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This is Exactly What the Rangers Needed

The Rangers’ big winning streak has them back on track after an inconsistent start to the season.

New York Rangers v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

A few weeks ago, I wrote that the New York Rangers were facing a critical inflection point. At the time, their record was an unimpressive 10-8-4, and their results were starting to become a consequence of deteriorating process in addition to maddeningly bad luck.

Fast-forward to the present, and the Rangers sit with a much more solid record of 18-10-5, meaning they have gone 8-2-1 since the inflection point with which I diagnosed them. More notably, they have won seven games in a row, the most recent of which was a 7-1 bludgeoning of the Chicago Blackhawks. After an up-and-down start to the season where they just could not string together a few wins in a row to gain some comfort in the standings, this long winning streak is exactly what the Rangers needed.

As was alluded to, the Blueshirts have certainly experienced quite a bit of bad luck this season; their performance in the first few weeks was very solid overall, but they were not getting consistent results. Then their performance started to slip, and the up-and-down results continued.

Funnily enough, their underlying play has not been particularly strong during this streak in which they’ve solidified their position in the standings. For the entire season, the Rangers rank 14th in the league with a five-on-five expected goals for percentage (xGF%) of 51.28 percent, per Natural Stat Trick. I.e., they are about middle-of-the-road when it comes to generating more and higher-quality scoring chances than their opponents. During the seven-game winning streak, however, they have actually been much worse in that regard, ranking way down at 28th in the league with a paltry mark of 43.29 percent.

So, why have they been winning regularly despite not playing particularly well all the time? It’s a few things. The luck has turned the other way, in a classic case of regression to the mean. Case in point: The Rangers’ five-on-five shooting percentage over the past seven games is 13.29 percent — second-best in the league.

In additon, New York’s five-on-five team save percentage during that span is a sparkling .936. I.e., elite-level Igor Shesterkin has returned. Their power play has also caught fire again, operating at an absurd 50-percent clip during the winning streak. The unorthodox formula for last year’s success seems to have returned.

If only the Rangers could have their previously good underlying play and their currently immaculate vibes going on at the same time...but alas, it seems we can only have one.

All jokes aside, long-term, the Rangers would of course be better-served to get back to strong underlying play. They can start by getting back to optimal line combinations (e.g., move Barclay Goodrow back to the bottom six, keep Vitali Kravtsov in the lineup, break up the Kid Line despite how fun they can be, etc.). Then they can address the hole that is the sixth defenseman slot (sorry, but Ben Harpur and Libor Hajek probably won’t cut it for a team with lofty aspirations). And of course, the team needs to maintain good health (let’s hope Filip Chytil is not sidelined long-term).

For now, though, the Rangers badly needed some concrete results to instill some renewed confidence and to ensure they didn’t slip too far down the standings as they approach the halfway-point of the regular season. They’ve gotten exactly that, so now they can focus on riding the momentum while still looking to improve their underlying play.