Rangers disappointing playoffs cannot take away the success of 2019-2020

Frank Curto
New York Rangers
Oct 3, 2019; New York, NY, USA; New York Rangers defenseman Brendan Smith (42) celebrates with teammates after scoring an empty net goal during the third period against the Winnipeg Jets at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2019-2020 New York Rangers season ending with a 4-1 series loss to the Carolina Hurricanes Tuesday night in Toronto, there is still plenty to be excited for in Rangerstown.

This hockey club, who was not even supposed to see playoff hockey this season, was the hottest team in the NHL until the league was forced to shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. From Jan. 7 until the end of the regular season, the Rangers ranked fourth in the NHL in wins (18), ranked fifth in the NHL in points (37), were tied for third in the NHL in regulation wins (15), ranked second in the NHL in goals per game (3.45) and power-play efficiency (28.4%), and ranked fifth in the NHL in shots on goal per game (32.8).

Wins came on the road as much as at Madison Square Garden. The Blueshirts won 10 of its final 12 regular-season road games in 2019-20 (10-1-1 record), which included a franchise-record nine-game road winning streak from Jan. 16 to Feb. 27. The Rangers’ nine-game road winning streak was tied for the eighth-longest road winning streak in NHL history. From Jan. 16 until the end of the regular season, the Blueshirts led the NHL in points (21), tied for first in the NHL in wins (10) and points percentage (.875), ranked third in the NHL in goals against per game (2.25), and ranked fifth in the NHL in goals per game (3.50) on the road.

The club was two points away from a wild card playoff position when the NHL pulled the plug and a lot of credit for that success should be given to the younger players on the team. The Blueshirts were the only NHL team that had eight players 21 years old or younger play at least one game this season. In addition, the Rangers were one of three NHL teams that had two goaltenders, Alexandar Georgiev and Igor Shestrkin, 24- years -old or younger appear in at least one game this season (along with New Jersey and Vancouver).

A shortened season that exceeded past seasons

In 12 fewer regular-season games in 2019-20 compared to 2018-19, the Blueshirts earned five more wins and one more point (.564 points percentage in 2019-20; .476 points percentage in 2018-19). In addition, the Rangers earned 31 regulation wins in 2019-20 after registering 23 regulation wins in 2018-19. The Rangers’ 31 regulation wins this season were tied for the fifth-most in the NHL, tied for the third-most among Eastern Conference teams, and tied for the most among teams in the Metropolitan Division.

Led by Hart Finalist Artemi Panarin who led the team in points with 95 in his first season in New York, the Rangers began to gel as a hockey team in January.  The Breadman lived up to every expectation in his first season. His contagious smile, hard work on the ice, and an incredible knack at making everyone a better player around him is a main reason the team found success in the second half of the season.

Not to be undone Mika Zibanejad led the team in goals with 41. The Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award winner for this year ( his second win) was the unnamed captain of the squad. He took charge of a club in need of veteran leadership whether it was on the ice, in between shifts on the bench, or during practice sessions.

Seven different Rangers registered 40 or more points this season (Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Ryan Strome, Tony DeAngelo, Pavel Buchnevich, Chris Kreider, and Adam Fox). The Blueshirts were one of only three NHL teams that had seven players tally 40 or more points in 2019-20 (along with Tampa Bay and Washington). The Rangers had six players who registered at least 30 assists this season (Panarin, Strome, DeAngelo, Fox, Zibanejad, and Buchnevich), and the Blueshirts were one of only three NHL teams that had six players who recorded 30 or more assists in 2019-20 (along with St. Louis and Winnipeg). The Rangers also had nine players register 10 or more goals this season (Zibanejad, Panarin, Kreider, Strome, Buchnevich, DeAngelo, Filip Chytil, Jesper Fast, and Kaapo Kakko).

Promising Defenseman

The Rangers found a diamond in the ruff with defenseman Adam Fox. The rookie had an outstanding first season in New York played in all 70 regular-season games and the three playoff contests.  Along with his partner, fellow rookie Ryan Lindgren, the duo became the team’s most reliable tandem playing against the opposition’s top lines.  Fox netted 8 goals while recording 42 points. He was mention in the Calder Trophy conversation though he was not named a finalist. The team’s future lies in the success of the Jericho, N.Y. native.

There was also drama in the area of goaltending.

The 3 headed monsters took its toll

The season began with Henrik Lundqvist as the number one goaltender and Georgiev serving as the back-up. That rotation changed dramatically when Igor Shesterkin was called up from Hartford. He was eventually named the number one goaltender replacing Henrik in that role. The writing on the all became more evident that this would probably be the last season fans would see number 30 in a Rangers sweater.

Hank Served as a back-up for most of February and March until the league shut down. Fans did get to see Hank lead the team on the ice in the Qualifying Round for games 1 and 2 but he was unable to find the magic he once had in previous playoff seasons.

The back page of the New York Post on Thursday summed up what most have anticipated for most of this season. The end of an era is upon us.

Long live the King. His 459 wins in 887 games through his 15 seasons with the Blueshirts verified his determination in carrying the team all of these years.

A failed playoff

The Rangers were swept by the Hurricanes because of one simple fact. The ‘Canes were the better team in all areas. Their top players outperformed the Blueshirts top players.

It is hard to win a best -of -five series when your club scores four goals in three games. The power-play was horrid, managing just one goal in 14 opportunities.

The team only had a lead once, game three, and found themselves playing from behind against a team that made it to the eastern conference finals last season. The defense struggled mightily against the faster, skilled forwards the Hurricanes had on the ice.

The season ended on a bad note, but that shouldn’t take away from what the team achieved this season. The experienced players like Chytil, Kakko, Shestrkin, and Fox took away from this series will make them and the team better when they are in the same position next season.

It is now time to evaluate the club and prepare for the NHL Draft. There is plenty to improve on, but the foundation laid down this season is something the club will build on for seasons to come.