3 Keys to the New York Rangers Second Half

Photo via NYR Twitter

With 8 days off since their last game, the Rangers get back in action against the Colorado Avalanche on Monday night at Madison Square Garden. Here are three things to look for as the Rangers attempt to grow their narrow lead in the Metropolitan Division and head into the playoffs firing on all cylinders.

Goaltending:

Goaltending is always the top story with this iteration of the Rangers, and this year is no different. Can Igor Shesterkin regain his form and help carry the team deeper in the playoffs than last year? If the Rangers are going to be a threat to win the Stanley Cup at all, Shesterkin must lead the way. His .899 save percentage is by far the worst of his career, but perhaps more troubling, he has looked lost for long stretches of the season so far. All eyes will be on him bouncing back after his second All-Star game appearance.

Can Jonathan Quick just keep doing what he’s doing? The Rangers success this year has been despite the play of Shesterkin, not because of it. Jonathan Quick is a big reason why. His .915 save percentage and 10 wins have contributed mightily to the Rangers position atop the Metropolitan Division. Can the Rangers count on continued excellence from their 38-year-old goalie?

Trade Deadline:

As mentioned here, Ranger fans have been speculating about the moves the team will or won’t make ahead of the March 8th trade deadline. If history is any indication, the Rangers are unlikely to stay quiet. Some notable upgrades for the top nine forwards remain, but there isn’t a Patrick Kane-esque deal being talked about. Instead, much of the discussion has been around a host of solid performers, each of whom can help the Rangers in some way.

In the lead-up to the deadline, it will be interesting to see how the active players on the roster, namely Kappo Kakko, whose name comes up frequently in trade speculation, handle the scrutiny. If Kakko can get going, his size and willingness to go into the corners in the offensive zone make him a valuable component down the stretch and into the playoffs. His injury, combined with limited points production, however, have put the spotlight on his development (or lack thereof) and how he responds to this increased pressure will have an impact on the team as a whole.

Team Defense:

The Rangers’ hot start was fueled by strong team defense, which they were able to use to both shield their goalies from high-danger chances and create offensive opportunities on the back end of defensive plays. Over the last 25 games, that strong, structured approach has given way to a tendency to give up too many chances against.

To truly be hitting their stride heading into the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Rangers will need to re-focus on team defense and use that structure from which to generate their offense. First and foremost, being more structured in the neutral and defensive zones makes the Rangers harder to play against, an intangible that is thought of as critical in the playoffs. Secondly, it is the best way to protect their goaltenders from overexposure to the types of high-danger chances that can be a killer to not only the scoreboard but a goalie’s outlook as well.

The Rangers’ hot start has them well-positioned coming out of the All-Star break. But their play in their last 25 games tells a slightly different story. To right the ship, goaltending, their moves at the trade deadline and team defense are the keys to getting back into form. With games against the Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning in the coming week, fans will begin to see how the Rangers will address these issues.

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