After years of rebuilding, the Rangers are finally showing progress
The Rangers had their winning streak snapped against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night, but they’ve made some clear improvements to their lineup and game this season. While a few issues from last season have continued to plague the team, they have adjusted to fix others.
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Faceoffs continue to bug the New York Rangers
Faceoffs continue to be a concern for the Rangers. Ryan Strome described it as getting in their heads. The problem has been an ongoing sore spot and has not yet been remedied. They’ve attempted to address the issue but are still having difficulty. This offseason they even brought in a former linesman to help with draws, and they may need to call him back.
The Rangers were 19.6% on faceoffs against Toronto.. They rank 31st in the league at 45.6%. Losing faceoffs is bad for puck possession, and they’re not going to win as many games as they should if they continue to struggle in the dots.
With offseason changes made to the lineup, physicality has improved and the Rangers are more likely to stand up for each other in situations.
Unfortunately, Sammy Blais, who brings size and physical play, is out for the season after suffering an ACL tear on a trip from P.K. Subban. Some were questioning why Ryan Reaves didn’t go after Subban, but it was to smart move considering that it was a close game.
“It’s a close game and Subban’s not going to fight me,“ Reaves explained. “What’s gonna happen? I’m going to crosscheck him and take a penalty and put them on the power play. I think I’d rather try and catch him with his head down with a hit or something like that.”
Lack of effort was also a concern at times last season. While it cannot be said for certain, that may have been due to the eventual disconnect between the players and David Quinn.
The Rangers had too many slow starts and too many games where they just looked uninterested. This season, however, this has not been the case.
While they have given up some early goals, there is more of a sense of urgency to their game. Even losing to Toronto on Thursday, they put on heavy pressure in the third period. There are times where the Rangers show some real pace. If they can go into every game with speed and a sense of urgency, they will be better able to take control and come away with wins.
Lineup is balancing out
Alexis Lafrenière and Kaapo Kakko and starting to heat up. Mainly Kakko, who is riding a three game point streak heading into Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Sabres. As high draft picks, there are high expectations for these two. This is Kakko’s third NHL season, and clearly it has taken some time for him to adjust. However, after returning from injury this season, he began to pick up his game. His first goal evidently helped his confidence. He has been more noticeable since; skating well and going to the net.
Now that Kakko is stepping up his game, hopefully Lafrenière will as well. Lafrenière has five points on the season so far, which is more than Kakko’s three. But Kakko has been more noticeable on the ice of late.
Lafrenière likely still needs more time to adjust to the NHL. As young players, they both have to figure out the league, but now it appears that they are making measurable progress.
Kakko and Lafrenière’s continued improvement will be valuable for the Rangers. It will give them a more complete lineup. They won’t have to rely almost entirely on Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin, and Chris Kreider for scoring from forwards.
The Rangers are off to a solid start this season avoiding most issues from last season and seeing the growth of young players. After four seasons of rebuild and missing the playoffs, the Rangers are demonstrating progress. They are working towards being a playoff contender.
Note: All stats come from nhl.com and hockeyreference.com