The Runner Sports

New York Rangers Season in Review

Now that the dust has settled after their disappointing exit from the playoffs, let’s look back at a very interesting season from the New York Rangers. Losing in the second round to a team many thought they were better than, and the heartbreaking way they lost those games, will leave a bad taste for the offseason. It seemed like a series they should have won, especially after looking so great in the first round versus Montreal. Losing the way they did stinks.

However, if I told you before the season that this team would put up 102 points and beat Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs, I think most people would have been okay with that.

Think about it for a second. Last year, the Rangers had 101 points, finished third in the Metropolitan division, and rolled over in a five-game defeat by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. They looked old and flawed in that series. The offense was lacking a big time scorer. Dan Girardi and Marc Staal looked way past their primes, maybe Hank was on the downturn of his career as well. Many anticipated that loss would be a wake-up call for GM Jeff Gorton to finally break up the group that went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014, and won the President’s Trophy in 2015.

However, when the fall came, the same core of players returned, only one year older. They added some young talent, with the likes of Mika Zibanejad, Pavel Buchnevich, Jimmy Vesey, and promoting Brady Skjei full-time. The defense, whose overall lack of puck playing abilities doomed them before, lost a good puck handler and offensive contributor in Keith Yandle and did nothing about Girardi or Staal. Nick Holden was an under the radar pickup, but he was not expected to play on the top pair.

So the same questions they had after last season’s early exit were not addressed so much:

  • How effective would Henrik Lundqvist be, now in his 12th season in net for the Blueshirts?
  • Where would the scoring come from?
  • Was trading Derek Brassard for the younger, cheaper Mika Zibanjed going to solve their problems?
  • How would they replace Keith Yandle?
  • What would be with the blueliners behind Ryan McDonagh?

Predictions in the fall had them generally fighting for a Wild Card spot and maybe winning a round or two. Their odds to win the cup were 35-1, compared to 10-1 for Pittsburgh and 12-1 for Washington.

To start the season, the Rangers came out unbelievably hot. They played fast, were scoring goals at an incredible rate. Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, and Kevin Hayes all had career years. Even with Mika Zibanejad out with an injury, the offense produced goals at an incredible rate. Girardi and Staal both rebounded, while Brady Skjei was proving himself as a formidable NHL defensemen. Nick Holden was fantastic, he even scored some big goals including an OT winner in Chicago. They had positioned themselves on the top of the standings.

On January 7, through 41 games, half of the season, they were 2nd in the NHL with 57 points and 27 wins, only 3 points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets. That was way ahead of what everyone expected. As late as January 19, the Rangers led the league in goals-for and had a goal differential of +37.

Then came the second half of the season, and all of those initial concerns were dead on. The team everyone predicted they would be, showed up. A decent team who struggled to score and relied on superb goaltending to keep them in games.  Staal and Girardi started showing their age again. Lundqvist struggled. Nick Holden, had a complete drop-off and became a defensive liability.

For their final 41 games, they played to a record of 20-15-5. That’s .500 hockey. They were 18th in the league in points over that span. Their goal differential was even. They were 21st in goals scored and 17th in goals allowed. Because of this, they slid into fourth in the stacked Metropolitan division, but plenty comfortable in the first Wild Card spot, which they pretty much locked up about two months before the season ended.  It wasn’t that they went into a slump, more than they just went back to being who everyone thought they were.

Throughout the whole season, their play on the road was fantastic, finishing best in the league with 27 road wins. Meanwhile, they only won 21 games at home and at a point even had a stretch where they lost seven straight home games. For some reason, they were a different team on the road, trying to get out to fast start, play hard, and quiet the crowd. While at home, they often tried to play cute and finesse game, with little urgency, to no avail.

Then came the playoffs where the Rangers put on the same façade. In the first round, down 2-1 against the Montreal Canadiens, a gritty and physical team, they came back and won the next three games, in very impressive fashion. That had everyone dreaming big for this team. Maybe they had one last run in them? One last golden opportunity to get Lundqvist his cup.

Going into the Ottawa series, many picked them to win handily (I called Rangers in 5). But, once again the old Rangers came back. The defense struggled and Lundqvist let in some bad goals, not able to stand on his head and steal a game anymore. Their regular season offensive leaders were all no-shows, especially JT Miller and Chris Kreider. And it was not unexpected that Marc Staal, Nick Holden, and Dan Girardi would be on the ice for some critical goals against. It was just that the goals came with blown leads and overtime defeats.

And again within the series, two different teams showed up. The first two games in Ottawa were ugly and ended in crushing defeats. The next two at home, they once again played hard, and simply dominated to even the series. Then the bad team resurfaced for the end of Game 5 and the entire Game 6. Truth is, they were lucky to even have a lead in some of the games they lost, and then unlucky the way they ended.

It would normally be at least a little comforting to see that the team that eliminated you is really playing well in the next series. Ottawa already won Game 1 in Pittsburgh and is giving the defending champs a handful. However, it is too easy to look at that series and say “That should have been us.”

Blame the coach for misusing his bench, blame the team for their lackluster play, but mostly blame ourselves for believing in this group time and time again after they fooled us into thinking they somehow were just better than everyone thought. But, when it came down to it, they were exactly what everyone thought they were.