New York Rangers off to a good start after first week of new season
The New York Rangers looked sharp in their first two games of the season against the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Minnesota Wild. They experienced some difficulties in their third game against the Winnipeg Jets, but it was also the second game of a back-to-back in which they had to travel from Minnesota to Winnipeg.
While they have only just concluded week one, the Rangers have already demonstrated many positive elements of their game. With the pressure they face to contend this year, they will need to build upon last season and continue to prove they can compete.
New York Rangers distributed scoring
A key to being a successful team is the ability to rely on players up and down the lineup. This may have been a concern for the Rangers considering the departures of Ryan Strome, Frank Vatrano, Andrew Copp, and Tyler Motte who all elevated the play of the lines they were on each game. However, after three games, 14 of the 21 skaters on their roster have at least one point. Two of the skaters without point are injured.
The top line of Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, and Kaapo Kakko had success against the Lightning and the Wild with Zibanejad and Kreider each collecting two goals and Kakko tallying one. Zibanejad also picked up two assists and Kreider picked up one. With the skill on this line, the Rangers need them to produce consistently. The second line of Vincent Trocheck, Artemi Panarin, and Alexis Lafrenière was also strong against the Wild. With Trocheck’s muscle, Panarin’s passing and play making ability, and Lafrenière’s vision on the ice that made him a top draft pick, these three will make a lethal combination throughout the season should they stay together.
Bottom six players have a more physical role, and so far, the Rangers’ bottom six have begun to deliver on that front. Ryan Reaves leads the team in hits with 10 which is to be expected since Reaves consistently plays a hard game. Ryan Carpenter and Dryden Hunt each have six hits, Filip Chytil and Jimmy Vesey each have five, and Barclay Goodrow has three. In order to frustrate other teams and maintain contender status, the physical play will need to continue throughout the season and well into the playoffs.
Players roles clear
One of the themes from last season was GM Chris Drury’s mission to ensure that each player knew his role. With much of that team intact coming into this season, there is no reason this should not continue to be a focus especially with so many young players still finding their way. The epitome of a player understanding his role is Chris Kreider. His net-front presence last year led him to a 52-goal season and contributed greatly to the team’s success. This year, it already seems others are becoming comfortable in their roles as well.
Jacob Trouba was named captain in the offseason which means he has some new responsibilities, but he proved last season that he could be a leader. Part of that is leading by example which is something he has done well in the past. This is made even more clear through the visible continuous improvement of K’Andre Miller for which Trouba is partially responsible and deserves credit. Miller has spoken in past seasons about Trouba being a mentor for him.
Now with Trouba as captain, it should be even more compelling for others to follow his lead on the ice as well. A strength for Trouba, similarly to Reaves, is his physicality. He ranks second on the Rangers in hits with nine and is at his best when he is playing physically. The Rangers would be an even more dangerous team should that become an area of influence that Trouba’s teammates feed off of.
Young Rangers maturing
It has been the narrative of the last several years that the Rangers are a young team. While they are still plenty young, most of those players have a few NHL seasons of experience now. This could be the year that they all have success.
According to the opening night rosters across the NHL, the Rangers were the 9th youngest team with an average age of 27.
Kaapo Kakko had a strong training camp tallying three goals and an assist. Now playing on a line with Kreider and Zibanejad, he has an opportunity to break out. He has one goal through the first three games. Similarly, Alexis Lafrenière is already proving to be a nice fit on the second line. His awareness and ability to read plays as well as pass through tight lanes have been impressive. Whether he will be a play maker or goal scorer on that line remains to be seen though considering that Panarin is a play maker and Trocheck is not as much of a finesse player as the other two. Filip Chytil began to truly emerge in the playoffs last year. Attention will be on him to see if he can take his game to the next level.
Adam Fox and K’Andre Miller continue to impress on defense, but now Braden Schneider and Zac Jones will be a major focus. Schneider immediately made an impact when he was called up last season. He is still undoubtedly finding his way in the league, but what has been possibly most striking about Schneider is how quickly he was able to adjust to the pace of the NHL. Jones will have to go through an adjustment process as other young players do, but he has the tools to do so successfully. At only 5’11” and 185lbs, he is certainly not the biggest player on the ice, but he plays a smart game. He is tenacious and hard on the puck despite pressure from opponents.
With the Rangers being a contender, they will need their younger players to step up.
Special teams and consistency are key
Currently, the Rangers rank 19th in the league on the power play at 18.2% and 20th on the and penalty kill at 76.9%. It is clearly very early in the season but the Rangers will want to make sure their special teams are going.
The Rangers have taken several careless penalties already, and that is something that should be avoided. These statistics may be skewed slightly as well as some of the penalty calls against the Rangers through the first three games were questionable.
Last season, the Rangers often struggled with consistency. They will need to find what works well for them and stick to it to ensure they are consistent. The Rangers have a big undertaking this season with the pressure that is on them to match or exceed their accomplishments from last year. Carrying momentum forward from the first few games is the first step.
Note: All stats come from hockeyreference.com and nhl.com
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