The Rangers came into Sunrise needing a win to right the ship and a 5-3 with with just about everything from an offensive perspective is what we got. The big story was Kaapo Kakko getting a pair of primary assists on goals by Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. This line from an analytical point of view was one of the better ones at the start of the year, but had horrendous shooting percentage. That shooting is coming around, and the line now has 3 goals in the last 2 games since being reunited after the Washington game.
Jaroslav Halak got the nod in this game and was a horse all game, making 32 saves on 35 shots. The Rangers did him no favors, giving up numerous high danger chances, but Halak, whose game is finally coming around, stood tall. Even when the Rangers and Panthers traded goals in the second period, Halak did everything he could do keep them in the game.
It was his third period that saved the Rangers, stopping 13 of 14 shots during quite a number of Florida pushes. The Panthers are mostly an offense only team, and they showed it in the third, peppering the Rangers and Halak with chances. This is exactly what the Rangers need from Halak going forward. He isn’t Igor Shesterkin, or even Shesterkin-lite, he just needs to be above average and make the last save. If you can critique anything, it’d be that you want the Rangers to limit those pushes as much as they can, because you can only play with fire for so long.
The Rangers themselves took care of business with this strong win over a Florida Panthers team that is nothing like the Panthers of 2021-2022. They traded for Matthew Tkachuk–who was mighty ineffective last night–and brought in Marc Staal and Eric Staal to bring veteran presence in their room. They also decided to let their President’s Trophy coach walk last offseason, and hired Paul Maurice who is as mediocre as they come as a head coach. This Florida team is very, very vanilla. They have talent, but they are not playing 2022-23 style hockey. It almost felt like at times you were watching a team from the mid 2010’s.
Another positive from the Rangers last night, and perhaps all season, is how good Braden Schneider and K’Andre Miller have been. In Schneider’s case, he made an incredible defensive play negating a goal, crushing his opponent by the crease, separating the puck and transitioning to offense. Schneider has really upped his game and is showing the kind of tools that will make him a top-four defenseman in this league. He won’t get the flashy stats that will lead to Norris discussions, but he’s overall solid and a great balance to a deceivingly strong Rangers blue line.
The same can be said for Miller, who at times last year looked pedestrian. He is already the best non-Adam Fox defenseman on the team, and he might also be the best pure athlete on the team as well. He reminds you of a young Jaccob Slavin, or a Jonas Brodin where they won’t always put up the counting stats, but are elite at suppressing offense. Miller, like Schneider, also negated a scoring chance that would have gone against the Rangers had he not battled his man and cleared the crease following a rebound chance.
With a strong and deep blue line, the Rangers are going to be looking for their forwards to start sharing in the work load. As long as Gerard Gallant keeps the right lines, then we should hopefully see another run from the Rangers. They are capable, but it’s about consistency on the ice as well as in the line combinations. Let’s see what Tuesday against Carolina brings.