New York Rangers continue to find ways to win during playoff push

The New York Rangers continue to win hockey games, looking for a playoff miracle, as the NHL season concludes on May 8.

The New York Rangers have been on the outside looking in for a playoff spot for most of this abbreviated NHL season.  A slow start by some of its stars, a nine-game absence due to an absurd accusation against Artemi Panarin, and plenty of inconsistency between veteran scoring and the development of the “kids” is why the team sits in fifth place, four points behind the Boston Bruins who have two games in hand.

Up And Down

The Blueshirts have been unable to put a winning streak together, instead of settling for a win-lose, win-lose format for much of the 2021 campaign.

The month of April began the same way with the Rangers splitting all three-game series against Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and the Islanders.

Then a crucial four-game set began against the struggling New Jersey Devils. The Rangers needed every one of the eight points available and surprisingly to some, the team completed the sweep on Sunday afternoon at the Rock.

The win didn’t come without some poor play with the club blowing big leads in each of the last two games. Yet at the end of the day, a win is a win as head coach David Quinn eluded to during Sunday’s post-game zoom conference call.

 

“When you come up with four wins I don’t care what it looks like, I don’t care how many leads you blew, I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t if you find ways to win and that’s what we did.

Now, that being said, we certainly understand that if we’re going to have success, we’ve got to play better. And we know that that’s not lost on us. It’s not lost on the coaches, and I don’t think it’s lost on any of the players.”

Tough Road Ahead

Playing better needs to begin immediately with the schedule the team has standing in front of them.

The math may not seem to make sense, but the Rangers have a better chance of chasing down the second-place New York Islanders rather than the fourth-place Boston Bruins.

What the heck am I talking about?  Let’s break it down and maybe clarify some of the doubt people may have in this theory.

The Rangers and Islanders have played 45 games each.  The Rangers have 52 points with the Islanders being eight points better at 60. The two teams play each other three more times this season beginning with a game Tuesday night in Long Island.

As much as a long shot as it is, should the Rangers win those three contests, and get a little help (which has not happened all month) the Blueshirts could have a good shot to overtake the Islanders.

The Long Island rivals play three consecutive games against Washington following Tuesday’s nights game against the Blueshirts. Then a two-game set against the Rangers. Then they have two against Buffalo, two against New Jersey and their final game is at Boston on May 11.

The Bruins are harder to catch because of the number of games they have left In the season. Currently, they have two games in hand over the Rangers and also are on a four-game winning streak.

The Bruins have 13 games remaining, five of which are against the Buffalo Sabres. They also play the Pittsburgh Penguins, New Jersey Devils, and Rangers twice and completed their extended schedule with a game in Long Island and at home against the Caps on May 11.

They are scheduled to play two more games after the game against the Rangers on May 8.

Mathematically the Rangers can catch either teams, but this late in the season chasing down the Islanders may be the best way to get into the postseason.

Valuable Experience

Regardless of how things end up for the Rangers this year, the young kids are gaining so much experience from this simulated NHL playoff scenario.

Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil, Kaapo Kakko, Vitali Kravtsov and Igor Shesterkin have all found the score sheet and continue to grow into hockey players that fear no situation or opponent.

For one of the rare times this season the veterans and the kids have been able to play their best hockey at the same time.

When this team plays on all cylinders, as five-man units on the ice, they can compete with any other team in the NHL. Their speed on the ice has caused plenty of chaos for opposing teams, just ask the Devils who had to deal with the Ranger Roadrunners four times in the past week.

Wherever the team ends up on thelast day of the season doesn’t really matter.  What should raise the teams and the fan base’s optimism is a renewed energy on the ice that will get better and better with every game.

This club is learning how to win hockey games instead of trying not to lose games.

Follow Frank on Twitter at @RangerProud

New York Rangers have no timeline for when Kaapo Kakko will return to team

New York Rangers F Kaapo Kakko was still on the NHL’s Covid Protocol list as of Monday night with no return announced for the 20-year-old.

Lost in the surprising news that Artemi Panarin would be taking a leave of absence from the team was a short but alarming statement by head coach David Quinn after Monday’s practice.

Quinn gave an update on Kakko, which was tweeted by Vince Mercogliano, which added more speculation than resolve to when the second-year player could play again,

“He’s doing fine. I wish I could give you a better answer, but I’m not sure when he’s going to be able to come back.”

A player placed on this list doesn’t necessarily mean he has tested positive for the Covid-19 virus. The NHL and NHLPA agreed to five different criteria’s for a player to be added to the list;

  1. An initial positive test that remains unconfirmed until confirmatory testing is completed pursuant to the Positive Test Protocol.
  2. Mandated isolation for symptomatic individuals pursuant to the Positive Test Protocol.
  3. Required quarantine as a high-risk close contact in accordance with the Positive Test Protocol.
  4. Isolation based on a confirmed positive test result.
  5. Quarantine for travel or other reasons as outlined in the COVID-19 Protocol.

