Following a controversial offseason — which saw the team focus on bolstering their toughness and depth, rather than following the leagues recent trends of speed and scoring — many New York Rangers faithful were questioning how far along this team was in the rebuilding process.
A start of 6-2-3, for 15 points, puts the Rangers second in the very strong Metro Division and tied for fourth in the league. Although 11 games is a very small sample size, fans have to be pleased with the team’s early success. As the old adage goes, “you can’t win it all in the first ten games, but you can certainly lose it.”
The hot start puts them in great position, roughly 10 percent of the way through the regular season. With the early success, are these new-look Rangers for real, or are they playing above their means in a fashion that is not sustainable for 82 games?
Stars Leading the Charge
Without question, the big guns have shown up early in the season and are playing a huge role in the team’s early success. Successful teams in today’s NHL and flat-cap era need their stars and high-paid players to produce. Anything less will land the team in a spot the struggling Toronto Maple Leafs have found themselves in this season and in the recent past.
Leading the way offensively with 12 points (2-10) is Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Adam Fox, followed by Artemi Panarin (11), Chris Kreider (10) and Mika Zibanejad (10). When looking at individual cap hits, there’s a list of these players at the top in similar order. The only major outlier currently is Jacob Trouba, who ranks second in the team’s cap hit with an $8 million average annual value (AAV), but only has two points in the first 11 games. He has a career .41 points per game (P/G), and with only .18 P/G this season, he is not adding to the team’s offense as one would expect.
However, this is easily masked by Fox’s continued success, picking up right where he left off from his Norris-winning campaign. He is leading the team in scoring and only carries a cap hit of $925,000 AAV. His production and value create wiggle room for other teammates with high cap hits who are not producing up to standard, such as Trouba and Ryan Strome (missed four games due to injury). Most successful Stanley Cup-winning teams have at least one or two guys outplaying their current contracts and providing cheap labor to the team’s cap.
While Panarin has not been filling the net at the rate he normally does (only two goals in 11 games), he has still been productive offensively. Currently, his shooting percentage (S%) sits at 9.5 percent, which is well below his career average of 14.5 percent. Even though his S% is down, he is still getting chances and pucks to the net. He has a career average of 5.02 shots on goal (SOG) per game and currently sits at 5.32 SOG per game for the season. Thus, hold off on the panic button of him not scoring. With his chances remaining steady, it is only a matter of time before a high-skilled player like Panarin starts cashing in and his S% rises back to the mean.
Defensively, you don’t have to look very hard to see who is locking down the team. Goalie Igor Shesterkin has been lights out in the cage for the Rangers. In his first eight starts, he has posted impressive numbers with a 5-1-2 record, .943 save percentage (SV%) and 1.45 goals-against average (GAA). Taking out goalies who have started fewer than two games, his numbers put him fourth in the league for both of these categories. Following the same theme as the offensive leaders, he carries a cap hit of $5.6 million AAV, and is certainly doing his share of carrying the weight.
Though Trouba hasn’t been the most productive offensively, the team is still seeing a return from his defensive game. He ranks third in the team’s even-strength Corsi for percentage (CF%) and is logging 22:25 time on ice. His play defensively, along with Shesterkin’s strong play between the pipes, has the Rangers currently ranked top 10 in goals against of teams with 11-plus games played. With the highly paid players leading the charge both offensively and defensively, the hot start has the potential to translate into the rest of the regular season.
Causes for Concern
While the fast start from the team’s stars is promising and contributing to success early in the season, there is still cause for concern analytically when looking at the Rangers’ first 11 games. Just as Panarin’s S% should rise back to his career average, more than likely Shesterkin’s numbers will fall back towards the mean as well.
The Rangers’ goals for is currently in the bottom six of teams with 11-plus games. Any falter in the defensive play by the team or Shesterkin will almost certainly result in a loss unless the team can start manufacturing more offense. In the first six wins, five are one-goal games (minus empty-net goals). It will be very hard to sustain this type of success throughout an entire season with minimal offense and constantly having to battle for one-goal wins.
On top of the wins, two of their losses this season are by four goals, with the team only scoring one goal in each. Historically games are higher scoring and have less defensive structure early in seasons. With the team struggling to find the back of the net early in the season, it will only get tougher as the season progresses and could end up being problematic.
The Rangers were built this offseason to have better defensive structure, which is the key factor to their success thus far. However, the departure of Pavel Buchnevich and other scoring needs to start being replaced if they want to stay in the top five of the league standings.
Overall, there are many positives to take from the quality start. The new pieces are seeming to fit well early on, and the team has been responding positively to first-year head coach Gerard Gallant. Shesterkin’s play is certainly proving he is a reliable number one and will give his team a chance every night. If they can start getting more consistent goal-scoring up and down the lineup, look for them to continue their winning ways and be a real contender as the calendar continues to flip pages.
A content writer for the New York Rangers at THW. I am a 2017 graduate from Gustavus Adolphus College with degrees in Biology and Chemistry. I was also on the Men’s Hockey and Golf teams during my time at Gustavus. I am currently a professional hockey player, playing in the Swedish Hockey Leagues. I grew up in the State of Hockey (Minnesota) and I have been playing hockey for 26 years. In my free time outside of hockey, I enjoy spending time on the golf course and at the lake in the summer.