The New York Rangers just acquired star winger Vladimir Tarasenko (and defenseman Niko Mikkola) in a trade with the St. Louis Blues. They are currently in third place in the very-competitive Metropolitan Division and have put themselves in a position to make another deep playoff run. Their disappointing start to the season now seems like a distant memory.
While the Rangers have played excellent hockey over the past couple of months, they faced a lot of adversity after a horrible stretch of play in late November that carried into early December. They broke out of their slump with a comeback win over the Blues on Dec. 5, which turned their season around. Let’s revisit that victory and how it led to the turnaround.
Rangers’ Early Struggles and Win vs. the Blues
Heading into their matchup with the Blues, the Rangers’ record was 11-10-5, including five losses in their previous six games. On Nov. 26, they blew a 3-0 third-period lead against the Edmonton Oilers and didn’t even manage to get the game into overtime, falling 4-3 in front of a stunned home crowd.
Latest News & Highlights
On Dec. 2, the Rangers blew a 2-1 lead in the final minute of a home game against the struggling Ottawa Senators, falling 3-2 in overtime. In their next game, the Blueshirts got crushed 5-2 at home against the lowly Chicago Blackhawks. The poor performance prompted team captain Jacob Trouba to drop the gloves in an attempt to spark the team, and he smashed his helmet into the boards as he went to the locker room.
The Rangers were very sloppy defensively, and their usually-reliable defense pair of Trouba and K’Andre Miller had a very bad start to the season. Trouba faced even additional scrutiny as he was named captain in August. And despite leading the team to the Eastern Conference Final last season, head coach Gerard Gallant found himself on the hot seat heading into the team’s game against the Blues that they desperately needed to win.
Early on, the Rangers played well, with goals from Braden Schneider and Adam Fox giving them a 2-1 lead after the first period. However, star goalie Igor Shesterkin let in a couple of uncharacteristic soft goals and could not seem to come up with the clutch saves he usually makes. New York trailed 4-3 after the second period despite generating a lot of scoring chances.
With the team trailing, Shesterkin made a few quality saves to keep the Rangers within one. After Blues goalie Jordan Binnington robbed Kaapo Kakko of a chance in front of the net, Miller scored on a shot from the point to tie the game. They kept putting on pressure, and a few minutes later, Alexis Lafreniere scored on a deflection to give them the lead.
Despite the soft goals early in the game, Shesterkin played well in the third period, stopping all seven shots he faced. More importantly, the Rangers finally defended well and did not allow high-quality scoring chances once they took a 5-4 lead. Though they took a penalty late, Chris Kreider came through with a clutch shorthanded breakaway goal to extend the lead, and they won the game 6-4.
Since the Win vs. the Blues
The comeback win over the Blues marked the beginning of a seven-game winning streak, and the Rangers have played very well since then. Though Shesterkin has not had as dominant a season as he did last year, the team is defending better this season and not putting as much pressure on him. They are 20-4-3 (including their win over St. Louis) in their last 27 games and are playing like legitimate contenders in the Eastern Conference.
The Rangers’ defense core, which had a rough start to the season, is now one of their biggest strengths. Fox is putting together another Norris Trophy-caliber season, and his defense partner Ryan Lindgren continues to excel defensively. After a quiet start offensively, Miller has become a two-way force with five goals and 24 assists despite rarely playing on the power play, with he and Trouba becoming a reliable defense pair like last postseason.
The Rangers’ turnaround quieted the criticism of both Trouba and Gallant. After it felt like an uphill battle to win games early in the season, since the win over the Blues, it now seems like they have a good chance to win every game.
For the Rangers Moving Forward
Though no one can say what would have happened if the Rangers lost to the Blues on Dec. 5, it felt like they were reaching a breaking point. They were booed off the ice in their previous game, and Trouba’s frustration with their play was apparent. Their excellent third period against St. Louis began a winning streak that has now turned into a winning culture this season.
Now the Rangers are preparing for another playoff run, and team president and general manager Chris Drury showed that he believes in this group by acquiring Tarasenko. Their comeback win over the Blues was the start of their turn around, and they have certainly come a long way in the two months since then.