Rangers Recall: Good defense leads to weekend sweep over Ducks and Bruins

The New York Rangers buckled down after several abysmal defensive performances and came away with a sweep of this weekend’s back-to-back set.

Coming off an embarrassing 7-3 slap to the face by the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Blueshirts got back to playing defense first and owning the neutral zone. That led to a 5-1 win over the lowly Anaheim Ducks on Friday, followed by a thrilling 2-1 comeback victory in OT over the Boston Bruins.

“I thought our guys played really well,” coach Peter Laviolette said on Saturday. “We just stayed with it and eventually got one to send it to overtime to walk away with two points.”

By beating Boston, the Rangers now tie them with 43 points, but hold first place in the Eastern Conference thanks to wins (21 to 19). Let’s take a look at some key takeaways over the weekend.

Related: Chris Kreider making case to have Rangers retire his number

Rangers Recall: Sound defense leads to wins

NHL: New York Rangers at Boston Bruins
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Rangers Return to Form

Prior to this weekend, the Rangers were struggling to keep the puck out of their net. Aside from an excellent performance against the Los Angeles Kings in a 4-1 win, they were 1-3-0 and were outscored 17-5 in those three losses.

A lot of emphasis was placed on Igor Shesterkin and his struggles. After getting trounced by the Leafs last Tuesday, the dejected starter was at a complete loss for words regarding his play. “I don’t know what to say to you. Sorry,” he shrugged.

Of course, the Rangers weren’t giving him any help as their trend of giving up numerous odd-man rushes and high-danger chances hit rock-bottom. That changed over the weekend as New York got back to being effective in the neutral zone by limiting the number of odd-man rushes against. In their own zone, they worked as a 5-man unit to keep the middle of the ice clear and high-danger shots to a more manageable number.

“The last week or so, it’s been a little inconsistent,” captain Jacob Trouba remarked after beating Boston. “I think that game, that’s our team out there and what we want to be known as. The quality of chances were limited and Igor made a couple of big saves. It’s a good game for us to play midway through the season.”

Igor Shesterkin solid

There’s no doubt that the stellar play of Jonathan Quick has eased the mental burden of Shesterkin during his recent tough stretch. Anyone who has seen Shesterkin interact with previous backups like Alexandar Georgiev and Jaroslav Halak, knows he’s supportive of their efforts. However, this season, there’s always a huge smile on Igor’s face as he goes to congratulate Quick after another big win.

That’s why it was good to see Igor shine in what was easily one of the Rangers most intense games of the year. In a playoff-like contest, Shesterkin turned aside 21 of Boston’s 22 shots to give his team a chance to tie it late in the third and eventually win it in OT. More importantly, Shesterkin’s high-danger save percentage of .833 was great to see.

“You always need saves from your goaltender, and he was really on point tonight,” Laviolette noted. “He played a heck of a game tonight.”

Rangers Stars came up big

What shouldn’t be lost in these two wins is how good the Rangers star players were. There’s no doubt that in order to be successful you need your bottom-six to contribute, but your top players need to produce first and foremost.

Mika Zibanejad (1 goal, 2 assists), Artemi Panarin (3 assists), and Adam Fox (3 assists) all led the way with 3 points. They were followed by Chris Kreider, who scored 2 goals and set some milestones in their win over the Ducks, and Vincent Trocheck’s 2 big goals against the Bruins.

The Rangers will need more of everything you read here, as they will look for some payback in Toronto versus the Maple Leafs on Tuesday.

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