Let’s face it, the remaining NHL season is a slog-fest with only certain teams moving on to the Stanley Cup playoffs and out of that bunch, only a few have any realistic chance of moving on to the Cup finals. Add the New York Rangers to that last bunch. I know, lost of naysayers wil wail and gnash their teeth that the Blueshirts are too streaky but the Rangers are streaky at this point of the season-for all of the right reasons.
With a 32-14-8 overall record, six wins in a row and an 8-1-1 record in the last ten games, you can bet the farm that the Rangers are hitting their stride at the exact moment of the season a team needs to do so. Forget about the lineup-tweaking and the ups and downs earlier in the season-that team is gone. Since the All-Star break, the Rangers arguably are the most dominant team in the NHL and for good reason. The Blueshirts have moved out of the wild card race and comfortably into the third regular playoff spot in the Metro Division. (Note: make that seven wins in a row with a huge comeback victory over Edmonton 5-4.)
Unless, they collapse in the next few weeks, the Rangers should stay somewhat on cruise control until the spring thaw and then move on to the postseason. I saw this with a great deal of trepidation since teams have notoriously collapsed at the end of the season before and unless the Rangers handle their business properly, their business will handle them and they will be watching the Stanley Cup playoffs comfortably in their own home living rooms.
The Rangers “D” unit has become a driving force behind the season turnaround.
There’s the old saying used in many sports, “offense wins games, defense wins championships” and Rangers’ head coach Gerard Gallant must be a subscriber to this philosophy. The Rangers’ defense looks to be one of the most dominant blueliner units in the entire NHL with the likes of Adam Fox, Braden Schneider, K’Andre Miller and Ryan Lindgren patrolling the defensive zone night after night.
Team captain and defenseman extaordinaire Jacob Trouba has been providing highlight reels with his hits every game (and becoming a big of an amateur boxer too.) With the recent excitement about the trade from forward Vladimir Tarasenko last week, his trading partner Nikko Mikkola was really an afterthough until the last two games. The big, 6’4″, 209 pound Finn looks and plays like a protoype tough-guy blueliner and looks every bit the part as well.
One of the telling statistics that shows the versatillty of the Rangers defense is the fact that they are second in the NHL with defensemen scoring with 138 points total -only behind the San Jose Sharks who’s blueliners have a total of 141 points. During the 6-4 win against Vancouver this past week, defensemen garnered four points in the win. Defense can help win championships and defensemen who can put points on the scoreboard are just the thing to help propel the Rangers deeper into the postseason this year-if they keep playing well and don’t melt away like ice in the springtime.