The Rangers defeated the Winnpeg Jets by the score of 6-4 in last night’s home opener. It was a wild up and down game, which likely foretells the future of this young team–they have incredible offensive upside, but have not yet put it together defensively.
Henrik Lundqvist, who stopped 43 of 47 shots, had little chance on all but one the shots that got past him. Yes, he will have to become close to flawless for this team to play into the post-season, but as a start, his performance was fine—particularly because he had little help in front of him.
Before we get to the defensive issues, let’s look at the positive side of last night’s victory. Free agent signing superstar Artemi Panarin literally had the fans out of their seats. He only took one shot during the game (which went straight into the net), but his playmaking ability and vision was on display for most of the night. He sure made his center, Mika Zibanejad, better. Mika had an excellent season in 2018-19, and Panarin may help Mika take another leap forward in offensive production this year. Mika scored a backhanded, up-top, goal last night, which made everyone’s highlight reel—it was a beautiful game-tying score on the Jets’ Connor Hellebucyk.
Second round 2019 draft selection Kaapo Kakko showed how he could skate and maneuver in traffic—he still needs some experience, but expect Kakko to be an offensive producer in the NHL very soon.
Basically, the top two lines looked good. The only question mark was Ryan Strome, who won nine of his 13 face offs, but other than that had a difficult night. One has to wonder why the younger Lias Andersson, who centered the fourth line last night, should not get a chance to see ice time on the second line. Andersson had only 8:33 minutes of ice time during the entire game, including 2:37 on the PK. He played well (except for face offs), and as a young developing player, he needs to play.
Andersson’s linemates, Brendan Lemieux and the sometimes defenseman Brendan Smith, both had a good game—hitting and blocking shots. Smith also skated as a defenseman on the PK and can play a versatile role for the Blueshirts.
The Rangers’ offense looked good last night—some tweaking needs to be done, but the team is competitive as it is. It is a frightening thought that even more help will be on the way when Vitali Kravtsov and Filip Chytil are recalled.
Where the problem lies is on D. Newly signed free agent Jacob Trouba was tremendous offensively last night (1G, 2A), but defensively he was responsible for 4 giveaways and some mental errors. He certainly can hit (Trouba was credited with 5 hits last evening), but for a top pairing player who will face the other team’s best scorers, he needs to improve his game in his end. Adam Fox and Libor Hajek, both NHL rookies, will also need to up their game. Neither player looked terrible on the scoresheet, but watching the game, mistakes they made led to Winnipeg scoring chances.
All this is to say, the Rangers are so much better than last year, but still have a way to go to be serious Stanley Cup contenders. Can they get to the playoffs this season? It certainly is possible. But, the defense will need to improve substantially. Most of that will be remedied over time. But one eye should be kept on players in Hartford too—Ryan Lindgren looked pretty NHL-ready before he was sent down to the AHL earlier this week.