Under the guidance of head coach Gerard Gallant, the New York Rangers have turned into a lean, mean fighting machine. Gallant’s men clinched this original six franchise’s first playoff berth in five years, with just under three weeks left in the National Hockey League (NHL) season behind the team’s clearer identity and the advancement of several players.
During this 2021-22 NHL season, the Rangers offense has been led by Chris Kreider. Kreider has led by example all season long by playing a hard, north-south brand of hockey and was honored with the Steven McDonald Extra Effort award during a ceremony before the Rangers game on Apr. 26. The 30-year-old NHL veterans has been reborn this season as a 52 goal-scorer, which has been the third-most in the NHL this season behind only Auston Matthews and Leon Draisaitl.
In addition to Kreider, the team leaders like alternate captains Mika Zibanejad and Jacob Trouba have set the tone this season. Artemi Panarin has been the team’s best playmaker and leads the team in points for the third straight season since arriving in 2019. However, what has really been key has been the goalie who had one year of NHL experience coming into this season, Igor Shesterkin. ‘Shesty’ has been the Rangers backbone en route to a second place in the Metropolitan division. Let’s look at what key deadline acquisitions like forwards, Andrew Copp and Frank Vatrano have meant to Gallant’s group as the players come into view.
Behind the Goalie Mask of Igor Shesterkin
Igor Shesterkin would not be playing like an MVP if the Rangers did not play solid defense in front of him. Don’t believe me? Well, as a team, the Rangers are tied with the Hurricanes for having allowed the fewest goals in the NHL (188) this season. Shesty’s .935 SV% and 2.03 GAA translate to the best season an NHL goalie has had since hall-of-fame goalie, Dominik Hasek’s 1998-99 season. More than twenty years ago, Hasek who was with Buffalo, posted a .937 save percentage and a 1.87 goals-against-average (NHL’s lowest since 1995). In the last five seasons, the leading stats for goalies has fluctuated; From 2014- 2018 (four seasons) no starting goalie had one but in 2018-19, Jordan Binnington (cup winner) and Ben Bishop were two of the very few who have held opponents below two goals per game in the last five NHL seasons.
Gallant’s new-look Rangers would not be firmly in second place in a Division they have not won since 2015 if they did not have a great goalie. However, the Rangers are better this year than they have been in seven years because the Gerard Gallant Rangers have a swagger about them that reminds one of Marlon Brando’s performance in “On the Waterfront.” During the scene that was their first date, Brando’s character Terry tells Edie ‘You wanna know what my philosophy is? Do it to him before he does it to you.’ Broadcasters on Ranger postgame shows consistently mention how Jacob Trouba as the tone-setter from a team identity perspective for Gallant’s team this season.
Trouba and fourth line forward Ryan Reaves have added physicality to the lineup and the evidence of this is that the Rangers have two players who rank top 25 in the NHL’s hits category and five who have 100 or more; Ryan Reaves 265 hits (third), Trouba 204 hits (25th) while K’Andre Miller and Barclay Goodrow check in with 140 hits. However, a Rangers rookie defenseman who delivered the best open ice hit of the season and that is the 19th overall pick from 2020, Braden Schneider.
On the show ‘MSG PM,’ a Hockey Hall-of-Famer who won six Stanley Cups during his career and part of the Rangers 1994 Cup-winning team, Glenn Anderson said that “The regular season is one season, and the playoffs are complete another season.” In terms of what fans are wondering about the Rangers’ playoff hopes this year, Anderson reminds us that whatever Shesterkin and the team has been able to do during the regular season has been great but playoff hockey is a harder challenge but the Rangers have been a more playoff-like team this year under the guidance of Gallant and their veteran leadership.
Are the Rangers Prepared for a Cup Run?
The last year the Rangers won was 1994 and that year, they made key additions to a team that was good already. The year before, general manager Neil Smith acquired Glenn Anderson who had scored fifty goals twice before and won five Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers dynasty in the 1980s. It was a great move to add a grizzled veteran like Glenn but the Rangers also added scoring depth in Steve Larmer and two-way grit with Stephane Matteau, who had recently experienced playing in the Stanley Cup Finals with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1992.
Stephane Matteau and Brian Noonan may not get as much of the credit for that title as Messier does but they were really important checking players. Back then, the Rangers needed to replace aging offensive star, Mike Gartner who despite being in the hall of fame never won a cup with the five-time cup winner, Anderson. Then they chose to trade Tony Amonte, who had scored 33 goals the year before for Noonan and Matteau but there was a method to this madness because the Amonte-Matteau trade ended up paying off. The Rangers needed all of that experience to come back from a 3-2 game deficit and win the conference final against the Devils and Matteau scored the game-winning goal in game seven.
Players like Andrew Copp and Frank Vatrano keep the game simple. They dump and chase, skate all 200 feet of the rink and when the opportunity presents itself, can score. These are the kind of two-way players that a team needs to win in the Stanley Cup playoffs. On a show called ‘MSG PM’, hall-of-fame former Ranger, Glenn Anderson explained why general manager, Chris Drury improved this team before the playoffs by adding three veterans in Justin Braun, Copp and Vatrano.
Drury did a great job of bringing in [what] they needed. He realized they needed more depth and more punch at certain positions,” Anderson said, “[at the deadline] every team always wants one or two guys, a defenseman that can produce and another goal scorer that can also play as well defensively as anyone else on the team.”NHL Hall-of-Famer, Glenn Anderson
When it comes to how the playoffs will go, the second- and third-line players that the Rangers have in Copp, Ryan Strome, and their leading point-scorer Panarin will have to continue playing their games. However, Anderson pointed out that the second and third liners who are not appreciated as much as the first line players, are who a playoff team leans on when the going gets tough.
Your superstars have to be the difference-makers but it’s the second and third line guys who when you do need a goal, you need them to come through and any team that’s going to succeed at winning the cup, needs those players. Right now, they have a good mix, I think their fourth [line] can be a bit quicker and bang a little bit more but it will be interesting to see where they end up in May.NHL Hall-of-Famer, Glenn Anderson
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