The Rangers had plenty of reason to start off slow. New coaching staff, new systems, several new faces, five of their first seven tilts on the road, a pair of top-six forwards missing more than half their games, etc. However, they managed to sandwich a 4-0-1 run between a couple of 5-1 stinkers and are sitting pretty in the Metro a couple weeks in. While their record is solid on the surface it's not entirely indicative of how this squad has played so far. Let's dig in…
Offensively, the Blueshirts are struggling on all fronts. If you compare their top-ten offense from last season to this one so far, you'll see their 5x5 expected goals for is identical but they're actually clicking at a full goal less per-60. Why? Well not only are they putting less pucks on net but they're finishing at a mere 6.15% clip (7th-worst) compared to last year's 9.32% (6th-best). That's four tallies they've missed out on so far. Their power play tells a similar story - same expected goals for but they're not generating as many high-quality chances on top of shooting an abysmal 7% (the league median is almost double that). They're simply leaving a lot on the table early on but the scales always balance themselves eventually.
I dunno what's up with Artemi Panarin. Just seems "off" and making more mistakes than usual. 4 points through 7 games is a dismal slump for a guy who's scored at a 1.3 PPG pace since he got here. Hell I'd guarantee he hasn't had a 7 game stretch of just 4 points in either of his past two years. A -4, worst among all NYR forwards, is concerning too. This is a guy who's absolutely dominated 5x5 yet so far can't get anything going other than a mere secondary apple in over 100 minutes. Let me make this clear - Panarin is the last name on this roster I'm worried about over the course of an entire season. Right now though, at least by his own proven standards, he's been bad but he's not alone.
Where the kids at? Lafreniere, Kakko & Chytil have combined for 3 goals in 17 games played. I know Kakko's been hurt but if none of these key future cogs are gonna make a significant leap this season then this squad simply isn't deep enough to sustain legitimate success. Especially for the #1 and #2 draft picks getting top-six minutes next to either Zibanejad or Panarin. At least one of those two has to show some star ability yet all we've seen so far is goose eggs from Kakko & Lafreniere getting called out by his coach for what boils down to a lack of effort. Yikes.
While it's no secret Igor Shesterkin is the biggest reason the Rangers sit inside the top-10 in goals against, their top two defensive pairs have also been very good. Fox and Lindgren have essentially picked up where they left off last season but Trouba and Miller have raised their game a ton. So far they've gone toe-to-toe with Gallant's top duo in terms of 5x5 defensive metrics and that's all you can ask for. That bottom pair though…well, it's been a shit show. Patrik Nemeth was billed as a reliable defender who sometimes played higher on depth charts than he should have but would be just fine rounding out a D corps. So far he's been nothing short of a latter day Marc Staal clone.
He's among the worst across the league analytically and would handle pucks equally as well with his stick upside down. Nemeth had an unbelievably bad giveaway Monday night to hand - literally - the Flames a 2-0 lead on a silver platter. Bringing zero offense is no surprise but he's simultaneously making the opponents' offense better too. Not exactly a good position for their top prospect to gain a shred of confidence while getting his feet wet. Instead Nils has looked out of place more often than not. A new partner (sup Zac Jones) might be necessary if NY is expecting Lundkvist to do anything other than barely tread water. As a pair their CF% sits at 39%. Without Nemeth, Lundkvist jumps to 48% while the veteran plummets to 33% without the rook. I understand the undersized and inexperienced tandem of Nils/Jones isn't ideal but it factually couldn't be any worse.
I couldn't find a seamless way to include them, but I love me some Sammy Blais and Dryden Hunt. Both have been as advertised. Complete and utter, relentless pains in the asses who simply do not stop. Blais has sneaky skill while Hunt is as reliable a fourth-liner as you can ask for. They certainly provide the sandpaper element this team has been missing - but they're not gonna transform any of the top-sixers. They're still gonna have to find a way to play tougher and win their own puck battles. Regardless, it's absolutely a positive to have responsible and impactful forward depth.
Gallant and his gang are back at it Friday vs Columbus before heading out on another road swing that kicks off with visits to Seattle and Vancouver. Not exactly the most daunting schedule ahead. With a few days rest and the boys seemingly back to full strength it's the perfect time for the Rangers to not only continue racking up points but to start doing so convincingly.