Analyzing the New York Rangers good start with Colin Stephenson
The New York Rangers got off to a good start with an impressive 5-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night. While it is only one game, there were many promising takeaways to digest and ponder upon.
Colin Stephenson, who covers the team for Newsday, joined the Forever Blueshirts Show to help break down what transpired on opening night and discuss what’s in store for the Rangers this season.
Alexis Lafreniere clicking early with Artemi Panarin
One of the biggest takeaways from the game was the excellent play of the second line. Centered by Filip Chytil, with Artemi Panarin on the left, and Alexis Lafreniere on the right, they combined for two goals and two assists.
For Colin, the key to that trio was undoubtedly Panarin, who has led the team in scoring every year since he signed as a free agent in 2019.
“Panarin was tremendous [against Buffalo],” Stephenson explained. “He looked hungry and motivated.”
As the game progressed, there seemed to be some noticeable chemistry developing between Chytil and Panarin. The fact that Lafreniere, who is making the switch to his off wing, clicked early with them is a huge positive.
“In his case, there’s a confidence thing happening,” Stephenson noted. “To some degree, he hasn’t been given the opportunity with the Rangers being behind Panarin and Chris Kreider. Now he has a new coach, and he’s going to play the right wing. He didn’t take it during the preseason, some of that is on him and who he played with. So people were just worried, but I guess he waited for the season opener to show them.”
Peter Laviolette systems and defense
Another aspect of the Rangers’ play that had everyone buzzing was their execution of Peter Laviolette’s system. That includes a focus on creating turnovers in the neutral zone, which directly led to two goals in the contest.
“They’ve worked on [the 1-3-1] almost every day in training camp and it was on full display in Buffalo,” Colin said. “The Sabres are a fast team and that system slowed them down.”
If you are like many who believes that good defense is also about playing tough, then you loved the Rangers’ willingness to block shots. In the game against the Sabres, they recorded 23 with captain Jacob Trouba leading the way with 8 on the night.
“On one penalty kill, Trouba blocked, I don’t know how many,” Stephenson exclaimed. “It’s part of Laviolette’s system to get into shooting lanes and sacrifice their bodies.”
Of course, one game does not a season make, and as a reporter covering the Rangers for several years, Colin knows exactly what will make this a successful season. Goaltender Igor Shesterkin is the backbone of this Rangers’ squad and got off to a solid start making 24 stops on 25 Buffalo shots.
“Igor looks like a man that’s really determined to be better than he was last year,” Stephenson said. “I think if Igor is going to be better, and closer to what he was when he won the Vezina, then this team will be in really good shape.”
That being said, like many have remarked going into the 2023-24 campaign, the Rangers need the kids to all step up. Chytil, Lafreniere, and Kaapo Kakko are all in prominent top-six roles looking to take their next steps into stardom.
“You want to see Lafreniere, Chytil, and Kakko do well,” Colin stated. “I think Kakko and Chytil are a safe bet, but Lafreniere was a question mark. It was good to see him get off to a good start.”
Finally, we asked Colin if this iteration of the New York Rangers will be better than the previous one that finished 107 points. With trade deadline rentals, Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko replaced by cheaper veteran free agents like Blake Wheeler and Nick Bonino, it’s a logical question.
“To me, the only team they have a matchup problem with is the Devils,” Stephenson pointed out. “They trouble me, but I think the Rangers stack up pretty well against the rest of the league. If you’re asking me, they’ll be better than last year.”
Forever Blueshirts would like to thank Colin Stephenson for joining the show and giving us some of his time.
Note: Steven Pappas conducted the interview.