Assessing the New York Rangers early in the 2023-24 season
The New York Rangers are one of the hottest teams in the NHL after a perfect road trip where they went 5-0-0. That currently puts them first in the Metropolitan Division thanks to a 7-2-0 record good for 14 points.
Now that the calendar has flipped from October to November, two of our writers decided to sit down and analyze some of the key takeaways early in the 2023-24 season.
Assessing the New York Rangers
New York Rangers 5-0 Western Canada Trip
Steven: It’s something the Rangers have not done in their franchise’s history, which is super impressive, but there was a lot to be desired in the final two games. I understand that a five-game in a 10-day western road trip can take a lot of energy. That being said, Saturday and Monday’s games felt like games in which they were outplayed but still won. That’s the mantra of a good team, winning games you maybe weren’t supposed to, but let’s also remember, Seattle, Calgary and Edmonton have been BAD to start the year.
Zook: Not the strongest crop of teams, I will admit, but you would have to agree a few of those games were ones the Rangers would have dropped in previous years due to a lack of structure and defense. I think the Rangers being more set schematically on defense is going to lead them to clean up against lesser opponents this year. They may not be the analytics darlings we thought after a game or two this season, but I have seen enough for me to think that we can say this team is definitely good.
Steven: Following the Nashville loss, you would have thought the season was over four games in. But one of the areas that really shined and impressed a lot of people was how sound the team was defensively. The Blueshirts are second in the league through nine games at preventing shots. During the final two games of the road trip, the Rangers spent a ton of time in their own defensive zone but limited Winnipeg and Vancouver to high-quality scoring chances. Too many times last year, they were caught in track meets, especially in the postseason, so having the ability to slow the game down has been a breath of fresh air.
Can this style of hockey can win a Stanley Cup in the modern era?
Steven: Absolutely. Vegas won a cup last year being the best defensive and shot-blocking team in the league. The Rangers have done that through nine games, on top of getting stellar goaltending from Igor and Quick. Will Quick continue to play this well? However, a team that limits chances, blocks shots, and has one of the best goalies in the world always has a chance. Would I pick them now? No.
Zook: I really would love to see a little more offensively at 5 on 5. Besides Artemi Panarin, there really has not been a single forward who has shown up on a consistent, every-night basis. He and Fox are really carrying a lot of the offense right now. I do think this defense will hold up though, and Rangers could even see their defensive numbers improve as I think the defense has outplayed Igor so far, but we know Igor will soon return to his Vezina form.
Can Artemi Panarin score 100 points this season?
Steven: Somehow, Panarin has not eclipsed 100 points in a season in his career. He’s on pace for 137 this year. Can he keep that pace? And if not, does he break 100 this year?
Zook: Pace? Realistically, probably not. But I think all the people who were talking about Bald Panarin getting his first 100-point season feel great about those takes. He is playing with a lot more assertiveness on offense, taking his shot more often, and even though Filip Chytil hasn’t been able to put one in the back of the net yet, we already see the chemistry he is developing with him and Alexis Lafreniere. If the Rangers finish the season in the standings where they sit right now, you would have to think Panarin would also be in the running for Hart as well.
Steven: Panarin should have a Hart Trophy under his belt because he was the most important player on his team in the 2019-20 season, but that’s an argument for a different day. The confidence that Panarin is playing with now is something we haven’t seen with him in the NHL, let alone the Rangers. His ability to create space and now shoot the puck more often has created some sort of deadly weapon. I’m not sure if his hair clouded his judgment sometimes, but Bald Bread has been a vibe early in this season.
Zook: The entire Peter Laviolette Rangers team has been a vibe this season. From every player to the entire coaching staff. At the end of the day, you are what your record says you are, and I feel a lot better discussing what a 7-2 team needs to do better versus a 2-7 squad. And I look forward to our first Metropolitan Division battle of the year against the Hurricanes on Thursday. I think it will be a good litmus test as to who this team really is.
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