The rest of the New York Rangers’ season must follow a very specific path in order to secure a playoff spot. With the talent potential, the team has a real shot at the postseason if it can pull out the tough wins against its fellow divisional teams. Though this likely is not news, the weak spots are making themselves apparent early. Within the short span of games thus far, the team is already experiencing a lot of highs and lows.
Yet, the sooner the weaknesses are defined, the sooner the team can iron them out. With just 10 games of an 82-game season complete, the Rangers stand 6-2-2, and second in the Metropolitan Division. The Blueshirts recently concluded a successful road trip, but came back to drop one at The Garden against the Calgary Flames. The club then won at home when they shut out the Columbus Blue Jackets. But recently, they dropped one during overtime against the Vancouver Canucks last night.
Though certain players, like Chris Kreider, found individual success, the team needs to get on the same page. Just 18 goals in the last seven games means the Rangers pulled out closer games than usual, and they are in desperate need of finding their peak offensive capability. It is still early, but there is always the emphasis to have the top players produce consistently, and that is not officially the case.
As always, it will not be easy for the Rangers as they face the rest of the division for a playoff spot. Regardless of the missing pieces, the team has already found a trend. Here are four keys to set the Rangers up for success as they find their footing.
Though the comeback victory against the Ottawa Senators is an outlier, the Rangers perform better when they notch the first goal of the game. Besides it being a confidence boost, the Blueshirts seem to set the pace better when they establish a lead. The team occasionally dug themselves in a hole, even last season as well, when they set the tone early, the players tend to run with it.
Their 4-0 win against Columbus is a great example. Ryan Strome, who recently rejoined the team, netted the team’s first goal and it was an easy coast from there. His goal came only 12 minutes into the game. The Rangers looked great, especially as they put up three goals.
Though the Rangers proved already they can be a comeback team, the club performs much better when they avoid the deficit trap and force their opponent to catch up. In return, it likely makes goaltender Igor Shesterkin’s job easier with some room to breathe.
Shesterkin Needs to Stay Hot
The team is not rotating under a goaltender tandem like previous seasons. Instead, the split of Shesterkin with eight games and Alexandar Georgiev with two has worked out well thus far. Shesterkin has the team’s only shut out this season and currently stands tall with a .943 save percentage (SV%) and a 1.85 goals-against average (GAA).
Georgiev, on the other hand, owns an .873 SV% and 3.51 GAA in his two starts. By assigning Shesterkin a majority of the starts, the Russian goaltender is able to find a rhythm. This was something neither goaltender was able to locate last season, as the netminders were swiveled around almost each game, not to mention there was a third goaltender present in Keith Kinkaid.
Even with Shesterkin’s numbers looking great right now, he will need to keep up the work as the offense finds itself. Even with the defensive core working on chemistry, Shesterkin will still need to fortify the team.
Keep Kreider by the Net
Veteran Ranger Kreider is having himself quite the season thus far. He formerly owned all five power-play goals on the team, and currently still leads the league in power-play scoring. The sturdy forward is especially effective as a tip-in scorer when he hangs by the net.
Kreider, arguably one of the most criticized Blueshirts, is enjoying an offensively strong start to the season. He leads the team in scoring with seven goals in 10 games. He also picked up one assist this season.
Kreider’s skill for excellently-timed deflections makes him a staple in front of the opposing net. With his size and strength he is able to keep his stick free for a pass to direct the puck right into the net effortlessly.
He is a large part of the team’s dynamic given his leadership qualities. His style of play allows him to be a reliable part of the team fabric. This reliability factor will help the younger players and hopefully help his teammates find their game. It is a simple formula when the team tends to be too fancy — find Kreider at the goal and he can find the back of the net.
Reversing Power Play Woes
The power play needs to be more opportunistic. It needs a spark. With the way the team tends to dig themselves in a hole where they must climb back from a deficit, the team needs to cash in on the extra man advantage. Thus far, the power play is flat out underwhelming.
Though Kreider has success, his teammates must contribute sooner than later. The team ranks 20th in the league for power play percentage (PP%) at 19.4% and needs to see improvement. The Rangers are a grittier team that can draw more penalties but the skaters are not using this to their advantage.
The Rangers slowly look like they are moving towards making better use of their power play at least. Thus far, the team went from showing signs of untouchability to signs of trouble ahead back to looking like a contender. The Rangers are slowly tackling their problem spots, one that persists is their issues at the face off dot, but like the rest, the Rangers just need to find their stride.
Of course with the NHL, there is a high level of unpredictability, but when the team is playing the game the way they are now, the Blueshirts should have some success.
Rachel is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh. She can be followed on Twitter @RachelNHL.