Rangers’ Superb Special Teams Making a Difference in Close Games

The New York Rangers are off to an excellent start this season and they have won 12 of their last 14 games. They are finding ways to win most of their close games after they struggled in close games last season. The Blueshirts are excelling on both the power play and the penalty kill, which is one of the key reasons for their success in close games.

Rangers’ Power Play

New York’s top power-play unit has consistently generated great scoring chances, as Artemi Panarin and Adam Fox are two of the NHL’s most skilled playmakers. The two regularly make cross-ice passes to set up teammates, and both have strong, accurate shots when they decide to take them.

Additionally, Chris Kreider has been dominant in front of the net for the Rangers’ top power-play unit. He has great hands and has repeatedly scored goals on deflections (even from tough angles), and he has also scored a few goals on rebounds after winning battles in front of the net. He already has 10 power-play goals this season, and his screens in front of the net have led to several others.

Chris Kreider New York Rangers
Chris Kreider has 10 power-play goals for the New York Rangers this season (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Though star center Mika Zibanejad has struggled to score this season, he scored a power-play goal on a rebound against the Buffalo Sabres. He also had a beautiful assist as he deflected the puck to Panarin to set up a power-play goal against the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday.

The Rangers’ second power play-unit struggled to score early in the season, but they recently stepped up. Jacob Trouba has a big shot from the point and has gotten shots through traffic and on goal over the last few weeks. Young forwards Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko have also been shooting the puck more often and the second unit is starting to create more scoring opportunities.

The Blueshirts have scored on 24.7% of their power plays this season, the seventh-best in the NHL. Head coach Gerard Gallant has stuck with the same players on both units and it’s paying off as they have formed excellent chemistry. The power play is proving to be a weapon for the Rangers and they have scored a power-play goal in six consecutive games (the Rangers won three of those games by one goal.)

Rangers’ Penalty Kill

New York allowed four power-play goals in the first two games of the season, but since then, the penalty-kill has been one of their strengths. The Blueshirts added a few key penalty-killers this offseason, including Barclay Goodrow and Patrik Nemeth. Gallant also decided to start using Kreider and Kakko while shorthanded. So far, all four have proven to be strong penalty-killers. Zibanejad and Kevin Rooney have also played very well shorthanded and have kept opposing teams to the perimeter.

Related: Rangers Roster Finally Has Much-Needed Grit and Physicality

In addition to Nemeth, New York’s top-four defensemen Fox, Trouba, Ryan Lindgren and K’Andre Miller have all been strong in their own zone, especially on the penalty kill. They haven’t given up many chances right in front of the net and they all block a lot of shots.

Though the Rangers have many good penalty-killers, they have gotten plenty of help from Igor Shesterkin, who has been excellent in goal. He has a .937 save percentage (SV%) this season and when the Blueshirts have made mistakes, he has come up with big saves. Though he has missed the last few games with a lower-body injury, Alexandar Georgiev has played very well in his absence and has a .949 SV% in four games since Shesterkin’s injury.

Igor Shesterkin New York Rangers
Igor Shesterkin’s strong play in goal has helped the New York Rangers kill penalties (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

This season the Rangers have an 83.5% penalty-kill which is seventh in the NHL, and they have only allowed one power-play goal in their last eight games.

For the Rangers Moving Forward

The Rangers have a lot of players who have stepped up on special teams and those contributions have helped them win close, competitive games. They have repeatedly created lots of scoring chances on the power play while limiting opponents’ scoring opportunities on the penalty kill. The Blueshirts have also gotten great goaltending this season and so far, that combination has proven to be a winning formula.

While the Blueshirts are off to a great start, the Metropolitan Division is very competitive and they have a long way to go to make the postseason. However, the Rangers are proving that their excellent play on special teams isn’t a fluke, and that bodes well for them.

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