What they are playing for in the last 11 games

The New York Rangers saluting the crowd at Madison Square Garden (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The New York Rangers saluting the crowd at Madison Square Garden (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

With 11 games left in the season, it’s worth a look to see what the New York Rangers have to play for.  The goal for the team is clear, first or second place and although winning the Division is going to be a challenge, second place looks pretty good right now.  We’ll have more to say about that after Thursday’s game with the Penguins.

Let’s dive into the Rangers’ players and what they are trying to achieve as the season winds down.  Permit us to have  a little fun with some of the entries.

Chris Kreider: 50 goals

That’s the first target for Kreider and he has 11 games to get three goals.  He’s already set franchise records for power play and game winning goals, so it’s the big one that is still waiting. It would be a huge disappointment if he doesn’t become the fourth Ranger player to hit the magic 50 goal number.

Let’s not rule out a chance for him to set the franchise record for goals, tying or exceeding the 54 goals scored by Jaromir Jagr in 2005-06.  So, three goals in 11 games for 50.  Seven goals in 11 games for 54.

Artemi Panarin:  100  points

Artemi Panarin has 84 points in 66 games and if he hadn’t missed some games due to COVID, he’d be a lock to be the seventh New York Ranger to get to the century mark.   Can he get 16 points in 11 games?   He’s averaging 1.27 points per game this season and that equates to 14 more points, two short.   Can he do it?  He’s had one five-point game and one four-point game this season and has had three points in a game eight times this season.   Note that he did have 17 points in a 10-game stretch in March.

Panarin has already set a personal high with 65 assists this season and his career high of 95 points in his first season in New York is also very reachable.

Igor Shesterkin: A Vezina Trophy

All of the chatter about Igor Shesterkin as a Hart Trophy candidate has subsided, but now even the Vezina Trophy is not a lock.  He’s got some competition in Frederik Andersen of the Carolina Hurricanes who has more wins (33 to 32),  a better goals against average (2.07 to 2.14) and a comparable save percentage (.926 to .933).

Meanwhile, Jacob Markstrom, Tristan Jarry and Andrei Vasilevskiy are lurking, with inferior numbers, but close to the top.   Shesterkin has been pretty good over the past few weeks, but not as dominant as he had been most of the season.

If Shesterkin can maintain that .933 save percentage, it will be the 11th best in the NHL among goalies who debuted in 1955-56 or later. Jacque Plante’s .944 may be out of reach, but Igor could crack the top ten if he goes on a run.

Mika Zibanejad:  2 personal bests

Mika Zibanejad has a chance to reach two personal bests this season. He has tied his career high in assists with 44 so there is no doubt he will demolish that personal record and there is little doubt that he will top his personal high of 75 points in a season as he has 71 points with 11 games left.   He also has a chance to exceed his best faceoff percentage.  He won 52% of his draws in 2016-17 and this season he has won 51.8% of his faceoffs.

Jacob Trouba:  1 more goal, no more fights

Jacob Trouba has tied his career high with 10 goals and one more will give him a personal best.  As for fights, he leads the team with six fighting majors and most have come aafter he has thrown a huge, legal body check.  He is getting a reputation as the best bodychecker in the NHL and it would be nice for him to get a few more big hits in this season without having to worry about defending himself from an assault that won’t draw an instigator penalty.

Ryan Strome:  A big payday

When the Rangers couldn’t come to an agreement on a contract extension at the deadline, it means that Strome will be testing the free agent waters. He is coming off a contract that pays him an AAV of $4.5 million and considering his production, that’s a bargain.

55 NHL centers make more money than Ryan Strome. Over the last three seasons, just 18 centers have had more points than Strome, he’s been that good.

Even in this cap-limited NHL, somebody will be willing to ante up the $5-6 million it will take to sign him. That will be too rich for the Rangers.

