The New York Rangers must remember to forget. Despite their 20-12-4 start to the season, New York would be best served forgetting the pre-Christmas break stretch, as their play was not up to the normal standards of New York Rangers’ hockey.
The season starts Monday night in Nashville, and New York can use their running start in the standings to catapult them into further success.
While most teams would be thrilled with a 20-12-4 start, New York has not played up to expectations. The Rangers finished the pre-Christmas break portion of their schedule 4-10-1, surrendering goals at an abnormally fast pace and finding themselves breaking down defensively more than making any positive defensive plays. While Dylan McIlrath and Dan Boyle shined through during the rough patch, the majority of the Rangers roster disappointed, and the team lost their identity in the process.
With a fresh start, the Rangers can try to return to the play that brought them to the 2015 Eastern Conference Finals. As outlined previously, they returned the majority of the same roster this season, yet found themselves in great struggles over the past few weeks.
Henrik Lundqvist carried the Rangers until November 25, when their struggles began. He posted a .945 save percentage from opening night until November 25, then dropped to an .888 save percentage from November 25 to December 21.
The sour taste in Lundqvist’s mouth could cause further drop in play, but a fresh start would allow the Swedish netminder to relax and find his spot somewhere inbetween the two extremes. A .945 save percentage would be outlandishly high, while a .888 save percentage would turn an All-Star NHL goalie into an AHL backup. Lundqvist is neither of those, and moving forward he can use a fresh start to find his game.
Another pair of players that badly need a reset are Kevin Hayes and Chris Kreider. The two have combined for 12 goals and 33 points, each playing 36 games, resulting in drops in their respective play rather than the expected progression. With New York’s top six failing to contribute at the level the team needs them to, Chris Kreider must step up and grab hold of his spot during this “new season”.
Kreider scored 27 of his 46 points after the break last year, taking off in January. Kevin Hayes did not struggle early last season considering it was his rookie campaign, but he also did not play up to his full potential. Hayes found his game following the Christmas break, scoring 33 of his 45 points after the holidays.
For the team as a whole, New York can look at the roster and see a finally healthy, complete team that is capable of competing with anyone. Alain Vigneault and the coaching staff has the full complement of personnel to work with, leaving no excuses for defensive breakdowns and struggles on the ice. Derek Stepan missed ten games during the pre-break stretch, but he is healthy and able to contribute in the top six now. Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein are expected to return on defense, meaning the Rangers have seven defenseman on their roster for six spots.
With Henrik Lundqvist in net and the forward and defensive corps all healthy and ready to go, a simple reset with a 20-12-4 record could be what the Rangers need to make a run deep into the playoffs in 2016.