It’s been a tale of two seasons in the first sixteen games for the New York Rangers. With the finishing touches still being put on the newly renovated Madison Square Garden, the team played its first nine games on the road, five out west. Thus, they stumbled to a 2-6 record, getting outscored 31 to 12. Even with the team playing under a new system and coach in Alain Vigneault, it’s inexcusable to play like that, especially if you’re a team that expects to be serious contenders for the Stanley Cup.
The only explanation and silver lining at the time for the Blueshirts was the piling amount of injuries the team has sustained to key players. Captain Ryan Callahan and speedster Carl Hagelin both had shoulder surgery in the offseason, knocking them out for quite a while. Callahan returned earlier than expected, but returned to the IR after breaking his thumb on October 16th.
A week earlier, winger Rick Nash sustained a concussion on a hit by Sharks defenseman Brad Stuart, a moment that epitomized the Rangers’ embarrassing 9-2 loss in San Jose and overall the entire opening trip out west. Nash, New York’s leading scorer last season, has been out ever since and there is no telling when he’ll be back.
Fortunately, the dust is finally starting to settle. The Rangers have won six of their last eight, a complete reversal to climb within the top three of a horrible division. A lot of it has to do with the return of dominant goal-tending by Henrik Lundqvist, who missed a few games due to an unknown injury. He’s allowed just five goals in his past five games.
Plenty of the credit however, is due to the offense as they’ve outscored their opponents 20 to eight over their last six games, an average differential of two goals per game Compare that to being outscored 26 to 12 over the first eight games of the year, a 1.75 average differential per game.
You could thank the return of Hagelin and Callahan for this new-found offensive success. Hagelin made his return and season debut on October 29th against the Islanders and has four goals and three assists in the seven games while tallying a +6 rating. Callahan returned this past Monday and has tallied two goals and two assists while putting up a +4 rating in three games. He’s also brought back his invaluable defensive presence, blocking six shots and tallying 14 hits.
Still, saying Hagelin, Callahan, and Lundqvist are the reason this team’s improved performance still isn’t telling the whole story. A few unlikely faces have stepped up and have delivered for the Blueshirts with the injuries and struggles of their normal stars.
After the team waived long-time backup goaltender Marty Biron, they brought up 26 year-old rookie Cam Talbot to fill in for the injured King. In four starts since the call-up from Hartford, he’s delivered four very good performances. He’s 3-1-0, as he’s stopped 111 of 119 shots on goal, good for a 1.97 GAA. If he keeps us solid play backing up Lundqvist, all the better. They need a competent backup to keep the pressure off Hank.
Leading the Rags’ offensive surge is the shining new line of Derek Stepan, Mats Zuccarello, and Chris Kreider. Desperate for a spark, Coach Vigneault put the three together after Kreider was called up from Hartford on October 21st. Since the overtime victory in Detroit that started this run, the trio that fans on Reddit and Twitter are creatively dubbing Run-D.M.C. (Derek, Mats, Chris) have combined for six goals, 14 assists, and a +11 rating. The Rangers’ patience for all three is starting to pay off.
Another guy who is breaking out over this stretch is Ryan McDonagh. The 24 year-old is surprisingly the team’s third leading scorer and he too has been apart of this six of eight streak, picking up three goals, four assists, and a +4 rating. Like Callahan, he’s been bringing physical play as well, blocking eight shots and collecting nine hits. Twice on Monday he sent Corey Perry into the bench in 12 seconds, g
etting under the Ducks’ star’s skin. He’s clearly been the team’s best defensemen and his play could earn him a spot on Team USA.
The only guy that remains that the Rangers need is Nash. They need to be patient with him, but when he comes back, whenever that is, it’ll make the Rangers and even more dangerous opponent. Even with him out, they still have enough to score and win games.