Andrew Copp: A big raise (hopefully in NY)

Andrew Copp is headed to UFA status and had the good timing to have his best season in his walk year. He has achieved personal bests with 16 goals and 44 points and has been excellent since coming to the Rangers with three goals and nine points in eight games.

He is coming off a one-year deal with Winnipeg that paid him $3.64 million.  He had to file for arbitration to get that much from the Jets. The question is whether he will remain in an affordable range for the Blueshirts who could try to snare him as their second line center.   There are three things in the Rangers’ favor.  First, they can negotiate with him before any other team can talk to him.  Second, he may realize that if he signs a two year deal he could be in line for a much bigger payday when the cap increased by benefiting from playing with Artemi Panarin.  Third, he has been reunited with his longtime buddy in Jacob Trouba and you never know how much that counts.

Alexandar Georgiev: A nice contract with a different team

There’s no doubt that Alexandar Georgiev’s days in a Rangers uniform are numbered.  His $2.4 million cap hit is just too much and he wants to be the number one.  You can be sure that Chris Drury will try to accommodate him once the season is over.   The Rangers will have to make a qualifying offer equal to his current salary before the UFA window opens.   If not, be becomes a free agent.

He’s won five straight starts and his numbers are steadily improving.  He should get three or four more starts this season and how he plays in his remaining games will help determine how competitive the market for his services will be

Alexis Lafrenière:  A power play goal

Alexis Lafrenière has played 125 NHL games in his first two seasons.  Incredibly, he has yet to score a power play goal and has only one power play assist on his resume.  He became the fifth first overall draft pick to not score a power play goal in his first season, joining Joe Thornton, Owen Nolan, Brian Lawton and Gord Kluzak.

However, all of those players scored at least one power play goal in their second full season in the NHL so Alexis Lafrenière could become the first #1 overall pick to not score on the power play in his first two seasons.

Is that his fault?  Absolutely not.  He’s barely been getting any time with the man advantage and when you have the second best power play in the league, you don’t mess with success.  It would be nice if the Rangers are up in a game by two or three goals to give the second unit some ice time with the man advantage and maybe, just maybe, Lafrenière could break the ice.

And before everyone jumps all over the Rangers prized player, guess who has scored the second most even strength goals on the team over the last two seasons?   Chris Kreider leads the way with 28.  Alexis Lafrenière is second with 27, more than Artemi Panarin, Ryan Strome or Mika Zibanejad.

Kaapo Kakko:  Good health in time for the playoffs

When Kaapo Kakko went out with an “upper body injury” on January 22, no one imagined he would miss the next 25 games, but that is what has happened.  We still don’t know the nature of his injury, but word is that he is coming back soon and that means he has 11 games (or fewer) to get his timing back so he can re-assume his regular role on the team.  Where will he play?   With all of the deadline acquisitions, that is a question, but the Rangers are a better team with a healthy Kaapo Kakko in the lineup.

Adam Fox: A good finish and some respect

Adam Fox, last season’s Norris Trophy winner, has been overshadowed by Roman Josi and Cale Makar who are having fantastic seasons.   But very quietly, Adam Fox has been having an excellent season.  How good has Fox been?

Fox is having his best offensive season with 10 goals and 67 points in 68 games.  He is averaging .99 points per game and since the 2004-05 lockout, only seven NHL defensemen have had done better.  In the same timespan, only four NHL defensemen have had over 60 assists in a season (ncluding Josi this season).   With 57 assists already, Fox is poised to join that select company.

What’s fascinating about Fox is that he has set the bar so high with his excellent play, than whenever he is less than sublime, the “what’s wrong with Fox” questions begin.  There’s really no need to wonder.

