This season hasn’t gone according to plan for the New York Rangers, but their play of late is a sign of better things to come.
The Rangers (2-5-2) have been the definition of inconsistent to start the season, but their play over the last three games shows they are starting to go on a run.
In the Blueshirts’ first six games, they scored just 13 goals while allowing 21. The team did not look like they were going to take the next step and plenty of people were calling for head coach Alain Vigneault to lose his job.
Key players like Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, Pavel Buchnevich, and Mats Zuccarello were having a hard time finding the back of the net, leading to a five-game losing streak. But over the last three games, the Rangers seem to have broken out of that scoring slump that cost them games in early October.
The Rangers have scored 11 goals in three games against the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Islanders, and Nashville Predators. They have looked better and better in each game, which gives Ranger fans cautious optimism.
The Rangers played their best all-around game of the season Saturday afternoon against the Predators. They came out a hot and put the Preds on their heels early on. This was something that the team has simply not done in the early part of the season as they’ve had to play from behind throughout the first eight games.
But perhaps the most impressive part about the Rangers on Saturday was their play in the defensive end. They never gave Nashville any real scoring opportunities and played with structure in front of Henrik Lundqvist, who recorded his 407th career victory. The penalty kill was the best it has looked in quite some time and, when needed, Lundqvist was there to shut the door.
Even though it was just one game, the Rangers proved to themselves and everyone else that they still can win with their system if they play a full 60-minute game.
The biggest difference during this recent stretch is that the team is starting to get their goal scorers going. Hayes has scored in consecutive games, while Kreider and Jimmy Vesey scored their first goals of the season Saturday afternoon. Getting these three players to start scoring on a consistent basis is huge for the Blueshirts as it takes the pressure of the rest of the team to find the back of the net.
The Rangers have always been resilient under Vigneault. It has kept them in games that they have no business being in. Looking at the last three games, the Rangers have recorded four points (1-0-2), and have had to come back in two of those games. Clearly, they haven’t given up on their coach.
Both of the Rangers’ wins this year have come when they’ve dressed 11 forwards and seven defensemen. This is unorthodox, as coaches normally dress 12 forwards and six defensemen, but it has worked for the Blueshirts. Vigneault has been doing this because they simply do not have a fourth-line center. If it keeps working, why not stick with it? They have the depth on the blueline to do so.
The Rangers have a fairly light schedule over the next three games. They faceoff against the San Jose Sharks, who are in 13th place in the Western Conference, Monday night. Derek Stepan and the last place Arizona Coyotes come to the Garden Thursday and then the Rangers go up to Montreal to face the last place Canadiens, who they beat 2-0 earlier in the season.
With a light schedule this week, the Rangers will learn a few things about themselves as a team. Ideally, the Blueshirts’ would like to get at least four points over the next three games and put together a string of consistent hockey.
If the Rangers are able to build on their last three games and learn from the mistakes that have cost them this season, they could play their way back into the race in the Eastern Conference.
The Rangers are hoping they have found the solution and that it will continue throughout the rest of the season.