The 19-7-4 Rangers have exceeded expectations, collecting the fifth-most points in franchise history through the season’s first 30 games.
Currently sitting in playoff position, at third in the Metropolitan Division, the Blueshirts have put themselves in an optimal spot. Their .700 point percentage is tied for third in the NHL, as is their 19 wins. Other statistics tell a promising story as well, such as their 2.53 goals-against average, the fifth lowest in the league, and their power-play (25.6) and penalty-kill (84.3) percentages that rank sixth.
“You look at the standings, we’ve been doing pretty well,” Mika Zibanejad said. “I think we’ve been taking a lot steps from the last few years. Not only coming together as a group off the ice, I think on the ice, as well. We have more of a clear [idea] of how we play and how we should play, what really works for us. We go back and forth about did we play the full 60 minutes or not, or did we start slow or didn’t have a good second or whatever. But I think we’ve been finding ways to win and I think it’s just strong efforts throughout this time.
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“We talked after 10 games about how we were playing and we got points anyways, but I thought after that we’ve been stepping up our game and been more consistent. I think that’s a good sign. We still got another 52 games to go, just keep building and keep getting better.
“Obviously, the first goal is to make the playoffs and I think we’re doing a good job going toward that. Obviously there’s things that we can do better and improve, but overall, I’m happy this far.”
Adam Fox leads all NHL defensemen, along with the Lightning’s Victor Hedman, with 31 points. Artemi Panarin’s 33 points is tied with the Panthers’ Jonathan Huberdeau for the sixth-most in the league. Chris Kreider ranks second in the NHL with 11 power-play goals, behind only the Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl.
Of course, Igor Shesterkin and his .937 save percentage is the highest among NHL goalies with a minimum of 15 appearances.
“The morale of the group is definitely higher,” defenseman Jacob Trouba said this week. “Obviously, winning games helps with that a lot. But guys just seem happier coming to the rink. There’s a smile on a lot of guys faces. You recognize when things aren’t going well for someone, and we have guys there to pick them up and cheer them up and keep them positive.
“It’s just been a good atmosphere to be around. There’s been, I’d say, some contagious, positive energy.”
Here’s a look back:
The Rangers looked like a playoff-ready squad when they took the ice against the Bruins, a team that has qualified for the postseason the past five years. After answering each of Boston’s goals in the first and second periods to take a 2-2 tie into the final frame, the Rangers exploded for three goals from Panarin, Trouba and Alexis Lafreniere. The Bruins are one of the few top-tier teams the Rangers have beaten handily this season.
Runner-up: 4-0, vs. Columbus, Oct. 29
The entire three-game stretch of losses in Canada in early November should be listed under this category, but the defeat to the Oilers sticks out for several reasons. The Rangers had blown a two-goal lead against the Canucks a few days earlier, which made it that much more jarring when they did it again in Edmonton. Despite carrying a 4-2 lead into the third, the Rangers gave up three in the final 20 minutes — including the highlight-reel goal from Connor McDavid that ultimately forced overtime. Draisaitl ultimately stole the win in OT, but it was McDavid’s undressing of four Rangers skaters that replayed on every hockey broadcast for weeks. The Rangers then went to Calgary and were lit up 6-0.
Runner-up: 7-3, vs. Colorado, Dec. 8
The Rangers came dangerously close to losing to one of the NHL’s worst teams in the Coyotes, who have a league-low six wins and a mere 14 points. Not only did they give up a shorthanded goal in the first period, but the Rangers trailed 2-1 halfway through the third. It wasn’t until the self-inflicted implosion from the Coyotes, who were called for two penalties late in the game including a too-many-men infraction, that the Rangers were able to bury two power-play goals to pull out the win.
Runner-up: 4-3, vs. Florida, Nov. 8 after giving up three third-period goals
Best moment: Ryan Lindgren’s last-second goal vs. Buffalo
There were certainly plenty of runners-up for this one, like Nils Lundkvist toppling over in pure elation after scoring his first NHL goal or Lafreniere getting into the first fight of his hockey career against Islanders center Jean-Gabriel Pageau. But it was hard to top when Lindgren stunned Sabres netminder Aaron Dell when he cheated up the ice and buried the go-ahead goal with seconds left in regulation to give the Rangers a 5-4 win on Nov. 21. That victory was the first of a season-high seven-game winning streak.
Runner-up: Lafreniere, a Quebec native, scored go-ahead goal Oct. 16 in 3-1 win over Canadiens in his first game at a sold-out Bell Center.
Surprise impactful player: Kevin Rooney
With six goals, Rooney is tied with the likes of Trouba, Lafreniere and Ryan Strome for fourth-most on the Rangers. He has just one less than Zibanejad and two less than Panarin. That alone qualifies Rooney as a surprise impactful player, but the 28-year-old has contributed much more than just a few extra goals. Rooney continues to be an effective penalty killer, logging the third most shorthanded minutes on the team (behind Barclay Goodrow and Lindgren). He’s also been a staple on the fourth line, which has assumed heavy forechecking responsibilities and acted as an energizing unit.
Runner-up: Dryden Hunt
Biggest disappointment: Sammy Blais season-ending ACL tear
Losing Blais was a major blow. When Blais was clipped by Devils defenseman P.K. Subban on Nov. 14, the Rangers lost a hard-nosed player who was effective, with and without the puck. Not only was he making a noticeable impact on offense and the physical side of the game, but Blais was one of those players head coach Gerard Gallant could plug onto any line to give it a boost. He finished with four assists in 14 games, however, his contributions went well beyond the score sheet. With Blais is set to become a restricted free agent at the end of this season, the 25-year-old winger likely won’t be able to command as much money as he would’ve if he continued playing the way he was.
MVP: Igor Shesterkin/Adam Fox
There is no wrong answer for this one, as Shesterkin and Fox have both played a big part in the Rangers’ explosive start.
Shesterkin likely has meant more to the Rangers than any other goalie has meant to his team. With a 13-3-2 record, one shutout and a .937 save percentage, Shesterkin has had a Vezina Trophy-worthy start. While his numbers have been impressive, it’s the amount of wins he’s stolen that has the Rangers declaring him their most valuable player.
Fox has somehow elevated his game after winning the Norris Trophy last season. The impact he has on both sides of the puck is always noticeable. In addition to averaging over 24 minutes a game, the 23-year-old defenseman and his partner, Lindgren, draw a bulk of the matchups with opponent’s top lines.
Runner-up: Artemi Panarin
The Rangers recalled defenseman Jarred Tinordi from his conditioning assignment in AHL Hartford. … Goalie Dylan Garand, the Rangers’ 2020 fourth-round pick, signed his three-year, entry-level contract Thursday.