March 23, 2023

Up and down seems like an excellent way to summarize the first 10 games of the 2022-23 season for the New York Rangers. After a 3-1-0 start, four straight losses had many questioning what was going wrong with last year’s Eastern Conference runner-ups. The cure for their woes was a two-game road trip to Dallas and Arizona. Now, the Rangers head back to New York with a 5-3-2 record and 12 points on the season.

The Rangers have yet to fire on all cylinders, but 5-3-2 is respectable and nothing to scoff at. They will have to contend with superb Metropolitan and Atlantic Divisions again, making consistency a key. Unfortunately, that consistency has evaded the team early this season, but that is something that should change if the metrics even out (I will get into that in a bit).

Jacob Trouba K'Andre Miller New York Rangers
Jacob Trouba and K’Andre Miller, New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Overall, the first 10 games of 2022-23 have shown us what we all thought we would see from this year’s Rangers’ team. We have seen improved 5-on-5 play, a still lethal power play, and a lack of depth with the forwards group. Despite the rollercoaster start to the new year, the Blueshirts sit in a good spot and look poised to compete in the Stanley Cup Playoffs once again.

So, without further ado, here are my impressions of the Rangers thus far through 10 games.

Rangers’ Low Shooting Percentage Should Turn Around

According to Natural Stat Trick, only three teams have a worse shooting percentage than the Rangers at 5-on-5 (Colorado Avalanche, Toronto Maple Leafs, and St. Louis Blues). At 7.14 percent, the Rangers are simply not converting. Their 266 shots at 5-on-5 rank third in the NHL, but their 19 goals rank just 14th. In summation, those statistics are due to even out.

The Rangers have controlled the puck at 5-on-5 in most of their games, outshooting and out-chancing their opponents. Yet superb goaltending performances and missed chances have kept their goal totals and shooting percentage below expected levels early on.

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For example, the Rangers’ 19 goals are 4.59, less than their expected total of 23.59 at 5-on-5. Last season, the Rangers benefited from a high shooting percentage and elite goaltending; now, they are getting a taste of their own medicine. These numbers indicate that Gerard Gallant’s group needn’t change anything. They need to capitalize on the chances they are generating.

The eye test and metrics are on the same page, and as frustrating as it may be to watch at times, the Rangers have been snake-bitten this season. When you look at games like their 3-2 overtime loss to the San Jose Sharks, where they dominated in the first but couldn’t beat James Reimer or the goalpost, you realize they were a couple of bounces away from their 5-3-2 record being 7-2-1.

So, keep getting those shots and generating chances, and the goals will come.

Jaroslav Halak’s Lackluster Start is Worrisome

The Rangers’ record of 5-3-2 displays a troubling pattern that is starting to develop. New York is 5-0-2 when Igor Shesterkin starts and 0-3-0 when Jaroslav Halak gets the nod. Although the three losses are not all on Halak’s shoulders, the truth is that he has not played well enough for the Rangers to have faith in giving him more starts.

The lack of faith was exemplified by Gallant opting to start Shesterkin in a back-to-back situation this weekend, which gave the Rangers a better chance at winning (from, ‘Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin plays back-to-back for first time since rookie year,’ NY Post, 10/31/22). Sure, it’s evident that a team’s odds drastically increase when they play a goaltender who is coming off a Vezina campaign, but Halak’s play has been a massive drop-off from Shesterkin.

Related: Rangers Season Could Sour Quickly if Halak Keeps Struggling

Halak has a goals saved above expected (GSAA) of minus-3.16 this season. His .867 save percentage is the fifth-worst amongst goaltenders with at least one start, and he just has not been able to give the Rangers the goaltending needed to alleviate Shesterkin’s workload.

Jaroslav Halak New York Rangers
Jaroslav Halak, New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Now, it is still early, and the Rangers’ goaltending coach, Benoit Allaire, is one of the best in the business. It is crucial for the team’s success that Halak plays better, both for points in the standings and to keep Shesterkin fresh. The Rangers play 16 back-to-back sets this season, tied for the most in the NHL with the Columbus Blue Jackets. They have already called on Shesterkin to play both games in one of the two sets thus far, making Halak’s play crucial to the 14 that remain.

Artemi Panarin & Mika Zibanejad are Rangers’ Dynamic Duo

The Rangers’ two most prominent names on offense, Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad, have been their two best players this season. With injuries to Filip Chytil and Vitali Kravtsov, the forward depth has been tested, and the star forwards have had to carry the bulk of the production.

They have done just that, as Panarin’s 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) and Zibanejad’s 12 points (six goals, six assists) have allowed the Rangers’ to remain top-heavy. Oddly enough, Zibanejad has fallen victim to the Rangers’ shooting woes to start the season, failing to register a goal at 5-on-5, despite scoring once short-handed and five times on the man advantage.

Both forwards have been outstanding, but Panarin has regained his Hart Trophy level of play this season. He seemingly has an impact on every goal and is back to the creative and dangerous player we saw before his uncharacteristic postseason. The duo has also been integral to a power play that clicks at 23.7 percent and has seemingly become one of the top units in the NHL.

Kaapo Kakko, Alexis Lafreniere, and Vincent Trocheck have looked good in stretches, and Chris Kreider has been wildly inconsistent, but Panarin and Zibanejad have been steadfast and excellent through 10 games. If these two can keep it up, multiple 100-point seasons are in the realm of possibility this season.

The Rangers have games against the Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, and New York Islanders coming up. This will prove to be a litmus test and will be an early season indication of where they stack up in the East. But at 5-3-2 through 10 games, the Rangers are where they need to be competitive all season long.

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