Top 5 Rangers Moments of the 2019-2020 Season at the NHL Pause
Like the rest of the world, the sports industry has taken a major hit in recent months, with the shut down of every major sports league in the country, including our beloved NHL. For hockey fans, we are forced to come to terms with a waiting game, not knowing if or when the 2019-2020 season will resume and what the rest of the season will look like if we do return in the coming months. For Rangers fans, the season suspension came at a time when the team was in the middle of an exciting playoff push, just two points out of the wild card.
This has been a season of many ups and downs for this young Rangers team, and I don’t think many of us were expecting such a competitive season from a team still in the stages of a rebuild. But this has been an exhilarating season of record-breaking performances, rookie breakout performances, new fan-favorite bromances, and players doing what they do best, keeping us on the edge of our seats, holding out hope all season long. It seems like forever since we heard the voices of Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti, watched a Panarin high-kick celebration, or chanted the HEY, HEY, HEY HEY HEY! of our favorite goal song, but as we longingly await the Rangers’ return to the ice, let’s take a walk down memory lane and remember the highlights of a season that was more than any of us expected it to be. While there have been many outstanding player performances, here are my top five Rangers moments of the 2019-20 season (hopefully, just for now).
5. Tony DeAngelo’s Historic 5-point Night
Undoubtedly, the 24-year-old offensive defenseman has been a spark for this Rangers team all season long, and his five-point night that led the team to a 6-3 win over the New Jersey Devils was not only the first time he tallied more than two points in a single game, but he joined a short list of NHL defenseman to have registered five points in a game. Those points consisted of a hat trick, which of course, was the first of his career, and two assists to propel the Rangers to a victory over their rival across the Hudson. Tony has made it clear that he’s not one to put too much emphasis on stats and charts, but one notable number that stands out is the 53 points that have him currently sitting at number 4 on the NHL Defenseman Scoring Leaders list. With free agency looming this off-season for DeAngelo, its break out performances like this one, that have him in my opinion, as a priority re-signing for JD and company this summer.
4. Panarin Passes ¨The Great One¨
To put it simply, Artemi Panarin has been everything and more that the Rangers organization and fans expected him to be when he cashed in on an $11.6 million dollar contract that landed him on Broadway last off-season. This was by far the biggest free agent signing in recent years for the Rangers, and some fans couldn’t help but be a little hesitant, as UFA signings haven’t always panned out in our favor over the years. But to reiterate for the millionth time, Panarin has been worth every penny, with one of the greatest offensive performances in team history, registering 95 points on the season thus far, and clearly on his way to reaching 100 points before the league went to a stand still. It feels like every game this season had a performance by Panarin that could’ve made this list, but the stand-out game for me is when he tallied his 61st point, surpassing Wayne Gretzky for most in his first 43 games with the Rangers franchise. Any time you pass the greatest hockey player of all time on any list, it’s a noteworthy accolade to say the least. His 61st point came against the New Jersey Devils in a 6-3 victory back in January, in yet another multi-point game this season by the Russian winger. Rangers fans have long awaited the arrival of an elite goal scorer, and we finally got our man for at least six more years.
3. Welcome to the Show, Kaapo Kakko
Heading into this season, expectations were extremely high for highly touted rookie winger, Kaapo Kakko, as he was selected second overall by the Rangers in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. The young Fin has had his share of rookie struggles throughout this season, but we could almost see the weight lifted right off his shoulders when he notched the first goal of his NHL career against the Edmonton Oilers in just the third game of the season. With 1:32 remaining in the first period, Kakko etched his name on the NHL scoreboard for the very first time off a pass from Ryan Strome, and the look of pure elation on his face as he came around the back of the net was felt by everyone in the Garden and all of us watching at home. Kakko would go on to tally 9 more goals and 23 points this season, and we have only just scratched the surface seeing what this young goal scorer can do.
2. Igor Shesterkin Shines in NHL Debut
The only Rangers debut that was more anticipated than the Breadman is the debut of 24-year-old, Igor Shesterkin, the highly renowned, Russian goaltender, whose outrageous performance in the KHL made him the ideal heir to King Henrik’s throne. On January 7, 2020, the Rangers took the ice for a game against the Colorado Avalanche, but for being just another regular season game, it sure had that playoff feeling, as the long-awaited Shesterkin stepped onto the ice for the first time in his NHL career. In typical Rangers fashion, they allowed 32 shots on goal, and in typical Rangers goaltending fashion, Shesterkin made 29 saves and posted a .906 SV%, leading the team to a 5-3 victory, and earning the young protege his first ever NHL win. To fans, this felt like the start of a new era, and if Shesterkin’s 10-2 record is any indicator of the success he will bring for years to come, it looks like Rangers fans have been blessed, yet again, with another elite goalie to carry them for years to come.
1. Zibanejad’s Electric 5-Goal Game
And finally, right before the season came to an abrupt halt, Mr. Reliable himself, Mika Zibanejad delivered one of those “remember exactly where you were when it happened” performances that Rangers fans still have fresh in our minds and hearts. For whatever reason, it seems this young Rangers team elevated their game against the top dogs in the league all season long, and this back and forth battle against the first-place Washington Capitals felt like nothing short of a playoff game. As he’s done time and time again, Zibanejad put the team on his back, scoring a hat trick plus one in regular time, and putting the cherry on top of a jaw-dropping performance, when he netted the winning goal in overtime and The Garden erupted into serendipitous chaos. Mika became just the 45th player in NHL history to score five goals in a game and did so in a manner only a captain could, against one of the best teams in the league, on home ice, in the midst of a late-season playoff push. Although there is no official captain of the Rangers just yet, I have a feeling we’ll see Zibanejad sporting the C on his jersey when the team takes the ice next season.
I’m still holding out hope that the season will resume and the Rangers, joined by a healthy Chris Kreider, can successfully complete their playoff push and take a spot in the playoffs this season, but whether the season returns or not, we have many moments and highlights to look back on from a season of many firsts and a team that outplayed any expectations we had of them back in September. Did your top moment not make it onto my list? Comment your favorite moment below and just remember, whenever hockey does return, our boys in blue will be ready.