How Far Can Special Teams, Star Power Propel the Rangers?

New York Rangers, Mika Zibanejad #93 (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
New York Rangers, Mika Zibanejad #93 (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The New York Rangers are in a favorable position as January approaches its midpoint.

With a record of 23-10-4, the Rangers are in second place in the Metropolitan Division, tied in points with the Carolina Hurricanes (24-7-2). The Washington Capitals (20-8-9) follow one point behind, while the Pittsburgh Penguins sit three points back of New York.

Overall, I don’t think the Rangers could ask for much more at this stage of the season. Everyone knew that the Metro would be extremely competitive, so to enter the Christmas break in a playoff position is exactly where the club would want to be, as it looks to take a step forward in 2022 after narrowly missing the postseason in 2021.

Special teams have been one of the driving forces for the Rangers. Both the power play and the penalty kill rank in the top ten in the NHL, as New York is scoring 22.9% of the time that it has the man advantage and killing off opposing advantages 85.2% of the time. Efficiency like that in key areas of the game will help any club climb up the standings.

The question here, is can the Rangers maintain such a high level of play in the special teams department? Goaltender Igor Shesterkin is third in the league in save percentage (.936) after recording a save percentage of .916 a year ago. The increase is surely one reason that the penalty kill has improved this year, and the young goalie will need to continue his solid production to keep the Rangers’ PK unit in the top five (it currently ranks fourth).

On the power play side, forward Chris Kreider is a player, like Shesterkin on the kill, that will need to continue his dominance. Kreider has recorded 12 goals and 17 points on the power play this year to exceed his totals from last season. That goal total is double that of the next closest mark by a Rangers skater, and it ranks second in the NHL. His ability to contribute at that level is clearly a key moving forward for the New York power play.

In addition to special teams, New York has gotten incredible production out of its top players. Kreider leads the team in goals (21) and ranks fourth in points (32). Forward Artemi Panarin and defenseman Adam Fox lead the Rangers with 36 points each. Rounding out the top five are Mika Zibanejad (33) and Ryan Strome (26).

After that, only four other players have recorded double-digit points, so the Rangers have relied heavily on a handful of elite players. That’s no need to panic, as most teams would be lost without their top skaters, but for New York to be viewed as a real playoff threat, or even as a playoff team, given how tight the Metro is, these elite talents will need to continue to produce at a high rate.

The Rangers need to make filling out the roster a priority as the trade deadline begins to creep closer. Depth is a key piece of the puzzle when it comes to winning in the playoffs, so the Rangers need to find some additional support farther down the lineup. Again, only nine skaters have double-digit points on the year, so finding a way to add players that allow for scoring to come from more than just the top one or two lines will be important.

Looking ahead, the Rangers still have a lot to prove, as 10 of the 11 games that this squad has scheduled with the Hurricanes, Capitals, and Penguins have yet to be played. More immediately, New York will finish off a five-game road trip, then return home to face the talented Toronto Maple Leafs. That type of remaining schedule could either put the Rangers on the map, or take them out of contention, and it will be intriguing to watch what unfolds for this team.

The first few months of this season have been good to the New York Rangers, and to be talking about them as a team that needs to maintain top ten special teams units and add depth scoring is already a win for a franchise that hasn’t won a postseason series since 2017. Nevertheless, to become a legitimate playoff threat once again, the Rangers still have work to do.