Rangers Recall: Active defense, Blake Wheeler, and who’s Laffing now?

There was probably plenty of apprehension felt regarding the New York Rangers and a five-game trek through Western Canada after an abysmal performance against the Nashville Predators.

The team left Madison Square Garden 4-1 losers with a 2-2-0 record and completely ashamed of their play. “Our worst game of the season to this point,” captain Jacob Trouba stated. “I don’t think that’s a game any of us are proud of. I’m not saying that to get on guys or anything, myself included, that’s not a game I’m proud of playing. We’ll address it and move forward.”

Indeed, they have moved forward by winning three straight, including last night’s shutout victory led by Jonathan Quick. They now sit atop the Metro Division with a 5-2-0 record.

Let’s recall some of the key takeaways from the Rangers’ win over the Edmonton Oilers.

Related: Rangers blank Oilers 3-0

Rangers Recall: Key Takeaways vs Oilers

Active Defense

While Jonathan Quick was indeed outstanding, the Rangers defense has been great all season. It helps that they’re nicely adapting to Peter Laviolette’s system and playing as a five-man unit. However, it would be an injustice not to highlight how good the men on defense have been.

Last night, Adam Fox (on the power play) and Braden Schneider staked the team to a 2-0 lead in the middle frame. Both also added assists on the night to give the Blueshirts’ blue-line 20 points on the season to date, ranking them 6th overall in the NHL.

Meanwhile, the accolades don’t stop on the offensive side of the puck. New York currently ranks first in the NHL for shots on goal against at 24.9 per game. Their goals against average per game is tied for second with the red-hot Vegas Golden Knights at 1.86. The Bruins lead the league with a 1.57 GAA.

Credit has to go to the coaching staff as well, who have emphasized that the Rangers’ defense be active in all three zones.

Who’s Laffing Now?

NHL: New York Rangers at Edmonton Oilers
Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Alexis Lafreniere whipped home a beautiful cross-ice feed from Artemi Panarin to put the proverbial nail in the Oilers’ coffin late in the second period.

For the overly scrutinized first overall pick in 2020, it was his third goal in as many games, a new career-high. On the season, the 22 year-old has 4 goals in 7 contests, putting him on pace for 46. While it’s unlikely he can maintain this rate of production, getting off to a good start was imperative for Lafreniere, who is also making a switch from left to right wing. It also helps to be playing with offensively skilled player like Panarin and Filip Chytil.

“When they’re moving, they’re really dangerous,” Laviolette noted about that line. “I think there’s a good mix of different types of players. Lafreniere seems confident to me and he’s having fun.”

I’ve said it before, but it looks like plenty of critics may be looking at the “Apologize to Lafreniere Tour” unfolding.

Related: Concerns over Lafreniere’s speed appear overblown

Blake Wheeler about to break out

One player that had an assist taken away on a disallowed Will Cuylle goal for a kicking motion is Blake Wheeler.

The 37 year-old vet has no points through 7 games this season, and starting to hear calls from fans for a healthy scratch. That is probably premature, because last night was his best game with the Rangers. In 11:22 of action, he registered four shots on goal and was difficult to handle in the offensive zone.

“He was really noticeable all night moving his feet,” Laviolette acknowledged. “He probably could’ve had two to three goals. He played a strong game.”

Wheeler will get a chance to build on this performance and hopefully cash in Saturday night against the Vancouver Canucks.

Anthony Scultore is the founder of Forever Blueshirts and has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL... More about Anthony Scultore

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