Weekly Preview: Rangers look to enjoy some home cooking
What a difference one week makes in this Rangers preview. Seven short days ago, the Rangers’ season was teetering on the edge. Embroiled in the ugly end of the Tony DeAngelo saga, with injuries piling up, the Blueshirts seemed in danger of falling out the playoff race. It’s early, but such is the nature of a 56-game (or less) regular season.
A few days later, Igor Shesterkin and Artemi Panarin were playfully re-enacting the DeAngelo-Alex Georgiev tussle. The Rangers had soundly beaten the Washington Capitals, establishing their first winning streak of the year. Just like that, the season was back on the rails.
However, the Rangers still have work to do. They’re in 7th place in an eight team division. Their third defensive pair consists of Anthony Bitetto and Libor Hajek. Mika Zibanejad is making strides, but still hasn’t returned to form. And if the Rangers want to get into the top half of the (MassMutual) East Division, it would behoove them to continue picking up points at home. Their season-long seven game home stand continues this week.
Game 11 vs. New York Islanders (4-4-2) – Monday February 8
The Islanders are coming off an impressive comeback victory over the Penguins on Saturday night. Surprisingly, it was only the Isles’ fourth win of the year, and indeed they share the same record as the Rangers through ten games. The Islanders are a predictable opponent. They’re a heavy, defensively responsible team. Semyon Varlamov has been very good in goal (.921 sv%). The first two meetings of the season showed us the literal best and worst the Rangers had to offer, so we’ll see which version shows up tonight.
Games 12 and 13 vs. Boston Bruins (8-1-2) – Wednesday February 10 and Friday February 12
The Rangers won’t get to see much of the NHL’s true elite this season (Tampa, Colorado, Vegas) due to the division-only schedule, but the Bruins fall into that category. Boston is a stout defensive team that controls the puck and limits its opponent’s chances at an elite level. They’re very similar to the Islanders in that regard, but they also create more offense, and boast one of the best lines in hockey. David Pastrnak returned from September hip surgery and scored a hat trick in just his third game back. It’ll be interesting to see which defensive pair matches up against that top line in these two games. The term “measuring stick” is overused, but these two games may show whether the Rangers’ improved process is going to stick.
Game 14 vs. Philadelphia Flyers (8-3-2) – Sunday February 14*
*Note: this game was rescheduled by the NHL as part of the shuffling of games due to the Devils’ and Sabres’ COVID situations.
The Flyers and their fans are learning what life is like once you get through that first magical season of Alain Vigneault. Last season, Philly was a chance creation juggernaut and a Stanley Cup dark horse. Despite their second round exit from the playoffs, the hockey world believed that the Flyers were a force to be reckoned with for the foreseeable future. Fast forward a few months:
This is troubling if you ask me.
Carter Hart had to make 30 or more saves only 7 times in 40 starts last season.
Hart has had to make 30 or more saves 6 times already through 9 starts this season.
— Jordan Hall (@JHallNBCS) February 7, 2021
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The Flyers are dead last in the NHL in CF% (44.55) and 28th in xGF% (45.33). They rely on an extremely talented goalie and a ridiculous 5v5 shooting percentage (13.56!) to pull wins out of thin air. Yes, there is a method to the madness…sort of. The Flyers are an opportunistic, counter-attacking team that scores off the rush. But any way you slice it, that isn’t a formula for long-term success. Eventually, the dam breaks, and so does your goaltender. The Rangers will have plenty of chances in this game, so here’s hoping Carter Hart doesn’t steal two points.
Predictions: The Rangers go 2-1-1 in this four game stretch, nabbing a win against against the Islanders and a split with the Bruins. A frustrating OT loss to the Flyers ruins Valentine’s Day.