Rangers great play is being driven by many important players and factors

In the last week, the New York Rangers have gone 5-1 in their last six games, putting together their first four-game win streak of the season, which includes a three game road trip sweep against the Jets, Wild, and Blue Jackets. Most notably, the Rangers completed  a third period come from behind win for only the second time this season, turning a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 shoot-out victory over the Wild. When asked about his team’s recent  boost in play, Coach Quinn stated, “I’ve been proud of them for a long time now. We think we’ve really made some great strides.” The growing confidence in this team can be felt from players and fans alike. Awaiting the Rangers at MSG on Sunday, is arguably their biggest test of the season, the Boston Bruins. As the Rangers prepare to take on the number one team in the NHL, they need to build on the keys to success they’ve unlocked during their recent string of wins.

KZB Chemistry 

The top line for the Rangers has been nothing short of fantastic recently, with Buchnevich seemingly busting out of his point drought, Kreider playing with his hair on fire leading to the trade deadline, and Zibanejad continuing his campaign as Mr. Reliable. Over the four game win streak, the KZB line has totaled 12 points, including seven goals and five assists to lead the Rangers offense. Even more noteworthy, the points have been spread evenly amongst all three players, tallying four points apiece. The Rangers first line is contributing like a first line should, playing the big minutes and notching the big points, and the chemistry between these three is palpable.

Perfect Penalty Kill

There is no denying the impact of a strong special teams unit, and the best teams in the league rank high in both power play production and penalty killing. Currently, the Rangers rank 18th amongst all penalty killing units in the league, but over the last four games, the PK has played to perfection, proving to be a key factor in the Rangers current success. The Rangers played a total of 26 minutes down a man and did not concede a single goal in any of the four games. Most noteworthy was the four minute stretch in the second period of the game against Columbus, when Buchnevich was called for a holding penalty, with an unsportsmanlike conduct tacked on and the Rangers defended their one goal lead with a brilliant penalty kill. The Boston Bruins head into tomorrow’s match up ranked first overall in the league with 51 power play goals, so the discipline of the Rangers to stay out of the box and continued success of their penalty kill are vital if they want to continue adding tallies to the win column.

New York has not allowed a power play goal against in each of the last five games (11-for-11) and in 25 of the last 37 games (95-for-113; 84.1%); the Rangers’ 84.1% penalty kill efficiency since Nov. 23 is the fifth-best in the NHL.

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Consistency in Net

Shesterkin and Lundqvist (Sarah Stier/USA Today Sports, via Reuters)

One of the major storylines of the Rangers season has been the three goalie dilemma. With Lundqvist’s No Move Clause and Georgiev still not dealt as we approach the trade deadline, the emergence of Igor Shesterkin as the Rangers number one goalie has left Coach Quinn and his staff with many decisions that have fans applauding or shaking their heads. But over the past four games, Quinn’s decision to play Shesterkin back to back against LA and Winnipeg proved successful, as the Czar made 42 saves on 43 shots in each of the two games, totaling 86 saves and bringing his SV% to .941. It’s likely that Quinn would’ve rode Igor’s hot hand into the next couple of road games, but with an ankle injury sustained against Winnipeg, it was Georgiev’s turn to go back to back, as he closed out the undefeated road trip, totaling 59 saves and bringing his SV% to .911. If the Rangers want to continue to climb the ranks, a healthy Shesterkin should be making his return to the lineup against one of the top offenses in the league on Sunday, and should remain the go-to netminder for the rest of the season.

A Dynamic Defensive Duo

With all eyes on the development of young Rangers prospects this year, the success story of 21-year-old, Adam Fox and 22-year-old,  Ryan Lindgren is undoubtedly one of the most promising. The Fox-Lindgren pairing is the perfect combination of hockey IQ, skill, and toughness. Overall, Lindy Ruff’s defensive system, that seemed in utter disarray earlier on in the season, has improved tremendously as the season has progressed, and Fox and Lindgren have been the most consistent pairing for the Blueshirts. Fox’s vision and playmaking abilities paired with Lindgren’s physicality and toughness bolster the Rangers defense and will continue to be an integral piece of the Rangers puzzle for the future.

Since Dec. 31, Adam Fox leads NHL rookies in assists (13) and plus/minus rating (plus-10), and is tied for third among NHL rookies in points (14). In addition, Fox has averaged 21:13 of ice time since the NHL’s All-Star Break, which is the third-most among NHL rookies over the span. He has led the Rangers in ice time in each of the last two games and in four of the last six games. Fox has posted a plus-one rating or better in each of the last four games (plus-four rating) and in five of the last six games (plus-six rating), and he has posted a plus/minus rating of even or better in 17 of the last 18 games.  

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Started from the Bottom, Now We’re Here

Figuring out the Rangers bottom six forwards has been a difficult task for Quinn and company to say the least, but recently, it looks like the Rangers have finally established an effective bottom six that has added to the recent success of the team. Most notably, 26-year-old Phil Di Giuseppe was called up on February 3rd against the Dallas Stars when Michael Haley was sidelined with a long-term injury, and in his seven games as a Blueshirt this season, he has not disappointed. He is the perfect role player to play alongside Chytil and Kakko, and Lemieux, Howden, and McKegg is the best fourth line the Rangers have rolled out all season.

While the Rangers remain 7 points out of an  Eastern Conference Wild Card spot, they have two games in hand on the Blue Jackets who currently sit in the final WC spot. The Rangers have a tough road to the playoffs ahead of them, but if they can take these keys from their recent success into the rest of their season, they have a fighting chance. One thing is for sure, this team never counts itself out, and neither should we.