A lot of teams have been surprising this season and a big part of the job is sorting out which clubs are for real and which clubs are going through flashes of brilliance. Add the New York Rangers to the list, as they’ve been rocketing through some stellar play as of late.
The problem here is that this is supposed to be a team on the rebuild. Or reload.
Look just about anywhere among the hockey rags and you’ll find a thinkpiece about how this incarnation of the Rangers, young as they are, can’t possibly sustain this kind of winning expertise. The team is too fresh-faced, too dependent on Henrik Lundqvist to pull them out of jams, too low on star power.
Ahead of Thursday’s game against the Ottawa Senators, the Rangers are third in the Metropolitan Division with a 13-10-2 record. They’ve got 75 goals for and 76 goals against, but they’ve managed to work out wins and are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games.
A lot of that has to do with youth, of course. Players like Brett Howden and Filip Chytel have been energizing the squad. Howden has 13 points in 24 games, including four goals. The 20-year-old has been responding well to rookie coach David Quinn, who seems to be the right man for the job on Broadway.
Quinn, by the way, has been unafraid of taking roster chances. He’s made sure to put his best squad on the ice each night, going so far as to scratch Kevin Shattenkirk earlier this year.
There’s also Chris Kreider, who looks to be having a breakout year. He’s got 21 points in 25 outings, including 13 goals, and could really shake things up. The 27-year-old has hit 28 goals before, in 2016-2017, and can positively top that this season.
Mika Zibanejad is second on the team in scoring, with 21 points in 25 games. He’s been adapting to a new shutdown role and that’s impacted his upper-level scoring. Zibanejad’s newfound grouping with Jesper Fast and Vladislav Namestnikov has put him up against the opposition’s top lines and that’s all part of Quinn’s redefining of his hockey club.
Of course, most credit Lundqvist for the Blueshirts’ success. The netminder has been great again this season, posting a .921 save percentage and a 2.60 goals against average. But there has been, believe it or not, chatter against starting Lundqvist so often.
The argument is that the veteran superstar should not be starting so many games on a club that is rebuilding. But every club wants to win, even rebuilding ones (see: Vancouver), and things happen that can transform the entire nature of a so-called rebuild. Why a young team shouldn’t get to play in front of a goaltender they can trust is beyond me, but sometimes “sustainability” isn’t the only conceivable methodology.
Lundqvist’s play is often fatefully cited as THE reason the Rangers aren’t justifiable as a consistently successful club. Evidently, the trend toward younger, faster, “better” should be executed as soon as possible to ensure “sustainability” as a team model. In other words, if you’re not getting younger, you’re getting worse. And Lundqvist has simply been too good to illustrate how bad these Rangers apparently really are.
Will New York eventually run out of gas? Yes. All hockey teams do. All sports teams do. Nothing is forever. But should a club sacrifice winning now for winning later? And should “apprehension” be a business model? Or should the Rangers enjoy the ride, let the young stars shine, maintain faith in a stellar goaltender, and play some hockey without worrying about the flavour of the next thinkpiece?