alexis lafreniere

Ten In

After ten games, the Rangers sit at 10 points, with a 4-4-2 record, largely on the back of a 3-0-1 streak that has seen them overcome a slow start.  After a clunker to open the season agains the Islanders, where they simply weren’t prepared in a 4-0 loss, the Rangers stormed back to reverse the experience, handing their island neighbors a decisive 5-0 decision.

It seemed like Game 1 might be an aberation, but it soon became clear that the Rangers were still a work in progress.  The next four games saw the Rangers lose by scores of 3-4, 3-4 (SO), 2-3 and 2-3 to the Devils, Penguins twice and Sabres respectively.  More frustratingly, the latter three games they lead by a goal going into the third period, only to be outplayed and outchanced in the final 20.  In the case of the 3-4 shootout loss to the Penguins, the team gave up a 3-1 lead in the second, failing to score in the final 39:18 of regulation and overtime, after scoring three goals in just 3:01.

At times the team was victimized by bad luck – Lindgren pushing the puck past Shesterkin to spark the comeback win by the Penguins in Game 4 – failure to make the big saves at opportune times, and in the case of the Buffalo loss, simply not playing hard or smartly in the losses to the Devils and Sabres all contributed to the record.

Then, as injuries started to mount, the Rangers began to figure things out.  A solid performance in the follow-up match against the Sabres, saw Alexis Lafreniere register his first career goal, point, overtime goal and game winning goal, from a two on one that he converted with one of the surprises: Colin Blackwell.

An overtime loss to the Penguins – where the Rangers gave up a third period lead for the fifth straight game – was followed by consecutive wins against the Penguins and Capitals, with the team finally finding a way to hold onto a late one goal lead.

None of the wins were secured until the final seconds, but in this unusual season, the two points are as good as a 10-0 blowout, and more importantly instilled confidence into a team that could easily have collapsed under the weight of expectations.

Perhaps more importantly, they’ve managed to turn things round while facing several injuries, a contro

Biggest Surprise
With Henrik Lundqvist in net, the Rangers had the luxury of making errors on defense and having their goaltender cover up for them, but now with their franchise netminder no longer in the mix, they faced the prospect of a pair of young netminders facing a barrage of shots and scoring chances each night.

Instead we’ve seen the team cut down their opponents shots against to just 27.7 a game compared to 34.0 last season.  In fact, this is the lowest shot total since the 2007-08 season, when they managed an impressive 25.9.

Adam Fox has lead the way with an average of 24:29 of ice time each game, followed by Jacob Trouba at 22:38, Ryan Lindgren 19:37 and K’Andre Miller at 18:57.  Excluding Trouba, the other three have just 165 games between them.

Along the way they’ve had plenty of turnover on the third pairing.  In all the Rangers have had their first and second choices sidelined by a combination of injury and controversy.  Jack Johnson has missed 4 games with a groin injury, Brendan Smith 1 with what seemed like a concussion, and Tony DeAngelo wore out his welcome, and has not played in the last two.  That has meant that New York native Anthony Bitetto and ninth defender Libor Hajek have been pressed into action over the last game or two.

By the way, congratulations to Bitetto for scoring his first NHL goal in over three years.

Moderate Disappointment
Given the closeness of the majority of games, it has highlighted every mistake that the goaltenders have made.  Alexandar Georgiev looked strong in his 5-0 outing agains the Islanders, but has struggled since to provide the stability in net the Rangers are looking for. 

Meanwhile, Igor Shesterkin has not looked sharp either, and has given up around a goal per game that you would have hoped or expected a save from.  It’s true that a couple have been fluky goals, but he has had difficulty making that timely save, and it has cost the team.  A couple of wins under his bely will hopefully get him back on track and play with the confidence he displayed when he was first called up last season.

Slow starts
In net hasn’t been the only place of concern, with several of the forwards getting off to slow starts.  Artemi Panarin‘s timing was off through the first 3-4 games, but he appears to be in full flight now with 15 points over the first ten games.  The rise of Panarin has also seemed to get Ryan Strome going, and after registering just one goal in his first six games, he now has three more, plus two assists over the last four.

