Rangers surge after slow start to 2017 NHL season
After a 5-4 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 28, the New York Rangers were in a state of turmoil. The team was not playing well, as shown by their 3-7-2 record after the defeat and rumors began to swirl that head coach Alain Vigneault was on the verge of being shown the door.
The defense was full of holes, the offense was inconsistent and the goaltending was shaky, to say the least. It looked as if this trend was going to continue for the Rangers when they found themselves down 4-2 entering the third period of their game against the Vegas Golden Knights on Oct. 31.
Suddenly, the Rangers found a spark when they came out onto the ice. They scored four unanswered goals and played strong defense to secure a much-needed 6-4 win over the red-hot Golden Knights. Following that game, the Rangers headed down to Florida for a game against the league’s best, the Tampa Bay Lightning, on Nov. 2.
The Lightning boasted the highest scoring offense in the NHL, averaging more than four goals per game, and the league’s top two point scorers in Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov.
The Rangers held the Lightning in check, especially Stamkos and Kucherov, forcing overtime; Rangers forward J.T. Miller scored the overtime goal to give New York a 2-1 win.
Two nights later, the Rangers were in South Florida to take on the Florida Panthers, a much more favorable opponent. Yet, the game was close throughout and required overtime. The Rangers escaped with their third straight victory, a 5-4 thriller, on a game-winning goal by defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.
The Rangers would later go on to defeat the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-3 on Nov. 6 at home. They would also go on to defeat the Boston Bruins 4-2 at home behind Jimmy Vesey's strong performance, finally climbing above .500 for the first time this season.
The Rangers are now one game above .500 at 8-7-2 and seem to have found their rhythm. The power play continued to impress, currently ranked tenth in the NHL at 21.1 percent.
The penalty kill also improved over those three games, an area that the Rangers have struggled in. They are sixteenth in that category at 80.8 percent. Overall, the defense and goaltending showed signs of progression, as there have been less turnovers and better puck control.
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist has won each of the last five games, showing that he still has something left in the tank. Fans worried that Lundqvist was done, as his stumbling out of the gate was one of the main reasons the team had struggled so much at the start of the season. He looks to have left his troubles behind, for now, as he and the defense have played much better now than they played at the beginning of the season.
Perhaps the rumors of Vigneault being fired was a wake-up call for the Rangers, who still have work to do in order to keep pace in the very tough Metropolitan Division. If the Rangers play consistent team hockey for 60 minutes a night, this team can and will progress. They must ensure that this winning streak is no fluke.