Crazy as this question may sound, right now, after the Rangers’ 2-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks the other night, the Rangers are in a playoff spot in the standings. Ridiculous, you may say—both because of the early date and because the team is in a rebuilding mode. But as head coach David Quinn said last night, “we’ve believed [in our ability to win] as a group from day one . . . I know what the perception is . . . but you come here to win . . . no matter what, the guys in the locker room and the coaching staff, we want to win every game.”
Most of the talk post-game was about rookie forward Filip Chytil, who scored New York’s first goal last night during the second period. Although Chytil started out the game on the Rangers’ fourth line, after he scored his power play goal, he spent most of the third period on the wing of the first line. He played extremely well there, generating chances and with great jump.
Both of the other rookies on the team—Brett Howden and Lias Andersson—had good games. Howden scored the game winner (his fourth of the season) in the third period, and Andersson has continued to play a good two-way game.
In case you have not been watching the standings, the team is now 7-2-1 in their last ten games. The Rangers have the best shootout record (4-0) I the league. Although this is not expected to continue, it can no longer be said that the Rangers are only beating teams that are toward the bottom in talent. Columbus, Montreal, Buffalo, Vancouver—all are very good teams and all have been beaten by the Rangers in the last two weeks.
So, what is going on? And how long can it last?
First of all, Henrik Lundqvist has been great in net. Assisted last night by the post twice, Lundqvist has been both making the saves and gotten lucky. Yes, it will not last and the bounces are likely to even out, but the Rangers are exactly what coach Quinn asked for before the season started—a team that is tough to play against. Not as physically tough as I would have hoped for, but they know how to clog up the lanes, and control the other team’s best players.
The defense has been playing very decently of late, with Neal Pionk and Brady Skjei having very good games. There is still at least one solid two-way D-man that is needed, and Tony DeAngelo’s play is still an adventure, but this defense can play a one-game match with any team in the league right now.
The offense too is weak on paper, but they seem to be gathering more confidence as the season goes along. They should not be able to win against some teams, but you can never count them out.
And if Chytil, Howden, and Andersson continue to grow into top six NHLers, there is a chance for the team to make the playoffs. I would not expect much over a seven-game series, but just the idea that this team could compete for a playoff spot is a credit not only to the players, but also to the coaching staff that has worked so hard to communicate the new system to them. It appears that the players have bought in, and while the sky is not the limit, the team is fun to watch and a playoff berth is not out of the question.