No additional detail will be provided either by the League or the Club, including the precise reason the Player is unavailable or how long he might be out.

For Kakko, the virus could have moe complications as he has been diagnosed with both Type 1 Diabetes and celiac disease.

Kakko joins Philip Chytil, Jacob Trouba and Artemi Panarin who will all be out out of the lineup when the Rangers play the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday.

Are expectations too high for this year’s New York Rangers?

New York Rangers

After making the play-in round of last year’s playoffs, winning the NHL draft lottery, and selecting Alexis Lafreniere, many thought that the New York Rangers should be making a run at the playoffs. After losing their last three games and seeing their season record fall to 4-6-3, many are thinking that the Rangers are underachieving through their first 13 games.

While the Rangers are not happy with their play, there are many factors in play as to why this year’s Blueshirts are just four points behind the Islanders for the last playoff spot.

That is really not that far away, even in a 56 game season.

The biggest thing to remember is that the average age of a player on the Rangers’ active roster this season is 25.6 years old, which is the youngest in the NHL. The Rangers have seven players 22 years old or younger on their active roster (Chytil, Fox, Howden, Kakko, Lafrenière, Lindgren, and Miller), and the Blueshirts have had more players who are 22 years old or younger play at least one game this season than any other NHL team.

Sure it is disappointing to see the overall number one draft pick have only one goal for one point on the season. Especially when one sees another rookie like Pius Suter of the Chicago Blackhawks not only get his first NHL goal recently but ended that game on January 23 against the Red Wings with a hat trick. Suter currently leads all rookies in scoring with 9 points.

Yes, it is frustrating to see that 40 other NHL rookies have more points than their overall number one pick.

But Lafreniere’s issues are just one of many other issues that the Rangers are having this year.

Outside of Artemi Panarin, many other Rangers are struggling. Mika Zibanejad has one goal in 13 games. Kaapo Kakko two in 12, Pavel Buchnevich one in his past 11. Players in the bottom six are also struggling such as Phil Di Giuseppe with no goals in 12, Brett Howden none in 13, Brendan Lemieux one in 12. Chris Kreider’s has four goals, but no assists.

After Friday night’s loss, head coach David Quinn summed his team’s frustrations in his post-game Zoom conference when he said “We pass when we should shoot and we shoot when we should pass.”

However, with all of the issues that the Rangers have had, there is still a silver lining that Quinn also mentioned in his post-game Zoom conference. “These games are going to be so valuable for our young players moving forward,” Quinn said. “Like I said, you can learn an awful lot from a team (Boston) like that. You’ve got to pay attention to teams that have sustained success for as long as they have. We’re trying to get to the level of the Bergerons and the Marchands and the Pastrnaks, the Krejcis.… These guys have been competing for Stanley Cup championships for a long time, close to a decade.

“It’s a great experience for our players. But at the end of the day, we’re not here for great experiences. We’re here to win hockey games and these are two hockey games we feel like we could have won.”

It is not like the Rangers have been blown out in the games they lost. Eleven of the Rangers’ 13 games have been decided by two goals or fewer, eight of those by one goal.

At some point, a young and talented team should be able to turn this around and start winning these one-goal games.

The Rangers and their fans hope this happens sooner rather than later. But make no mistake about it, this will happen at some point in the future.

 

 

 

 

The New York Rangers waste a solid effort by third line in shootout loss

While usually, the first and second lines lead the New York Rangers, tonight was a different story. The third line of Philipp Di Giuseppe, Filip Chytil, and Kappo Kakko provided the spark for the Blueshirts. However, the effort was somewhat wasted when the Rangers fell to the Penguins 4-3 in a shootout.

Di Giuseppe was a menace on the ice tonight, registering 8 hits along with two assists in allowing the Ranger’s third line to make an impact in this contest.

Chytil scored 2:41 into the second period when two Pittsburgh defensemen ran into each other. Adam Fox gave the Rangers the lead when he blasted a shot from the point into the net at 5:18 the second. Kakko needed just 24 seconds to extend the advantage to two goals when a rebound off a shot by Di Giuseppe landed right on Kakko’s stick.

The positive part of earning one point from the shootout loss is that the Rangers’ three goals in Friday’s game have been scored by players who are 22 years old or younger.

Igor Shesterkin started in net and allowed 3 goals on 29 shots. One of the goals was not Shesterkin’s fault as Ryan Lindgren accidentally put the puck in his own net trying to shuffle the puck pack to Shesterkin.

