The 2021 season is only three games old, but it feels like we’ve seen more than that. We say the Rangers at their absolute worst. Then their absolute best. They then gave us a track meet, which is what we should see more of. It’s a bit early to review stats, even if I tried, so overall NY Rangers thoughts seem to be the best bet.
1. Don’t read too much into the first two games of the season. The Rangers are nowhere near that bad and nowhere near that good. We will get flashes of both, especially with such a young team. As much as we want to see the Rangers that played the second game, it’s just not realistic. The third game, the track meet against the Devils, is likely the real Rangers this season.
2. The Blueshirts will still struggle on defense, but they have a ton of talent all around the lineup. Hence, track meets. I think as the blue line stabilizes a bit, we will see better overall defense. But the key is neutral zone pressure. That was on full display in the second game. If they commit to that more consistently, then they will take a giant leap forward.
3. Speaking of committing to neutral zone pressure full time, there is a big discussion to be had about David Quinn and the coaching staff. For two years, they were so bad that I actually believed they were giving up the blue line by design. There’s tons of video! But Vince Mercogliano has informed me that it’s not by design, they just can’t execute. The players have changed. But why isn’t that message getting through? It’s a real question.
4. On to the actual on-ice play. Let’s take a step back and appreciate that the Rangers have four real lines that are, for the most part, producing. There are certainly concerns around certain players, Ryan Strome chief among them. However the lines themselves are driving offense. The defense pairs are better than expected, minus the one glaring problem. Overall, the first three games have been better than expected.
5. That said, the two major holes discussed in the offseason are rearing their ugly heads. Center depth is a concern, as Strome has been more of a coaster so far this year. It’s early, and Artemi Panarin is too good to have Strome be this useless. But on the bright side, Brett Howden has been better than expected on the fourth line. It’s like that’s where he should have been all along…
6. Left defense is also a concern, although K’Andre Miller has certainly made it better. Miller really worked with Brendan Smith in sheltered minutes. That works for both of them, yet Smith is a healthy scratch again. Jack Johnson is a concern this year, and hopefully only this year. Ideally we get Lindgren-Trouba, Miller-Fox, and Smith-DeAngelo (or DeAngelo-Fox / Miller-Smith) at some point.
7. Back to centers, Pierre-Luc Dubois isn’t the answer for the long term unless the Rangers shed salary. Remember that Mika Zibanejad’s contract is up in two years, so trading for Dubois means finding a taker for Zibanejad at some point. That may not be a bad thing –Zibanejad’s contract is going to be huge– but Dubois may not be the best option as his replacement. Who is? Well, I don’t know. This is why center depth is important.
8. The goaltending hasn’t been stellar, but it’s not a concern. Just goes to show how spoiled we were with Henrik Lundqvist.