NY Rangers return from road trip with emerging sense of ‘cohesion’
TARRYTOWN – Much has changed since the New York Rangers last trained at MSG Training Center.
It’s been almost two weeks, in which time the Blueshirts have played in six different arenas while going 4-1-1.
They returned to their home establishment on Sunday feeling that a foundation has been laid and that closeness has been fostered.
“It’s most important with the arrival of new people in your team – new coaches, new players – it’s a confidence factor,” said coach Gérard Gallant. “I tell my guys, ‘I want to trust you all. “”
Gallant was quick to admit: “Not all is perfect” – “There have been a few games where our goalkeeper bailed us out,” he added – but four straight wins created momentum and a sense of oneness.
“I would say there is a little more cohesion,” said defender Jacob Trouba. “The squad is a little tighter. I think the guys are more comfortable being themselves than they’ve been in the past, including me.”
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The Rangers open Monday’s home game at 7 p.m. against the Calgary Flames with an average of just 2.33 goals per game, which ranks them 25th in the NHL. But they only award 2.17, which ranks fourth.
Igor Shesterkin is set to start and will go 3-0-1 with a 1.47 goals-against average and .953 save percentage.
“Our goalies have been unreal this year, making huge saves when we need them and keeping us in games when they don’t go our way,” said defenseman K’Andre Miller. “They were huge for us, kind of giving us that extra boost of energy and liveliness on the bench.”
Shesterkin single-handedly led the Rangers to an overtime victory last Monday in Toronto, stopping 40 of 41 shots he faced as the offense roared. But the overall effort was much better in the next two wins against the Predators and Senators.
Gallant called Thursday’s 3-1 win in Nashville a “full team game,” while Saturday’s 3-2 win in Ottawa marked the first time in franchise history that the Rangers have played. won a match in which they faced a multiple-goal deficit in the last six minutes.
“I can go back in time, I think some of these games would probably slip away,” Trouba said. “This year is a little different.”
Scoring continues to be an issue, particularly with Kaapo Kakko (upper body injury) and Ryan Strome (COVID-19 protocol). But the team’s defense largely held up, allowing seven high-danger combined chances in the last two games, according to Natural Stat Trick, while still managing to kill all six penalties they defended.
“It’s a work in progress,” Gallant said. “We’re a competent and talented team, and we’re trying to improve defensively. I think it’s coming. I see some good things in that.”
This was evidenced in a courageous performance in the third period, which was filled with clutch goals and tight defense. The Rangers managed to protect the leads in the third period or fought to keep the score tied in each of their four wins.
“I would be lying if I said there was no different feeling in this situation,” Trouba said. “The teams you’ve been on in the past, you kind of have the feeling of, ‘Oh, no.’ In that team, it’s definitely not a feeling of ‘oh, no.’ It’s, ‘ let’s shut this thing up and shut it up. “We know what to do. It’s not really too thoughtful. Everyone knows their job, so do your job and you’ll be fine.”
“It kind of shows you and the guy across the way that we have the will and the courage to end the game the right way,” added Miller.
That collective confidence won’t show up on the stat sheets, but the Rangers believe it fueled their wild start to the season.
Gallant also observed an effect of transfer out of the ice.
“They love each other,” he said. “It’s a good group of guys. We’ve been on the road quite a bit to start the season, and the guys get to know each other better when they’re on the road. I think that was a perfect scenario for us. … The road trip did everything we wanted. We had some wins and the guys got together and they had dinner with their team every night, they dated different guys, and I think that goes a long way. “
Updates from Ryan Strome and Kaapo Kakko
It looks like the Rangers offense will get some help this week.
Strome has passed the isolation requirement of the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol and was a full participant in Sunday practice. The final hurdle is permission from Rangers medical staff to participate in a game, which could take place on Monday. Assuming there aren’t any lingering issues, he’s likely to return to the lineup against the Flames.
Kakko also trained on Sunday, but he wore a contactless jersey and did not take part in road races or special team work. Gallant said there was “a chance” he could play on Monday, but there are signs that Friday’s home game against the Columbus Blue Jackets will be the 20-year-old forward’s return date.
If Strome plays on Monday, he will return to his second-row center role with Artemi Panarin to his left. Panarin has played the previous two games on the front row with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, but Gallant’s preference is to go back to the lines he used before Strome entered protocol.
“I think (Panarin) feels really comfortable playing with Strome,” he added.
As Kakko worked on the side for Sunday’s practice, Barclay Goodrow skated as a right winger alongside Panarin and Strome and Alexis Lafrenière stepped back to play with Zibanejad and Kreider.
The final six featured Sammy Blais, Filip Chytil and Julien Gauthier in the third line, with Dryden Hunt, Kevin Rooney and Ryan Reaves in the fourth.
Vincent Z. Mercogliano is the New York Rangers beat reporter for USA TODAY Network. Read more of his work at lohud.com/sports/rangers/ and follow him on Twitter @vzmercogliano.