After back-to-back losses to the struggling Devils and Flyers on October 19and 24 respectively, the New York Rangers stood at an ugly 2-6. The offense was non-existent, the defense and goaltending were weak, and the team on the whole was playing soft and disjointed. But then the Rangers ended their 9-game road trip with a hard fought 3-2 OT win in Detroit, a win that just may have turned the season around.
With their 5-1 win over the Hurricanes on Saturday night, the Rangers have won three in a row and four of their last five. In those four wins, the Rangers have outscored their opponents by a score of 16-5. The team has played the most entertaining hockey by a Rangers team that I have seen in quite a while. They have looked dominant at times and finally look like the team that we hoped to see under Vigneault. Let’s take a look at what has been working.
The Kreider-Stepan-Zuccarello line has been flying around the ice. After an inauspicious start to Saturday night’s game, Vigneault benched the line for much of the first period. The three responded, putting up a combined nine points as Stepan recorded a hat trick with Kreider and Zuccarello assisting on all three goals. Since Kreider returned to the NHL, he has six points in six games and has caused problems for opposition. His 6-foot-4 frame and explosive speed make him an athletic freak-of-nature. In addition, Zuccarello has completely made up for a slow start with his playmaking ability the past few games.
The defense on the whole has improved remarkably. The odd-man rushes are much more limited than early in the year. McDonagh and Girardi have done well against opposing team’s top lines, shutting down the likes of John Tavares, Thomas Vanek, and Eric and Jordan Staal. I have also noticed that the defense has gotten much better at pinching in on offense and keeping the Rangers fore check on the move. Early in the year, the defense was hesitant to commit to 50-50 pucks along the boards. Their involvement in the offensive zone is the reason why we have seen the Rangers pinning and dominating opposing teams in their defensive zones at times.
Henrik Lundqvist has returned to his world-class form. I assume the injury that was nagging him early in the season is no longer bothering him. He has stopped 56 of his last 57 shots faced and has made huge saves when the Rangers have needed him. As Vigneault has said, a team needs a goalie that can make a few big stops when the team breaks down, and that is exactly what Hank has done.
I still think that Brian Boyle is a huge piece to this team. He continues to play key defensive minutes and sacrifices his body on a nightly basis. Sure, he has not contributed much offensively, but if you take Boyle out of the lineup, there is a gaping hole.
The team also has to do something about Taylor Pyatt. I like the guy and think he works hard, but he really adds nothing. He has taken bad penalties, has no speed and does nothing on offense. You have to assume that soon enough the Rangers will give Danny Kristo (8 goals in 12 games at Hartford) a shot, and at this point he would have to replace Pyatt.
The Rangers host the Ducks and Penguins this week on Monday (today) and Wednesday, respectively. These will be two huge tests for the Blueshirts, as their last few wins, while impressive, have been not been against elite teams. I look forward to seeing how the team responds.