Welcome to New York Rangers Weekly! The Rangers continue to excel with a few days remaining in January. Since my last Rangers Weekly column, the Blueshirts have gone 5-1-0 and continue to look like a viable contender in the Eastern Conference. Even when the team has not played its best hockey, they find a way to win, as in the 3-2 victory on Jan. 15 against the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Rangers did not play well until the third period in the 6-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Jan. 21. The Blueshirts will encounter their share of difficulty during some games as they continue to turn the corner from rebuilder to contender. Let’s take a look at some storylines for the Rangers.
Kreider Named First Star of the Week
Chris Kreider has been a near certainty to contribute a goal in every game for the Blueshirts. After a 3-2 shootout victory on Jan. 24 against the Los Angeles Kings, the 30-year-old left wing has 30 goals and 13 assists in 43 games. He had five goals and two assists in three games before the win against the Kings. He was recognized for his play as the NHL’s first star during the week that ended on Jan. 23.
He leads the league in both goals and power-play goals (PPG) with 15 before the games on Jan. 25. Kreider has a chance to win the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Award, which is given to the player who leads the NHL in goals. The Rangers forward does have a history of being streaky, but he has been the opposite of that in 2021-22. Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals has won the award seven times, and he’s second in the league with 29 goals.
Kreider has been exceptional playing with Mika Zibanejad on the first line and on the top power-play unit with Zibanejad, Adam Fox, Ryan Strome, and Artemi Panarin. The Boxford, Massachusetts native has had some games in which he has tallied multiple assists. He has been one of the top three players on the Rangers throughout 2021-22, along with Igor Shesterkin and Fox. It is remarkable that he is having his best season in his tenth year in the NHL.
During the Rangers game against the Arizona Coyotes on Jan. 22, the Blueshirts were down 3-1 in the second period and not playing well. Kreider’s shorthanded goal began the Rangers’ offensive surge, which culminated in a hat trick for him and a 7-3 win for the Blueshirts. Head coach Gerard Gallant acknowledged the significance of the shorthanded goal after the game, “That was the biggest thing. Definitely the shorthanded goal was huge for us. It was a big, big goal. It goes us back to 3-2, and it was definitely a momentum changer for sure” (from ‘Chris Kreider’s hat trick leads Rangers to blowout win over Coyotes,’ New York Post, 1/22/22).
Kreider has been the go-to player to contribute a goal for the Rangers this season and gets better with every game. He is one of the most improved players based on his production at the halfway point of the season. It will be interesting to see how the rest of his season unfolds in terms of how many goals he will have at the end of 2021-22.
Henrik Lundqvist Jersey Retirement Game on Jan. 28
Former goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who played all fifteen seasons of his career with the Rangers, will have his number 30 jersey retired on Jan. 28. The Blueshirts will be playing the Minnesota Wild at Madison Square Garden on that night. He finished his career with a record of 459-310-96, a goals-against-average (GAA) of 2.43, and a .918 save percentage (SV%).
Lundqvist is now a studio analyst on MSG Networks for Rangers games, which he started in October 2021. The goaltender is considered one of the greatest players in the Rangers organization and was one of the core players to lead them to the Stanley Cup Final during the 2013-14 season.
Kakko on IR, Chytil Day-to-Day, Schedule Changes
Kaapo Kakko was placed on injured reserve (IR) with an upper-body injury on Jan. 22 before the game against the Coyotes. Gallant said the third-year right wing is “week-to-week” (from ‘Kaapo Kakko could have extended Rangers absence after going on IR,’ New York Post, 1/24/22). “Kaapo is not going to play for a little bit here.” The former second overall pick had been playing on the first line with Kreider and Zibanejad before getting placed on IR.
Filip Chytil left during the game against the Coyotes with a lower-body injury and was labeled as “day-to-day.” Gallant rearranged the line combinations by having Panarin play right wing on the first line at the beginning of the game versus the Kings. The Rangers head coach moved the 30-year-old forward back to the second line during the game with Strome and Barclay Goodrow. The line would be responsible for tying the score at two late in the third period, as Panarin earned one of the assists on a goal courtesy of Goodrow.
The NHL announced changes to the Rangers’ schedule. The game scheduled at Madison Square Garden for April 24 against the Boston Bruins at 7:00 PM ET will take place on Feb. 15. A home game previously scheduled for Dec. 27 against the Detroit Red Wings will now occur on Feb. 17 at 7:00 PM ET. A postponed game on Nov. 20 at the Canadian Tire Centre between the Rangers and the Ottawa Senators will now take place on Feb. 20 at 5:00 PM ET. The Rangers scheduled home game on Dec. 22 against the Montreal Canadiens will now occur on April 27 at 7:30 PM ET.
The Rangers are 28-11-4 and in first place in the Metropolitan Division. The Pittsburgh Penguins continue their great play, and the Carolina Hurricanes have remained consistent, as they have maintained their standing as one of the top three teams in the division. The Washington Capitals have been struggling recently, as they are 3-5-2 in their last 10 games. The four teams have a good opportunity to make the postseason as they are well ahead of the other four teams in the Metro – the Columbus Blue Jackets, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, and Philadelphia Flyers.