Meanwhile Mika Zibanejad is still working things out.  His last outing was perhaps the best in terms of his shooting and overall play, but he’s a long way off the same guy who was flying at the end of last season.  Zibanejad missed virtually all of training camp as he recovered from COVID, and has had difficulty hitting his signature one-timers over the course of the first ten games.  If they can get him going, then they will be well positioned to improve on their position.

As the longest tenured Ranger, there’s many expectations on Chris Kreider, and as we’ve learned throughout his career, when he’s on, he tends to be a constant danger.  With added penalty killing responsibility for the first time in his career, Kreider has performed pretty well, and has had some modest succes in the latter half of this opening block of ten, with three goals in five games.  He still has a couple of gears to go, and more will be expected.

Most Improved
Coming into this season, there were question as to whether Pavel Buchnevich would become expendable with the additions of Kaapo KakkoAlexis Lafreniere and perhaps the emergence of Vitali Kravtsov.  As it turns out, those predictions may have been a bit premature.  With 8 points – 3 goals and 5 assists – Buchnevich sits second in scoring for the team, and has lifted the play of whichever line he’s played on.  

The 25 year old has also been handed penalty killing for the first time in his career, and the added responsibility seems to haved helped him get into the game, demonstrating an assuredness and strength on the puck that we haven’t seen to this point in his career.

The Young Guns
There’s so many to choose from, but Miller, Lindgren and Fox clearly lead the way.  Kakko continues to make progress, and has two goals and an assist through his nine appearances – missing one game due to the league’s COVID protocols.  He still looks a little indecisive at times, but his play to spring Panarin and Strome on a 2 on 1 against the Capitals in their last game, was a good hockey play, and we hope for many more.

Number one pick Alexis Lafreniere has not been dominant in any sense, but we’re starting to see some of his offensive credentials, both with his loan goal and some of the shots he’s taken over the course the last few games.  It’ll probably be some time before he’s dominating, but at 19, he doesn’t lack the strength or size to play in this men’s league.

Character Guys
Every now and again, teams will find a diamond in the rough from the groupd of depth and character guys that they’ve signed, the Rangers appear to have found several.  Kevin Rooney has played in all but two of the games – one of those missed through injury – and has grown into a dependable depth guy.  At 6-2 he has size that makes him hard to move, but he’s also managed to chip in two goals and an assist despite getting an average of just 9:34 a game.  He has a career high of just ten points across four seasons with the Devils.

Another guy who’s outperformed expectations is Phillip Di Giuseppe.  The 27 year old already has his highest point total in four seaasons, with five assists, but it’s been his all round play that has really caught the eye.  He’s hard on the puck, gets into the tough areas and has earned the right to be a regular in the line-up.

A four game cameo by Colin Blackwell also proved to be valuable, and perhaps helped propel the Rangers into their current modest streak of success.  The 14th forward coming out of camp, he worked his way into the line up and got a three game point scoring streak going before being cut down by an injury that will keep him out for the near future.  Like Di Giuseppe, Blackwell was an active player in and around the puck, and with a little more offensive instinct, he was a decent fill-in across the four lines.

Disappointing
Expectations weren’t that high for Julien Gauthier, but at 23 he might have done more to play himself out of the line-up than in.  With injuries hurting in the Rangers in the last couple of games, Gauthier has been given another chance to prove he belongs, but continues to struggle to find ways to make an impact.

With size and speed, he’s still got potential, but he needs to figure out how to see more of the ice than what’s in front of him.  Too often he’s playing alone, and not looking for his team mates, and that continues to limit his effectiveness.

Summary
While it’s easier to be optimistic given their most recent form, the Rangers remain a work in progress.  The league as a whole isn’t running anywhere near peak form yet, and it remains to be seen whether the Rangers can match the progression of other teams as they find their respective games.  The good news, is that they’ve remained competitive as a team, even while they’ve had plenty of players struggling to find their game.

Things that looked grim just a week ago, suddenly look much more promising, a testament to just how quickly things can change in the NHL.

With an upcoming schedule that features 9 of the next 10 games against the Bruins, Flyers and Capitals and the tenth against the rival Islanders, it’s fair to say we may be singing a different tune at the 20 game mark.  Still, the team has shown they have the capability to match their opponent, it’s just a matter of maintaining that for as much of the 60 minutes as they can in order to keep their momentum going forward.

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