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What Makes the Rangers a Contender 20 Games Into the Season?


In early October, I talked about how the Rangers even strength play has drastically improved due to the coaching from Peter Laviolette. At that time, the team was just barely over .500, but were clearly a good, structured team.

Since then, the Rangers have been the best team in hockey. With a 15-4-1 record, the Rangers sit at the top of the NHL standings, tied in points with both the Boston Bruins, the reigning president’s trophy winners, and the Vegas Golden Knights, the defending Stanley Cup Champions. That’s some elite company around them.

That being said, what makes the Rangers so special? You could start with the analytics. No matter what metric you look at, the Rangers are up there.

While the 5v5 expected goals against is middle of the pack, team goaltending has been elite, with a surprising resurgence from veteran Jonathan Quick. Both Quick and starter Igor Shesterkin combine for 11.3 goals saved above expected, which ranks third in the NHL.

That stat will also improve the goal differential above expected statistic, which also ranks third in the NHL with 16.5.

Besides pure analytics, the team has been playing well individually, too.

Starting at the top with forward Artemi Panarin, the Russian winger leads the team with a whopping 30 points in 20 games. With stats like that, you’re bound to rub off on your teammates and help them improve, and he did just that. Former first overall pick Alexis Lafreniere has taken a big step in his development thanks to his line-mate, putting up 12 points in 20 games this season, on pace for the best season of his young career.

Defensively, the team took a hit when former Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox went down with an injury. He was guaranteed to miss at least a month, and the team stepped up in a big way through his absence.

Captain Jacob Trouba, who in the past was often questioned and doubted for his defensive skill, has turned all of our heads thus far. While leading the NHL in blocked shots, Trouba is always on the ice to shut down the opponents best player every night.

Another player who’s opened all of our eyes on defense has been Erik Gustafsson, who signed in New York on July 1st at league a minimum deal. Everybody was aware of his offensive capabilities, putting up 42 points last season with both the Washington Capitals and Toronto Maple Leafs. That part of his game hasn’t changed at all. In fact, it’s gotten better. The blue liner has 15 points through 20 games here in New York, and has been temporarily promoted to the top power play unit while Adam Fox is on injured reserve.

The defensive game from Gustafsson was a shock to many. Normally, signing a player like this to a league minimum deal for a third pairing role will get you a slow, old shut down defenseman. Gus is the opposite. They can play him in every position and trust him everywhere.

Finally, the goaltending has been the biggest shock. As mentioned before, Jonathan Quick is having a resurgence season. Not just a nice bounce back season, though. Quick is playing like it’s 2012, where he won the Conn Smythe Trophy for the most valuable player in the playoffs, where he led his Los Angeles Kings to the Stanley Cup. Quick had to fill in for the short injury of starter Igor Shesterkin, and so far Quick has been perfect. Since coming to New York, Quick has put up a .930 save percentage in 8 games, with two shutouts and a record of 6-0-1.

The Rangers look like a juggernaut early on in the season. As long as they play consistent and continue to put up the numbers they have thus far, there’s no reason to believe this run they’re on isn’t sustainable.

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