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Rangers Ups and Downs: The Season Begins

The Rangers kicked off the 2021-22 season this past month, let’s take a closer look at how October went.

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at New York Rangers Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to a new monthly series here at Blueshirt Banter where we dive into the previous month’s games and figure out who or what on the New York Rangers is on the way up and who has dipped down a bit. Today we are going to look back at the first month of the season; where the Rangers played nine games, looked rather uneven, and have two young, elite players on their hands.

October Record: 6-2-1, 13 points (3rd in the Metropolitan Division).

Moving On Up:

Adam Fox: After winning the Norris Trophy as the best defenseman of the 2020-21 season, Adam Fox came into the new campaign looking to continue to build upon the phenomenal start to his young career. It is safe to say that through the first nine games of this season, Adam Fox is on another level. Fox’s skating, passing, and incredible hockey I.Q. have all been on display throughout the month of October with stellar play in all three zones and he has been awarded for this with 2 goals and 9 points in the early going all while going up against other team’s top competition.

Igor Shesterkin: Coming into the 2021-22 season, the New York Rangers knew that they had their starting goaltender of the present and future in Igor Shesterkin, even if he did not start the season opener in Washington. Something tells me that they did not expect the 25 year-old Russian netminder to be this good, this quickly in the season. In Igor’s seven starts in October, he went 5-1-1 with a 1.70 GAA and a .947 sav% oftentimes keeping the Rangers in games that they had no business being in. It is still rather early but it certainly appears that the Rangers went straight from Henrik Lundqvist to Igor Shesterkin without seeing a dip in quality of play in net.

The defense: While Adam Fox has more than earned all the accolades and attention so far, the Rangers’ team defense as a whole has been solid over the first handful of games to begin the season. In what might be a bit of a surprise, both K’Andre Miller and Jacob Trouba lead the Rangers in both CF and xGF% at 5 on 5. While the bottom pairing of Nils Lundkvist and Patrick Nemeth have struggled, the top four defenders have more than held their own with forwards such as Sammy Blais and Dryden Hunt picking up the slack in their own end throughout October.

Dragging Down

Artemi Panarin: It might sound weird to put the Breadman in the “down” section, especially with his 8 points in 9 games. However, the Russian winger has not looked quite right to begin the 2021-22 campaign with just a single goal through the first nine games and only one multi-point game, a three assist effort against the Blue Jackets. On top of that, Panarin is having a negative impact on the team’s offensive process currently sitting at a 47.2 CF% and 45.99 xGF% at 5 on 5. While it is still too early to be worried, the Rangers need Panarin to turn it on and be the engine that drives the Rangers’ offense.

NHL: Calgary Flames at New York Rangers Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

The Power Play: While it has shown signs of life towards the end of the month, the New York Rangers’ power play might have been the scariest thing we saw in October. The most glaring numbers are 5 for 31, 5 power play goals in 31 attempts with a power play featuring Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Adam Fox, and Ryan Strome. Dig a little deeper and it gets worse as all 5 power play goals have been scored by one player, Kreider, and the team sits just 20th in the league in power play CF% though they are 11th in PP xGF%. The power play played a key cog in running the Rangers offense over the last few seasons but the formation and strategy has grown rather predictable and needs to start clicking if the Blueshirts really want to make noise through the rest of the season.

NHL: Calgary Flames at New York Rangers Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

The Offense: To put it bluntly, the Rangers offense has been very not good to start the season. While the team has, more or less, been able to limit the shots and chances against the Blueshirts have had issues actually generating any kind of offensive flow in the early going. The Rangers are currently running a 47.72 CF% (22nd overall) and a 49.25 xGF% (20th in the league) at 5 on 5 according to evolving-hockey.com and are having issues keeping the puck in the opposing end at all phases of play. While the focus is on players like Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad, younger players like Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko have not had the smoothest starts to the new campaign.

Overall, the Rangers got through the first month of the season in large part due to the heroics of Igor Shesterkin and the surprisingly steady play of their defense. While the offense did have to make do without Ryan Strome and Kaapo Kakko for a couple of games, the offense has some catching up to do as the season really gets into full swing with 14 games in November.