Last postseason when the Rangers were on their magical run to the Stanley Cup Finals, I penned articles molded similarly to Elliotte Friedman's '30 thoughts' columns. While I certainly will not be writing nearly as many thoughts nearly as often as Friedman, the current Rangers eight-game winning streak has inspired me to compile some thoughts related to the Blueshirts.
1. During this eight-game winning streak the Rangers have beaten the following teams with the following standing in NHL points: Pittsburgh Penguins (3), Vancouver Canucks (14), Edmonton Oilers (30), Calgary Flames (17), Carolina Hurricanes twice (29), Washington Capitals (16), and the New Jersey Devils (27). That's good for an average standing of 21st in the NHL in points. So yes, the Rangers have taken care of the easy teams, but that should not stop anyone from praising the team during this streak. This is the longest win streak for the franchise since 1974-1975, and while the Rangers should have beaten the worst of the NHL, that doesn't mean the worst of the NHL wasn't about to show up to play.
Think about the win over the Devils last night for example. as the Devils had just fired their Head Coach and debuted a three headed coaching tandem that wanted a statement win over their arch-rivals. With both sides coming off of a break to halt the Rangers momentum a bit, the narratives were in the Devils favor. Despite that, Henrik Lundqvist stood tall, Derek Stepan netted a hat trick, and the Rangers out-played and out-worked an inferior team for the victory.
2. Speaking of Henrik Lundqvist, he found his game earlier in the season than usual. After his typical rocky start, Lundqvist has given up two or fewer goals in six consecutive games, earning the win in all six. In addition, Lundqvist has eleven three-goals or more against games this season, compared to fifteen three-goals against or more games at this time last season.
In his last twenty games, Lundqvist has a 12-5-3 record with a 2.11 GAA, .925 save percentage, and five shutouts. If Lundqvist keeps that up the Rangers will find themselves continuing to win consistently.
3. Speaking of winning, with their eighth consecutive win last night the Rangers pulled to within five points of the Islanders for second in the Metro division, and seven points of the Penguins for first. The Rangers have two games in hand on both of their rivals, and play the Islanders four more times this season. It;s way too early to talk about standings and the post-season, but I'm going to do it anyway. The idea that the Rangers are out of the division-race, or cannot catch the Penguins is silly, and this team has me feeling confident moving forward.
4. A huge reason for that confidence is the way the Rangers have played when healthy. The stats do not lie, and the Rangers have been a completely different team when healthy compared to when players have been out with injury. New York is 11-3-2 with Dan Boyle in the lineup, 14-6-1 with Ryan McDonagh in the lineup, 9-1 with both McDonagh and Boyle in the lineup, and 2-2-1 with neither in the lineup. While a small sample size for sure, the Rangers have been nearly unstoppable with their defense fully healthy.
5. Another player that was hurt early in the season and came back to contribute in a big way is Derek Stepan. Since Stepan's return the Rangers are 13-6-2, while Stepan has tallied 22 points in 21 games, good for over a point per game. To put that into context, the likes of John Tavares, Alexander Ovechkin, Jamie Benn, and Jonathan Toews have failed to produce a point per game this season, though in a larger sample size.
Stepan has been considered a second-line center at best by many critics and is due for a contract extension at the end of the season. With his two-way play, penalty killing ability, and point production this season, the 24-year old pivot is playing his way into a huge new contract, and deservedly so. Personally the idea of Stepan playing as a #1 center and making #1 center money is more appealing than Stepan's playing as a fringe #1 or solid #2 and making #1 money anyway. Seems like a no-brainer.
6. On December 20th last season the Rangers were in 10th place in the Eastern Conference with only 34 points. Since that date the Rangers went onto tally the third most points in the NHL, riding that momentum all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. A highly optimistic way of looking at this eight-game winning streak is that it is the time in the season that the Rangers are bursting out, similar to last season. Perhaps this years 'December 20th' is December 6th, when the Rangers were defeated by the Detroit Red Wings after blowing a two goal lead. If the Rangers can play like they did last season after they got rolling, this team will go places.
7. Last thought is about depth. Last season the Rangers were able to put their fourth line on the ice in all situations without having to worry about lapses or struggles. This season the Rangers jumbled around their lines trying to find the right fits, but appear to have the fourth line under control once again. With Kevin Hayes proving to be a quality NHL third-line center, J.T. Miller belonging in the NHL (someone tell Alain Vigneault this) and Jesper Fast showing that he belongs as well, depth has suddenly become a strength for the Blueshirts once again.
The Tanner Glass getting playing time issue remains, but hopefully Vigneault will see that three of Anthony Duclair/Lee Stempniak/Jesper Fast belong in the lineup on a nightly basis over the woeful Glass. If not, the depth will still be there, unfortunately with one anchor on the fourth line bringing the team down. Duclair, Miller, and Fast need to play and deserve to play in the NHL, so the Rangers would be halting the development of their prospects by playing Glass over them. Lee Stempniak is a solid NHL fourth-liner that has done nothing to deserve to be scratched, while Tanner Glass is among the worst players in the NHL both statistically and by the eye-test. Hopefully the Rangers realize this sooner than later, as a Stempniak-Dominic Moore-Fast fourth line would be among the best in the NHL.