There’s just no other way to say this, but this Rangers are on fire.
Unlike past years of the Alain Vigneault – AV for short – Era, the 2015-16 Rangers are coming out and winning day in and day out.
And now after tonight’s 3-0 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, they are 11-2-2.
That’s pretty darn good.
If someone was just looking at the standings, you would think there Rangers are a juggernaut. They are a red, white, and blue machine that has come back in time to terminate Sarah Connor. OK, that the plot of The Terminator, but you know what I mean.
However, here’s the dirty little secret that make the rest of the NHL collectively gulp: The Rangers are not playing their best hockey. They are not firing on all cylinders and in fact, this season is a lot like the other AV Era seasons, except that the Rangers happen to be winning these games early on.
“We have a number of areas that we have been working on to improve,” Vigneault said. “We are like any team in the NHL you need to get better when the season moves forward.”
Here’s one reason why the Rangers are so hot but playing not so hot. Right now, they may be the deepest team in the NHL. They roll four credible lines every night, have six out of this world defenseman and oh yeah, that No. 30 guy in goal.
So when Rick Nash takes to Nov. 10 to score his first goal that he shot in himself, no problem. And when the big free agent signing of a year ago, Dan Boyle, looks every bit his 39 years, that’s not a big deal, either.
“I’m at the point in my career where I’m interested in wins and winning games and being on a winning team,” said Nash, who hopefully understands that part of that winning is him scoring a couple.
But look at the team more closely. They are essentially interchangeable parts. Jesper Fast could easily play on the second line and Kevin Hayes can slot in lower. The Rangers bottom six is coming through regularly, partially because the younger players have matured.
“Each year our younger guys assume a bigger role and we haven’t really have had many faces change here,” said center Derek Stepan. “Obviously the biggest key is our goaltender.”
Oh yeah, him.
Henrik Lundqvist is playing at the top of his game right now. On a night where the Rangers allowed six power plays, it was his superb work that made this an easy win.
Llet’s not forget Antti Raanta, who is proof that Benoit Allaire is the best goalie coach in the world. Because of his white hot start, Vigneault can rest Lundqvist more this season and not worry about giving away games.
Add the defense into the mix with healthy scratch Dylan McIlrath looking like a guy who would play on the top four with a lot of teams, and you can see why the Rangers may be the NHL’s deepest team.
“I definitely agree that this team is very deep. We have four lines, roll six D and have two great goalies,” said defenseman Dan Girardi. “We can mix a couple of guys in and out of the lineup and that’s the luxury we have. If it’s back to back games, we can roll four lines, six D and we are lucky to have that right now.”
Unless the injury bug hits – heavens forbid – the Rangers will continue on with this depth all season. And maybe, when they fire on all cylinders, the rest of the league will collectively swallow.
And if you carefully listen, you may here it…Gulp.