The New York Rangers have passed the midway point of the 2017-18 season, a half that saw plenty of highs and plenty of lows but, as a whole, was pretty successful.
Whether it’s come-from-behind victories, hot streaks or career firsts that get you excited, the first half of the 2017-18 New York Rangers season had something for everyone.
As everyone knows, the start of the season didn’t go as planned for the New York Rangers, going 3-7-2 in their first 12 games. Things were looking bleak.
But since the start of November, they’ve turned their season around, going 18-8-3 and are right back in the midst of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. As their bye week begins, the Blueshirts find themselves two points ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins for the first wild-card spot with two games in hand.
The first half of the year delivered a number of highlights, which are ranked below. Rankings are based on a number of things including impact, surprise level and personal preference.
10. Mika Zibanejad’s Hot Start
Coming into the season Mika Zibanejad was given a larger role with the trade of Derek Stepan in the offseason. He put the team on his back once the season began and was the Rangers best player coming out of the gate.
Zibanejad scored at least one goal in each of the Blueshirts’ first four games, tallying five goals during that span. He enters the bye week with 24 points—13 goals, 11 assists—ranking fourth on the team in points. As the season progresses the Rangers are hoping that Zibanejad can take the success he found at prior to the break where he scored two goals in the team’s last four games and carry it over in the second half of the year.
9. Comeback Against Vegas
It was Halloween night when the red-hot Vegas Golden Knights made their first trip to Madison Square Garden. Rumors around the league were that if the Rangers had failed to beat the first year franchise, that head coach Alain Vigneault would have been let go.
The team came out to a hot start against rookie goaltender Maxime Lagacé who was making his first career start in the NHL. As the game progressed the Rangers found themselves down 4-2 in the third period and everyone was waiting for the news of Vigneault’s dismissal. But the Rangers found the spark they needed in that third period and came back to beat Vegas 6-4, saving Vigneault’s job and turning their season around.
8. Ondrej Pavelec Secures the Backup Role
As the season unfolded it looked like Vigneault was hesitant to use backup goaltender Ondrej Pavelec. The Rangers schedule allowed for them to take their time before inserting Pavelec and it helped that Henrik Lundqvist returned to the player that Ranger fans have seen over the last 11 seasons. But sooner or later Pavelec had to make his mark on this team and he did in a big way.
Pavelec’s best game of the season to date has by far been the Rangers 1-0 shootout victory over the Washington Capitals in late December. Pavelec stopped all 30 shots he faced including stopping Alex Ovechkin‘s four shots and shootout attempt.
7. Boo Nieves’ First NHL Goal
Boo Nieves got the call in the middle of the season to become the Rangers fourth line center and has excelled in that role.
For Nieves, it took time before scoring tallying his first career goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Just because he wasn’t scoring goals, didn’t mean his hard work was noticeable. Nieves’ first full half at the NHL level was an impressive one and it looks like he is here to stay.
6. Mats Zuccarello’s Overtime Heroics
There are multiple reasons that Mats Zuccarello gets so much love from the Rangers fan base, his hard work and his ability to come up with a big goal are just some of them.
At the midway point of the season, Zuccarello continues to lead the Rangers in points with 31, including a couple of goals in overtime. You can’t ask for much more from the Norwegian star and Ranger fans couldn’t be happier that he remains a part of this team in the long run.
5. J.T. Miller Taking on Bigger Role
Miller ranks second on the team with 27 points and as completely earned the trust of head coach Alain Vigneault who has stopped moving him down in the Rangers lineup. Vigneault has used the 24-year-old as a player to get other players going, which is quite an accomplishment considering how Miller was used earlier in his career.
4. Michael Grabner Continues to Amaze
Michael Grabner has been everything and more the Rangers could have hoped for in his short time with the Blueshirts.
Over the last two seasons, Grabner has scored 45 goals in Rangers blue and has 18 goals this season. His six empty-net goals lead the league and his 18 at even-strength is tied for third. Grabner has certainly made his mark in New York and it has continued this season allowing for the Rangers to continue their success.
3. Henrik Lundqvist’s Busy Week
Henrik Lundqvist faced 125 shots in three games from Dec. 17 to Dec. 24.
Lundqvist would post a .944 save percentage over that span and the Rangers would collect three points in the week. That performance served as more proof that the 35-year-old goaltender still has it in him to be one of the game’s best goalies.
2. Rangers Win Sixth Straight Game
Talk about finding a way to save your season. The Rangers did just that with a big six-game winning streak in the early part of December.
The streak was an impressive one for the Blueshirts as they played their way out of the hole they dug themselves into when the season began. Everything seemed to click and, because of the streak, the team didn’t have to make any major changes.
1. Big Win Outdoors
What’s a better way to close out the Winter Classic than a big overtime victory?
The Rangers were taking part in their first Winter Classic since 2012 and their first outdoor game since the 2013-14 season. Lundqvist made 31 saves and the Rangers came out victorious, a great way to start out 2018.