How the Rangers, on a Six-Game Winning Streak, Turned it around
After a putrid start, the Blueshirts have rallied for six straight wins. Here’s how they’ve done it
Oh how things can change. On Halloween, the Rangers went into the locker room after the second period trailing 4–2 to the expansion Vegas Golden Knights. Alain Vigneault’s seat was scorching hot. Fans were already floating trade ideas. We were all ready to blow it up.
The Rangers proceeded to rattle off four unanswered goals in the 3rd period to win the game 6–4. Since then, they’ve won six straight, and they look like a competent NHL team. Are there issues still? Sure. Vigneault has benched Brendan Smith—who just signed a four-year, $17.4 million contract—for four straight games in favor of Nick Holden and Steven Kampfer, and Henrik Lundqvist still hasn’t looked great. But no matter the issues, six straight is six straight. Let’s look at what has changed these past five games that’s allowed the Blueshirts to thrive.
The KZB line has been reuinted
When the Rangers went on that horrible losing streak, Alain Vigneault went mad tinkerer on all of us, trying to find combinations that worked. Oddly, though, he broke up the one positive during a bleak stretch of play: the KZB line.
That trio, consisting of number-one center Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, and everyone’s favorite Russian son, Pavel Buchnevich, has been a delight to watch. Among Rangers lines that have played 50 minutes together, they’re the only one with a CF% above 50 (53.68%), per Corsica Hockey. Not only have they been great at 5-on-5, but they dominant on the power play. The Rangers power play is scoring at a 25.8% clip, good for 3rd in the league. Of the 17 power-play goals the Rangers have scored this year, the KZB line has accounted for 12 of them—Zibanejad leads the way with five, Buchnevich has four and Kreider has three.
Here’s the magical power-play goal Buchnevich scored the other night against the Blue Jackets:
The pass by Zibanejad is a thing of beauty. He’s been terrific this season, and is putting to bed the arguments that he can’t be a true number-one center.
Here’s a look at their terrific work on the forecheck:
And here’s one more of Buchnevich on the forecheck, which is an area he’s improved tremendously in:
The KZB line being reunited give Vigneault a bonafide scoring line, and it should not, under any circumstance, be broken up again this season.
Special Teams play
You’ll hear it a million times this season: Special teams are vital to team success. Prior to the Vegas game, the Rangers’ penalty kill was bad; they were sitting at 79%. During the six-game winning streak, the Rangers’ have only surrendered one power-play goal, and that was to some McDavid guy. While he came back a few games prior to this winning streak, Jesper Fast’s return has solidified the Rangers’ man-down unit. He’s one of the smartest penalty killers you’ll ever watch, and he’s balls to the wall every shift. Fast’s return, in addition to Ryan McDonagh’s improved play (which we’ll get to later), has made the Rangers’ PK much better.
As for the power play, what else is there to say? It’s flat out dominant. Even though that bum Kevin Shattenkirk can’t block shots (I really hope you all see the sarcasm in this) he sure as hell can run a power play.
Here’s his unreal pass on Buchnevich’s power-play goal against the Oilers:
There aren’t many defensemen in the league that can make a pass like that.
Here’s another beauty, courtesy of my youngest sons, Mika and Pavel:
Having Shattenkirk as a quarterback makes the power play lethal, but it doesn’t mean anything unless you have a triggerman, and that’s exactly what Zibanejad has become on the left flank. Here’s one his snipes:
The man is not afraid to let the pucks rip, and it makes the Rangers’ power play one of the best in the league.
Special teams play is huge come playoff time, and it’s something the Rangers have been lacking the last few years, so them being good during this streak is a huge positive moving forward.
Ryan McDonagh’s play
For the Rangers to be a contender, they need their captain, Ryan McDonagh, to be one of the best defensemen in the game. To start the season, he was far from that. While his advanced metrics were great, the eye test was not pretty. He was committing a ton of turnovers, including this egregious one in overtime against the Penguins.
Recently, he’s picked his game up. He’s at his best when he’s getting involved in the offense, and making plays like this:
Here’s another great play from Captain Mac against the Bruins, which was arguably his best game of the year:
His turnovers have been down, and while no one thinks Nick Holden is a top-pairing defenseman, finding a consistent partner for McDonagh instead of blindly throwing darts at the six other defensemen’s pictures to find one has helped tremendously. For the Rangers to continue this streak, they’ll need their captain to continue trending in the right direction.
Rolling Four Lines
When the Rangers have been at their best during Vigneault’s tenure they’ve always rolled four lines. With Jesper Fast out to start the year, and with Vigneault keeping scrubs like Paul Carey and Adam Cracknell in the lineup, the Rangers were unable to do that.
Calling up Boo Nieves has been huge, as it now gives the Rangers four lines that can chip in. A Fast-Nieves-Grabner fourth line is as good as you’ll see in the NHL. The KZB line, as discussed earlier, has dominated, while the Nash-Hayes-Zuccarello trio has been a solid second line that can play against other team’s best players. J.T. Miller has been the best Ranger over the past few games, and Jimmy Vesey has played well in a lesser role. The one area where the Rangers can improve is David Desharnais’ spot, but that’s a discussion for another day.
People will point to the schedule and say the Rangers haven’t played any good teams during this streak, but guess what? You play the teams that are in front of you, and good teams usually beat lesser opponents. The Rangers will look to make it seven in a row when they take on the Blackhawks.