Welcome back to the second edition of Rangers Ups and Downs. where we look at the past month of games and see what was good, what was bad, and, potentially, what was weird. November was definitely a weird month in Rangerstown (is that still a thing?) as the Blueshirts suffered a terrible Western Canada road trip, won a game against the Florida Panthers that they probably shouldn’t have, and then decided to be one of the best teams in the league. In the middle of all of that, COVID decided to rear its ugly head and force two postponed games.
The Record: 11-2-2* (3rd in the Metropolitan)
*two games postponed due to COVID
The Kids Are Alright
Through the first month or so of the season, the Rangers’ young forwards; Kaapo Kakko, Alexis Lafrenière and Filip Chytil had not come out of the gates roaring the way everyone expected them to. With the Rangers offense sputtering overall, there was a lot of digital ink spilled over the play of the youngest players on the roster. As the calendar turned to November, the Rangers found themselves trudging through a legitimately putrid Western Canada road trip. Then they had to survive a game against the Florida Panthers. After few days off, head coach Gerard Gallant changed his lines up moving Kaapo Kakko up to play with Ryan Strome and Artemiy Panarin in an attempt to get all three guys going offensively. The change he made was to assemble a third line of Alexis Lafrenière on the left, Filip Chytil down the middle, and Julien Gauthier. These shifts in the line combos worked in short order as the Rangers went on a streak of playing legitimately good hockey powered by that third line that cranked out a 51.38 CF% and a whopping 67.45 xGF% over the nine games they played together in November (data at 5 on 5 and adjusted for venue and score and courtesy of evolving-hockey.com). As for Kakko, he scored his first goal of the season in a game against the Devils and never looked back, putting up six points during the season’s 2nd month and has looked every bit the player we all expected when he was drafted 2nd overall in 2018.
I don’t really know what to say about Chris Kreider’s November. The big winger put up 8 goals and 10 points (4 goals and 5 points at 5 on 5) through the 11 games the Blueshirts played in November and I think all but two of those goals came roughly 3 ft. from the opposing net. Kreider finished November leading the Rangers in points by a pretty decent clip and top 5 in league scoring. It’s kind of weird to see the Boxford, Massachusetts native ranking next to guys like Leon Draisaitl and Alex Ovechkin. Kreider is on some kind of tear right now and it is so much fun to watch.
Is it cheating to put Igor Shesterkin on the Ups side of things again? Maybe. Is that going to stop me from doing it all season? If he continues to play like he did in November, then absolutely not. 9 games, 8 starts, 6 wins, a .920 save%, and a 3.84 goals saved above expected (GSAx via evolving-hockey.com). We all joked that the Rangers went from one franchise goalie in Henrik Lundqvist to another one in Igor Shesterkin but...uh...not quite sure it is a joke anymore. The 25 year old Russian netminder is cementing his place among the league’s best goaltenders and is just getting started. If he keeps this up, there are going to be some serious talks about Vezina trophies at the end of the season.
COVID-19 and the NHL’s Protocols
Probably another easy and obvious inclusion but the ongoing pandemic impacted the Rangers throughout the month of November. First, the Rangers had their game against the Ottawa Senators postponed after 10 players ended up on the NHL’s COVID protocol list. Then the crosstown rival New York Islanders suffered through a COVID outbreak of their own as 8 players ended up on the protocol just in time for the team to open up their fancy new arena. Now, the prudent thing for the league to do would have been to postpone those opening games but why would they give up that sweet, sweet HRR in the name of player safety? No, instead they decided to postpone the games after the Isles’ homestand, including a game at Madison Square Garden. All in all, just a terrible situation for the NHL that the Rangers got caught up in this past month.
The Western Canadian road trips are always...weird. This year it was downright dreadful as the Rangers played their worst hockey of the season against the Vancouver Canucks (2-1 OT loss), the Edmonton Oilers (6-5 OT loss), and the Calgary Flames (6-0 drubbing). It was, without a doubt, the lowest point of the season to date for the Rangers as the team looked lost in all areas of the ice and Igor Shesterkin looked “good” instead of his normal godly self. Hey, at least we got an amazing Connor McDavid goal out of it?
Speaking of that Connor McDavid goal...Alexandar Georgiev. As good as Igor Shesterkin has been to start the season, Georgiev has really struggled and that was extenuated in November. The Bulgarian goaltender started 4 games in November, winning just one of them and he ended up getting pulled after 40 minutes in his last start against the Sabres. All of this adds up to a .845 sav% and an eye-popping -6.09 GSAx and the development of questions regarding Georgiev’s job status as the Rangers’ backup goalie, especially as both Keith Kinkaid and Adam Huska have been solid with Hartford to start their campaign. Hopefully Georgie can find his game again and get things back on track but, so far, the 2021-22 season has not been kind to everyone’s favorite Bulgarian netminder.
Well, there you have it. Another month in the books and as the calendar shifts to December the Rangers look to be figuring things out under new coach Gerard Gallant. See you all again in 2022 and see how things look after the holiday season!