There were a lot of questions and concerns surrounding the New York Rangers heading into the 2016-17 NHL season. How will the blue line hold up this year? Will newcomers such as Michael Grabner, Jimmy Vesey and Mika Zibanejad have an impact? And above all- will this team make the Stanley Cup Playoffs yet again? Through the Rangers first 52 games played this season, some of those questions have been answered. But the big one still remains: will – and can – a New York Rangers playoff spot be secured this season?
Keys To New York Rangers Playoff Push
The Rangers had an explosive start to the season, mainly seeing the results of new players in their offensive play. The Rangers rank second in the league in goals scored per game at 3.37. Contributions from veterans such as Derek Stepan, Mats Zuccarello, as well as from Grabner, Vesey, and Zibanejad have all helped the Rangers to establish themselves as an offensive force. And the performances of Kevin Hayes and Chris Kreider cannot go unnoticed as well.
All in all, the Rangers offense is not of big concern heading into the home bend in securing a playoff position, but rather, its ability to stay consistent. If this offense stays on track and can score multiple goals on a nightly basis, there will be success. The push for the Cup starts not in April, but right now, so it’s all hands in deck for all four New York forward lines.
Defensive Woes Need to Disappear
For several seasons now, the Rangers defensive group has been in question. They struggle more than they do succeed and unfortunately that’s not going to work. During this past off-season, the club’s front office made some moves in hopes of sparking the defense. Keith Yandle was traded away, Nick Holden was acquired from Colorado, and Brady Skjei was given a shot.
Things have improved slightly, but the Rangers defense is still in the same boat. There are bright spots such as Skjei’s blossoming year, having scored two goals and adding 20 assists for a total of 22 points, as well as playing some of the best solid defense on the team.
Ryan McDonagh is by far the best blueliner on the team, playing a steady game night-in and night-out. The Rangers are ranked 12th in the NHL in goals against with an average of 2.65 allowed per game. However, asides from McDonagh and Skjei, the defense needs help. Whether that comes in practice or at a move at the trade deadline later this month, it needs to happen soon.
The Rangers can’t be making mistakes in their own zone anymore. The Metropolitan Division is deadly this season and the race is on for playoff seeding. If the Blueshirts want to secure a good seed, their defense needs to step their game up.
Henrik Lundqvist Needs to be “The King”
This season hasn’t been the easiest for Henrik Lundqvist. Being left out to dry by the defense, soft goals, and overall just some bad nights all highlight this season. Still, Lundqvist has earned 20 wins yet again for the team and remains a solid netminder. He is 23-13-1 with a goals-against average of 2.74 and a save percentage of .907. His numbers are not the greatest thus far, and Lundqvist knows it.
“I battled. I battled hard,” said Lundqvist in an interview with the New York Post. “As I’ve said, my game is right there. It’s just a matter of consistency. I play four or five good games and then take a step back with a ‘C’ game. I need more ‘B’s.’ I feel have the ‘A’s,’ but when I drop it has to be to a ‘B,’ not a ‘C.’ I know my game’s right there. I’m not overthinking it. When I’ve been bad, I’ve been really bad. You have to own up to it and try to do better.”
Earlier this year, he was benched for multiple games in a row while backup goaltender Antti Raanta got some time. Lundqvist said his confidence was not the best and knew he needed to turn things around. Despite a disappointing season, Lundqvist has been starting to pick it up as of late. If he continues to stay hot, beware of Lundqvist, because when he gets into his groove, that is when the King comes out to play.