Braden Schneider, Justin Braun, Patrik Nemeth: A role in the playoffs

With the Rangers’ top four defensemen set, there is a competition among Braden Schneider, Justin Braun and Patrik Nemeth for the right to start the playoffs on the third pairing. These three blueliners have 11 games to establish themselves for the postseason.  Braden Schneider has shown over and over that he is ready for the big time and he reinforced it in New Jersey.  Justin Braun has to prove that he can play the opposite side after playing the right side most of his career.  He got off to a good start against the Devils.  Nemeth has to show that he can team with Braun or Schneider and establish a physical, shutdown pairing that can contribute to the offense.

Filip Chytil: A role on the third line

Filip Chytil has been an enigma all season, showing flashes of promise, but lacking in production.  If Kaapo Kakko reclaims his spot on the top six that will move Andrew Copp down to the third line and he can either play center or wing.  Chytil needs a good final 11 games to win the right to center that third line.

Kevin Rooney: A strong finish

Kevin Rooney is the kind of player all successful teams need in a salary cap era.  Signed for the league minimum of $750k, he is worth every penny and with pending UFA status looming, the last thing he needed was a long term injury.  He is supposed to becoming back soon and when he is back in the lineup, he will be competing with Tyler Motte, Dryden Hunt and Jonny Brodzinski for a starting role.  If he wins, it could mean a bigger payday next season.

Julien Gauthier:  A goal

Julien Gauthier was a first round draft pick because he was a scorer.  He scored in Canadian Juniors.  He scored in the AHL.  But he cannot score in the NHL.  In 94 games he has five goals on 113 shots for a shooting percentage of 4.4%.  He hasn’t scored a goal in his last 18 games and has only one in his last 28 games.  So, if he gets into a game over the last 11 contests, it would be nice for him to score a goal. It could be his last as a Ranger.

Libor Hajek:  A game

The forgotten man on the major league roster, Hajek keeps slipping down the depth chart, but due to the waiver rules, he cannot go to Hartford. In a season in which he has played in only 16 of 71 games, it would be nice for him to get into a few games as the season winds down and Gallant may have a chance to rest some regulars.

Ryan Reaves: One more shot at Tom Wilson

Ryan Reaves may not be wishing for this, but every Ranger fan has circled April 29 on their calendars.  It’s the last game between the Rangers and the Washington Capitals and the last chance for Tom Wilson to get his comeuppance from the Rangers for his behavior last season.

There has been no indication that either Wilson or Reaves want a piece of each other and a year has passed since Wilson ran roughshod over the Blueshirts.  But if the Rangers and Capital have clinched their playoff positions, maybe, just maybe, it might be time for some payback.  We’ll see.

Gerard Gallant: No more horse-bleep games

It’s going to take all of Gerard Gallant’s coaching skill to fine tune the Rangers as the playoffs approach. 13 players on the active roster have never participated in a Stanley Cup Playoffs game (the qualifier doesn’t count) and it will be up to Gallant and his  veterans to get the team ready to go at puck drop in game one.

Gallant knows what it takes to win in the playoffs  When he led the Vegas Golden Knights into the postseason in 2018, they swept the Los Angeles Kings in the first round.  Vegas scored seven goals in the four games.  Los Angeles scored three.

That’s the kind of hockey the Rangers will need to play and he has to get them ready for it. He’s got 11 games to do it.

The fans: A strong finish building to the playoffs

Finally, what are we, the Blueshirts faithful, looking for over the last 11 games?   Obviously, a first place finish would be nice, but we will settle for second.  A winning streak going into the playoffs with a string of complete efforts including shutdown defense and a healthy offense would be optimal.

13 out of the final 22 points would give this team the third best point total in franchise history.  18 out of 22 points would give them the most points ever for a Blueshirts team.

A nice goal for the end of the season would be to finish a little better statistically than where they are now. Their power play is second best, their penalty kill is 10th best.  They allow the second fewest goals per game in the NHL and score the 18th most per game.

Hmm…it looks like we are just asking the team to keep doing what it has been doing all season long.  Oh yes, most important.  Stay healthy.

Where do Lafreniere and Kakko fit?. light. Related Story