The Rangers must continue elite play early on as the Metropolitan race already begins to intensify

New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin (31) looks for the puck during the first period against the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center
Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers are currently 1-1 through two games of the 2023-24 season. This even record has the Blueshirts sitting at fifth place in the Metropolitan division, and out of a playoff spot. There are still eighty games left to play, and the standings will certainly change drastically.

However, the Metropolitan Division is perhaps the most competitive in the NHL, and the Rangers absolutely can not fall behind in the race.

Is the Metro the best division in the NHL?

Through the first week of the 2023-24 season, only one team in the Metropolitan has a negative record. It is true that the number of games played per team varies between one and three, but it’s undeniable that the Rangers are stuck in one of the best divisions in hockey.

The Rangers are fifth with a record of 1-1, while the Pittsburgh Penguins and Carolina Hurricanes are tied for first with equal records of 2-1. Once again, it’s still very early on in the year. However, the top teams will continue to fill the win column as the season progresses.

Before the season began, it was projected that the Hurricanes, New Jersey Devils, and Rangers were the favorites to win the division title. The Penguins and the Islanders were possible wildcard candidates, but both teams are also off to a hot start. By just the first week of play alone, it’s likely that the Metropolitan will end up being the best this year.

Why the beginning of the season is so important for the Rangers this year

The Rangers have very few home games at the beginning of the season this year. They’ll embark on their yearly Canada road trip soon and only have five home games in the first eighteen games of the season.

Both the Hurricanes and Devils will certainly be gunning for the division title, so the Rangers must find a way to keep winning early on if they intend to keep up in the race.

Performances such as the Rangers versus Columbus on October 14th are completely unacceptable. It should have been a somewhat easy victory for the Blueshirts, but poor play caused them to fall to their divisional rivals.

In a season that will likely come down to the wire when finalizing standings, the Rangers need to capitalize on these easy wins early on. The Metropolitan race will be so close that games like this can be season-changing factors when the playoffs arrive.

Many of the Rangers’ players are aware of their flaws and are already beginning to fill the cracks in their lineup with new techniques.

“I don’t think it was a bad game out of us, I thought it was just a few cracks in our coverage that gave up a little too many high-end chances,” Adam Fox said Saturday night. “Overall, I thought we were in their zone a lot, I thought we had some good looks. Maybe you want to get a few more shots and a little bit more traffic. You give a team enough chances, a breakaway here, odd-man rush here and there, they’re going to capitalize.”

Adam Fox via Mollie Walker of NY Post

Where will the Rangers finish in the standings?

It’s still too early to make a perfect analysis of each team in the Metro. But what is easy to tell is that this division will be an extremely competitive race. There are already three or four teams who are projected to be Stanley Cup contenders, and that doesn’t account for any dark horse playoff teams who could appear.

It’s unlikely that the Rangers will win the Metropolitan division. Carolina and New Jersey are both skilled teams that have a higher probability of claiming the title. It’s not impossible for the Rangers to finish first, but it will be difficult. In reality, the Rangers will most likely finish second or third in the division. But in order to make it there, the Blueshirts must continue to succeed throughout the entirety of the season.

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