The Rangers took three of four points from the apparently almighty Penguins this week. Both games, off the back of roster re-shaping trade deadline deals, showed us a lot about how the Rangers should look for the remainder of the season.
The 2-1 shootout defeat Friday night in Pittsburgh might see some fans be disheartened about a club that scored just one goal (again), but what is a somewhat valid concern is outweighed by several positives. Let’s take a look at why the Rangers still have a chance this season;
The new guys: the new additions – led by Ryane Clowe – have brought depth, skill, but above all have made the Rangers harder to play against. Perhaps most importantly where players such as Marian Gaborik weren’t entirely trusted by Tortorella anymore, you saw the likes of Derick Brassard on the ice toward the end of the game as the Rangers chased hard. Brassard came close from a bad angle that needed a review. The fact Tortorella is rolling lines more evenly – evidence of the additional depth –suggests the Rangers have depth to make a push.
The defense: Barring one miscue on the Pens blueline Michael Del Zotto played a tough game, stood tall physically, and tried to make a difference. Another up and down campaign, Del Zotto isn’t shying away from at least trying to be a go-to-guy. Ryan McDonagh was pinching at the right times and making intelligent plays, and the defense looks deeper with the addition of John Moore. If the Rangers can get Marc Staal back, all of a sudden the defense goes from looking shallow to being pretty deep and mobile.
Derek Stepan: When your team is desperate for a goal in the dying minutes you need players to step up. Stepan was struggling in the faceoff circle most of the evening but critically got the puck to Rick Nash for the game tying goal. Its that kind of clutch play that has seen Stepan emerge as the Rangers best center this year, and it’s his blossoming chemistry with Rick Nash that suggest the Rangers have a game changing top line. This doesn’t even include puck possession monster Carl Hagelin.
Self belief: For the first time in a while, the Rangers have played with confidence, weren’t fazed by giving up the first goal, and looked to dominate the puck more than they have all year. Whether it has been triggered by the new arrivals or not, the Rangers look more like the team they were last year and were supposed to be this season. If the Rangers can maintain a level of confidence and self belief through the remainder of the season, they can still achieve what they intended to from the start.
Special Teams: It’s not rocket science; in today’s NHL a team will only have prolonged success if at least one – but preferably both – of the special teams units are performing well. Against the Jets, the penalty kill stopped all five chances and Ryan Callahan grabbed a shorthanded goal. In the 6-1 victory over the Penguins, the powerplay stepped up and scored on three of four chances and the penalty kill kept the Penguins out on both their opportunities. While the Rangers powerplay didn’t convert on Friday, it moved the puck well. It created chances and the Rangers scored directly after a powerplay later in the game. In short, the Rangers special teams have stepped up in recent games coinciding with two victories and 3 of 4 points against a strong Penguins club.
The Rangers are still in a scrap for a playoff spot and that’s a result of their season long inconsistency but the past week has shown there are plenty of reasons for optimism for the Rangers.