The New York Rangers continue their perplexing pattern of emerging victorious from games against tougher competition. Their 4-1 Saturday win against the Washington Capitals is their latest victory against a team sitting above them in the division.
Besides shutting down the Capitals in both meetings thus far, the Rangers have topped the Philadelphia Flyers in their lone tilt and beat the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins once apiece. Yet, they fell flat against struggling teams like the Buffalo Sabres and the New Jersey Devils.
Before the Blueshirts broke their losing streak, the results proved that the Rangers are focused on playing pretty. Indeed, they don’t have much physical grit in their game. From allowing the opposition to get in perfect scoring position or constantly taking time to make a pretty pass, their lack of offense shows they are not benefitting from this style of hockey.
The Rangers’ biggest enemy recently was time. They came out sleepy in some games, spent too much time doing things that did not result in goals, and possessed the puck without shooting it. The Rangers even lost to a team that did not play for 15 days.
That narrative changed during their meeting with the Flyers on Thursday night. The Rangers forced the relentless Flyers into a shootout and came out with the two points. It was a significant win against one of the most prosperous teams. Fast forward to their victory two days later when the Rangers focused on simple, fundamental hockey.
“We can’t force it too much or overthink it too much. We kind of simplified it, pretty simple goals trying to get to the net and making things happen and we got rewarded,” said forward Ryan Strome after their win in Washington (from ‘Alexis Lafreniere makes good on promotion as Rangers handle Capitals’, New York Post, 2/20/2021).
The Blueshirts’ limited success this season has been characterized by depth scoring, not relying on their goaltending, but they have also squeaked by with few goals. If they can take Saturday’s win and learn from it, the rest of the season could show tremendous strides towards improvement.
Highlights in Washington Against the Capitals
It was clear from the opening frame that the Rangers could keep up with the Capitals again. Along with their no-hesitation pace, they opened the scoring thanks to Chris Kreider’s opportunistic rebound in front of Washington’s Vitek Vanecek. As they rode the lead into the middle period, Alexis Lafreniere got the second goal of his rookie campaign.
Their lead increased when Strome found the back of the net in the second period before any Capital could capitalize. Dmitry Orlov rifled one glove-side past Igor Shesterkin, but the Rangers did not let the goal offset their focus. In the third, Mika Zibanejad ended his scoring drought with an empty-net goal.
Not only was it reassuring to see a burst of offense again, but the defense has looked much better now that the full roster is contributing defensively. Even while working around injuries to veteran defenseman Jacob Trouba and missing K’Andre Miller against Philadelphia, the Rangers propelled past their opponents.
When the Blueshirts focus on the basics, throw pucks at the net, and snuff opportunities from the opposing team, they are successful. Even star players like Artemi Panarin displayed more of a pass-first mindset instead of shooting the puck himself. These wins against tough teams are proof the Rangers have talent, but their mental game needs to be more consistent.
Where the Rangers Stand Now
With elite forward Panarin taking a leave of absence from the team, the Rangers will look a little different when they face the Flyers again on Wednesday night. It will be one more of many tests they will have to face this season.
The Rangers rank 24th in the league and sixth in the MassMutual East Divison, above the Devils and Sabres. Not even a third of the shortened season has been completed yet, so there is time for improvement… or deterioration. But for now, the Rangers must focus on beating the 8-4-3 Flyers on the road.
Rachel is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh. She can be followed on Twitter @RachelNHL.