The New York Rangers have officially begun their season with a dominating 5–1 win over the Buffalo Sabres. Even as the road team, the Blueshirts were expected to put on an elite performance, but nobody expected the Rangers to obliterate the Sabres as badly as they did.
It was a fast-paced, physical game that saw many standout players propel the Rangers to victory. With the 2023-24 season off to a fantastic start, there are already a few takeaways to look for as the Blueshirts march on.
The Rangers’ defense has the potential to be something special
Lat night, the Rangers’ defensive corps was close to being perfect. Although the Sabres are projected to be a fringe playoff team, they still possess an abundance of young talent that has the potential to score plenty of goals.
Igor Shesterkin looked stellar in the net, but with the help of an elite defensive performance, the Rangers were able to hold the Sabres to just one goal.
Recent seasons have seen the Rangers’ defense play with a high level of inconsistency. In some games, the defense will look like the league’s best, such as last night, and in others, the defense looks like pylons on skates. This dominating blowout against Buffalo proves that the Rangers have the potential to possess one of the best defensive corps in the NHL if their players can maintain this level of effort in every game.
It’s hopeful that head coach Peter Laviolette’s new system is already taking effect, as there has already been significant improvement in what the Rangers can do defensively.
“That’s one of the hardest things to get a grip on, is the neutral zone, because it’s foreign to a lot of guys,” Bonino said. “It’s good that we made mistakes in preseason because they’re easy to fix. Once you get that down, it does limit their rushes, it does limit what they can do with the puck.”Nick Bonino via Mollie Walker of NY Post
Clearly, not every game will be perfect. There probably would have been more goals against had the Rangers played against a Stanley Cup contender, but the key here is to build upon this performance. Adam Fox, Erik Gustafsson, and K’Andre Miller all recorded a +2 rating, while every other defenseman finished at an even +0. If the Rangers can keep up this level of elite defensive play, they have the potential to go far.
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The Rangers’ top stars are working harder following last year’s playoff disappearance
Last season, the Rangers ultimately had a terrible postseason performance. Their failure was due to almost all of their star players vanishing from the ice, scoring minimal points through a full seven-game series. Each top player spent the offseason being criticized for their playoff performances as fans cried out for improvement.
In this 5-1 victory, it seemed that each of the Rangers’ stars were back to normal. Chris Kreider notched two goals and one assist, while Mika Zibanejad tied that point total with three assists. Artemi Panarin was the runner-up with two points (1g, 1a), with Alexis Lafreniere and Filip Chytil also tallying one point each.
Kaapo Kakko was the only member of the Rangers’ top six to not record a point. To have half of the Rangers’ top six score multiple points in the opener is a great sign. Kreider was the only star who showed effort in the playoffs last year, and he appears to be maintaining his scoring abilities. Panarin and Zibanejad appear to be back in the saddle, ready to lead the Blueshirts as the top two scorers once again.
An opening night win is great, but there are still 81 games left to play
There’s no better way to start a season than with a dominating win over another Eastern Conference team. But while both fans and players are satisfied with the Blueshirts’ opener, attention must quickly be drawn to the future. Even as the Blueshirts sit at 1-0, so do three other teams in the Metropolitan Division.
The Metropolitan race will be a close one, and the Rangers must continue their stellar play throughout the entire season. Both the Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils are Stanley Cup contenders as well, and there could very well be a dark horse contender that could arise in the Metro.
The Rangers can not get too comfortable at any point this season. With today off, the Blueshirts will be back in action tomorrow night against their divisional rivals, the Columbus Blue Jackets. In order to stay in contention for the division title, the Rangers must continue their elite play and use this dominating win as momentum to build upon.