, Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil, and Kaapo Kakko have not found consistent offensive games yet. If the Panarin/Strome combination continues to roll while the aforementioned players get going, this offense becomes extremely dangerous.
3. Fox, Trouba Headline A Scoring Defense
Adam Fox may have taken the league by storm last year, but now everyone was ready for what the reigning Norris Trophy winner brings to the table. That hasn’t made a difference at all. Fox is elite defensively, making play after play in his zone that leaves fans speechless. The dedication to shutting down the best forwards on the opposition has not subtracted from his offensive game in the slightest.
Fox is tied for first amongst defensemen with 27 points. He scores at 5-on-5 and the power play and produces nightly for the Rangers. However, the defensive scoring has not been just from Fox this season. Jacob Trouba is playing his best hockey as a member of the Rangers in his third season on Broadway.
Trouba already has 14 points, scoring six goals and twice over the last two games. The big defenseman hasn’t just been a force on the scoresheet, but with the body as well. He has perfected stepping up into the opposition, laying some massive open ice hits to forwards trying to break to the middle. He has been impactful in all three zones and has quietly become one of the more trusted defensemen on the back end.
2. Shesterkin Playing Like a Vezina Candidate
Very few positions are of the same importance as goaltending. The Rangers’ goaltender, Igor Shesterkin, can decide games by himself. This season, he has been exquisite, amassing a 13-3-2 record, with a goals-against average of 2.05 and a save percentage of .937. He should be a Vezina finalist come season’s end, hinging solely on how quickly he can regain his form after this current injury scare.
According to Hockey Reference, only Jack Campell (16.96) has a higher goals saved above expected than Shesterkin’s 14.46. Simply put, Shesterkin has taken the shoes of the great Henrik Lundqvist and has fit into them rather nicely. He has a high danger save percentage of .843, backstopping the Rangers to what has been their most prolific start via wins in franchise history.
Exemplified by Lundqvist for 15 seasons, a good goalie can erase many mistakes. Shesterkin does just that for the Rangers. When this squad can play solid in front of their goaltender, the Blueshirts become very tough to beat. Before his injury, the structure in front of Shesterkin rattled off wins in five straight starts and wins in eight of nine. He seems poised to return with the same prowess in goal.
1. Gallant’s Winning Formula
When hired, Gallant had the pedigree of taking teams and changing the culture right away. His stops in Columbus and Florida didn’t see the same eye-popping results as his tenure with the Vegas Golden Knights, but the Rangers are now reaping the benefits of an experienced head coach. The Golden Knights were 15-9-1 through their first 25 games with Gallant at the helm, seeing similar results to the Rangers, who have gone an even more impressive 17-5-3.
Eerily enough, both teams allowed seven goals in a loss during Game 25. Vegas would follow that up with a 13-game point streak (12-0-1). The Rangers hope to emulate that model.
But back to Gallant. His ability to get players to buy into his physical yet offensive-minded play style is miraculous. Heck, Lafreniere, a first-overall pick, has turned into a bull in a china shop, hitting everything that moves. You can see the players buy into what he is selling more each game, protecting the front of the net and grinding down opposing teams.
Gallant knows how to win tight games and even toyed with the lines just long enough to find the ideal combinations — and this may come as a shock to Rangers’ fans — he stuck with them. Chemistry is evident up and down the bench, and that kind of team can only be formed with a good head coach.
The Rangers have proven to be a talented and well-rounded hockey team through the first 25 games of the 2021-22 NHL season. It is a very successful start to the season when the argument can be made that this group has a Vezina finalist (Shesterkin), Norris finalist (Fox), and a Jack Adams finalist (Gallant).
Let’s see if these trends hold true for the next 25.
Brendan Azoff is a THW contributor and podcast host dedicated to covering the New York Rangers. His passion for hockey started when he first laced up the skates at three, growing into his love for writing and talking about the greatest sport in the world. His podcast, The Backcheck, breaks down the Rangers, Islanders, and NHL news and can be found on The Hockey Writers Podcast Network and Belly Up Sports. Brendan has been writing about the Rangers and the NHL for over two years, with his content also found on Puck Prose, Blue Line Station, and E2G Sports. If you want to connect with Brendan and stay up-to-date on his posts, follow him on Twitter. He is always available for content ideas and interviews, don’t be afraid to ask!