With the first two games in the books on the 2019-2020 season, we are starting to see what this Rangers team is going to look like this year. A really fun offensive team with major holes on defense and above-average goaltending. There will definitely be some lineup shuffling as the season goes a long, but it is nice to see the top line clicking, especially Artemi Panarin. A slow start could have jump started the New York tabloid machine, but he has come out looking mighty impressive to start the year.
Even though it’s just two games, you can rightfully assume that I have some thoughts…
1. The Rangers really are who we thought they were, huh? I don’t take much stock in being able to keep Ottawa’s offensive stifled given their violent plunge into complete competitive irrelevance. You could see in the Jets game fairly clearly how they are going to struggle in their own end.
Now, granted, the defense did look better when Trouba was paired with Libor Hajek, but Brady Skjei has not had a good start to the season and Adam Fox is still finding his way. While the defense is definitely on the upswing overall, there is still likely to be some significant issues this year.
2. How about that power play? It almost made me forget all those years of guys simply passing the puck around the perimeter and firing low probability shots into shin pads. The puck movement was dynamic, players were moving and seeking out soft spots on the ice. There was more royal road lateral passing on the man-advantage this past week than I think I’ve seen in a decade.
I like Quinn’s willingness to throw 4 forwards out there on PP1. I think Panarin gives them a different dimension as a point distributor and half-wall shooter, and Jacob Trouba is a perfectly capable compliment to that structure. Possession and chances on the power play, who knew?
3. I’m going to continue the media’s praise heaping of Mika Zibanejad. He has been just so, so good. I have to assume that he generates the majority of his power from those blonde highlights in his flow. I don’t see how else he could be doing these things.
4. I don’t think I can overstate just how badly the Rangers need a 2C. It doesn’t even have to be an actual 2C, just something better than Ryan Strome. Hell, put Lias Andersson there and just see what happens. I could certaintly see him clicking with Kakko. After a couple scotches, I could probably be convinced that Patrick Marleau could be a legitimate upgrade down the middle.
As much as I wouldn’t think of breaking that top line up at the moment, given the success they have had, the complete void that is Strome has me concerned about Kakko’s overall development. You can see flashes of the things he is capable of out there, but there has to be a competent center between him and Chris Kreider. Otherwise, you have two dynamic wings with no distribution.
5. The Rangers actually enjoy a fairly favorable schedule over the next couple weeks. Before seeing Washington, the Rangers get the Oilers and Devils. The following week, they will face Vancouver, Arizona and Buffalo before more difficult matchups with the Lightning and Bruins. 7 out of 10 against non-playoff teams to start the season for a young group is probably best-case scenario stuff. A couple of lucky bounces and Dave’s prediction of a 9-0-0 start might start to become a possibility…
6. I thought that Henrik Lundqvist looked quite good against Winnipeg, despite the one soft goal. He tracked the puck well with simple, compact movement and let the game come to him. He didn’t get antsy out there, as he is wont to do when his defense struggles around him. He made a number of really difficult saves in key situations to keep that game from slipping away. I do think he should be looking 50 or so starts this year to keep his body in one piece, but he is off to a good start.
Same with Alex Georgiev. While not tested as much in Ottawa, it was exactly the type of performance the Rangers will need when Lundqvist is on the bench. Just a competent showing with a big save or two against lesser competition. For what it’s worth, I do believe Georgiev is capable of more than that, but with a weaker defense and a young team, I think that is a reasonable ask from the young netminder.
7. I can’t recall who I saw make this statement on Twitter, but a prescient fan had opined that every game the Rangers will either win or lose 7-5. It was obviously hyperbole, but I don’t think that reality is that far from the truth. In every contest, the Rangers will need a combination of goaltending and scoring that can out pace their deficiencies defensively. How frequently they can do that ultimately remains to be seen, but if the first two games are any indication, it will be a hell of a lot of fun watching them try.
That’s it for me, gang. Enjoy your Rangers-free week!"Thoughts following the first two games of the season",