First, it was Igor Shesterkin’s big showing against the Wild. Then it was running out of gas against the Jets. Next, there was the lackadaisical play in the final 20 minutes against the Ducks. Most recently, a severely lopsided third period carried over into overtime against the Sharks in a 3-2 loss Thursday.
The Rangers’ season-opening 3-1 win over the Lightning, however, stands as the blueprint they should be following for success.
“I want to see more of like the first game against Tampa [Bay],” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said this week, after his team returned from its first road trip, which included its first loss of the season, at Winnipeg.
Despite the hiccups in each of the past four games, the Rangers’ 3-1-1 start to the 2022-23 season still has commanded attention. Even though the power play had an off-night on Thursday, the Rangers’ prowess with the man advantage has been a hot topic of conversation. So are the facts that Artemi Panarin is leading the NHL with 11 points and Mika Zibanejad isn’t too far behind in the top 10, with seven.
But the Rangers haven’t been able to replicate the complete 60-minute effort they put together in the first game of the season. There’s still another team on the other side of the ice, so it’s not always going to that way. The Jets were fresh for their season opener and the Rangers were competing in their third game in four nights. Plus, the Sharks surely dug a little deeper for their first win of the season against the former team of their new head coach, David Quinn.
It all comes down to what the Rangers can control, and that’s where their focus should be.
“I think we were passing up shots, something we haven’t been doing through the first few games here,” Chris Kreider said after the loss to San Jose.
The win over the Lightning, who knocked the Rangers out of the playoffs in six games in the conference final last season, was a complete team effort. They were strong during five-on-five play and even stronger during special teams play, with Zibanejad notching a power-play goal and a shorthanded goal.
All four lines skated with purpose, playing to their individual roles, while Shesterkin outplayed his Russian countryman, Andrei Vasilevskiy, in goal. The top six enjoyed lengthy shifts with uninterrupted puck possession. They dominated below the hash marks and poured on the shots, forcing the 2020 and 2021 champions to the outside in the process.
Perhaps captain Jacob Trouba said it best when he handed the Broadway hat to Zibanejad after the win.
“Play 82 like that, we’ll be in good shape,” Trouba said, before Zibanejad gave the hat right back to honor his teammate’s first contest sporting the “C.”
The Rangers have all the necessary tools to piece together another successful season. In fact, parts of their game look even better than they did leading up to their second-place finish in the Metropolitan Division and run to the Eastern Conference Final last season.
Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere are playing like they belong in the top six. The power play and penalty kill have shown the ability to make an impact on every game. Even the Rangers’ performance at the faceoff dots has been solid. They had a 50.9 win percentage, which was good for 17th in the NHL entering Friday.
It’s still early in the season. The Rangers’ games, however, have said a lot about not only of what they’re capable, but also where their focus needs to be in order to improve.
The recipe for success, as defenseman Ryan Lindgren put it, was right there in Game 1. Everything thereafter has identified where there’s room for improvement. It’ll be up to the Rangers to learn from that.
“We have to keep our heads up and work hard,” Filip Chytil said. “Get back to the game we played before.”