Rangers resiliency a positive storyline in this turbulent season

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Mar 22, 2021; New York, New York, USA; New York Rangers left wing Alexis Lafreniere (13) and goaltender Keith Kinkaid (71) celebrate after a 5-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Bennett/POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports

The Rangers received word a matter of hours before the game against the Flyers last Wednesday that their entire coaching staff had been placed in COVID-19 protocol. Hartford Head Coach Kris Knoblauch would take over along with Gord Murphy and Chris Drury. Despite a hectic day and not having their normal staff behind the bench, the Rangers came out with a stunning effort to beat the Flyers 9-0. While this game was followed by a loss to the Capitals, it and the two games that have come after have been a display of this team’s character.

Mika Zibanejad back to playing at elite level

Mika Zibanejad had a rough first half of the season, not playing anywhere near where he did last year. His game has improved significantly of late though. In the 9-0 win over the Flyers, Zibanejad recorded six points. This included a hat trick and three assists. He scored a short handed goal, a power play goal, and a goal at even strength. Not only has his point production picked up, these goals prove just how valuable Zibanejad is. He is incredibly versatile and the Rangers can lean on him in all situations.

Zibanejad now has seven goals and 13 assists for 20 points on the season, placing him sixth on the team. After his valiant effort against the Flyers, Zibanejad picked up a goal and an assist against the Capitals on Saturday and an assist last night against the Sabres. This is the kind of consistency that had been missing from his game through the first half of the season. This is the Zibanejad we’re used to and the one the Rangers relied on so heavily last year. It seems he has been able to overcome his slow start and regain confidence and momentum in order to play at his usual higher level.

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Bruce Bennett/POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Kreider, Kaapo Kakko end droughts

While Artemi Panarin was out and Mika Zibanejad was still in a serious slump, Chris Kreider had put the team on his shoulders and played some of his best hockey. His played a typical Kreider style of hockey, crashing the net and tipping in pucks. He recorded two hat tricks over the span of just five games. However, his production had slowed after that to the point where he only scored one goal in nine games. Then he scored twice last night against the Sabres. The top line featuring Kreider, Zibanejad, and Pavel Buchnevich is back to being a solid unit. These three players have proven over the last couple of seasons that they have good chemistry. They have been very effective of late with all three of them playing well.

Kaapo Kakko hadn’t scored since January 22 against the Penguins until last night when he lit the lamp twice. He was experiencing some obvious frustration, particularly against Washington on Saturday as he was getting chances but wasn’t quite able to put one in. Conceivably, these two goals will boost his confidence and he can start producing more consistently. Another issue Kakko has been having is holding onto the puck. He tends to want to get rid of it as soon as possible and sometimes this leads to bad or unnecessary passes. He needs to get more comfortable carrying the puck. Further, he shouldn’t be afraid to go to the net and shoot. Opposing teams have been defended him as a pass-first player; it’s time to change that. Overall though, Kakko and Kreider have been able to snap goalless streaks which will hopefully lead to more consistency from both of them.

Adam Fox continues to impress

In his 100th career NHL game, all played with the Rangers, Adam Fox picked up a goal and two assists in a 5-3 win over the Sabres. He also received the Broadway Fedora after the game. Last season, Fox never looked like a rookie. He seemed comfortable immediately and had no obvious trouble adjusting to the NHL pace. His defense has been solid from day one and his decision making is quick and correct far more often than not. He has also been able to add more of an offensive element to his game. He has become a consistent piece on the power play and has managed to avoid a sophomore slump. Fox’s individual game paired with his chemistry with Ryan Lindgren has been extremely valuable to the Rangers.

Rangers battling for a playoff spot

John Davidson said before the season even started that making the playoffs was a goal for the Rangers this year. Through the first half of the season, they faced much adversity. There was Tony DeAngelo drama, Zibanejad’s slump, the Panarin incident, and most recently their entire coaching staff being unavailable. They have managed to battle through all of this and have recently played some of their best hockey. They have had players overcome individual struggles, and they’re playing as cohesive five man units far more often. The Rangers now find themselves two points behind the Flyers and four points out of a playoff spot. Whether they make the postseason or not, it won’t be for a lack of effort. This group has shown that they have talent and skill, and now they’re starting to add some fight to their game.

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