Artemi Panarin did pick up an assist on the Fox goal, recorded his 100th career point as a Blueshirt in his 73rd game with the team. This makes Panarin the faster player to get to 100 points in Rangers history, surpassing the record set by Mark Messier.

K’Andre Miller did notch his first career NHL assist/point with an assist on Kakko’s goal.

Meanwhile, first overall pick Alexis Lafreniere remains pointless in the season and did not perform well playing on the first line, as he didn’t record a shot on goal and was a -2 on the night. He appeared to pass up good shots in order to set up his linemates and was slow to get off his shots on a couple of occasions. Lafreniere also did not get a shift during the 3-on-3 overtime session.

While not explicitly addressed, it is apparent that the lack of a full training camp and exhibition games has affected the young forward’s acclimation to the speed and strength needed to play NHL hockey. Something that the Rangers and their fans hope happened quickly.

The Rangers and Penguins will meet again on Sunday night.

 

 

 

 

The New York Rangers bounce back in a big way

The New York Rangers bounced back in a big way with a statement victory over the New York Islanders by the score of 5-0. Alexandar Georgiev stopped 23 shots in earning the shutout victory.

The Rangers caught a little bit of a break before the game when the Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov was injured in warmups after getting hit below the mask and above his left shoulder around the collarbone by a shot from teammate Cal Clutterbuck. This meant that the Islanders had to turn to Ilya Sorokin, who made his NHL debut in this contest.

It may not have mattered who the Islanders started in goal as the Rangers came out in a much different fashion compared to Thursday night’s loss.

Head coach David Quinn wanted to send a message to his time by making some personnel changes right away. One move he made was to switch lines with Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko. The move did not seem to bother Kakko as he responded to his “demotion” with an outstanding goal in the second period,

Another move was the benching of Tony DeAngelo, who drew the ire of Quinn when he took an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in Thursday’s night’s game.  Officials tacked the additional infraction onto a holding penalty after DeAngelo yelled at the referees and slammed the door of the penalty box.

In his post-game virtual Zoom press conference, Quinn was quite pleased with the effort. “I have got to give a bunch of our leaders a ton of credit,” Quinn said “Jacob Trouba stood tall tonight and played one of his best games as a Ranger. Mika, Kreider, Bread, all of these guys were just great.”

Another thing that pleased Quinn about the win was how the team responded to the poor performance on Thursday night. “How you respond to it tells you a lot about your group and we answered some questions tonight in a lot of ways.”

Pavel Buchnevich scored the first of his two goals 2:12 into the game after Mika Zibanejad stole the puck in front of the Islanders’ bench. Artemi Panarin converted a breakaway to stretch the Rangers’ first-period advantage with 7:14 left. Brendan Smith blocked a shot in the defensive zone then delivered the beautiful stretch pass to Panarin.

Buchnevich added his second of the game with a sharp-angled wrist shot from the left faceoff dot at 5:57 of the second period. Phillip Di Giuseppe set up Kakko with 4:36 left in the middle period to make it 4-0.

Panarin finished the scoring on the Rangers’ seventh power play of the game with 4:04 left off a pass from Adam Fox. Buchnevich had an assist for his third point of the game.

One of the few things that were not good for the Rangers was that they went 1-8 on the power play and are now 1-11 on the young season.

On Tuesday, the Rangers conclude this first homestand of the season when they host the New Jersey Devils.

 

 

 

 

Kaapo Kakko continues to impress the New York Rangers coaching staff

After coming off a rookie season that had many ups and downs, New York Rangers forward Kaapo Kakko looks like he getting ready to show some of the skills he has when he was drafted second overall by the Blueshirts in 2019.

During the first couple of days of training camp, Kakko is getting the first crack at playing in the departed Jesper Fast’s spot on the right-wing with Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome. Early reports have also stated that he has looked really good in that spot. And at least one of his linemates has been pleased as well.

“He obviously feels good,” Panarin said about Kakko. “It’s difficult to judge in these two practices with the very scrambly scrimmages. But obviously, we will see a full picture soon.”

In the offseason, Kakko, trained in Turku, Finland other NHL players, according to his agent Mike Liut. The group of Finnish players has a regular offseason training program and facility that many utilize during the offseason.

Kakko showed a few flashes of brilliant play with the Rangers as a rookie but failed to play with consistency or play up to his potential, as he spent most of the season on the third or fourth line and their second power-play unit.

However, following the layoff due to the coronavirus pandemic, Kakko played much better in the three playoff games the Rangers participated in. This improvement has led to the coaching staff giving Kakko the first chance to play on the Panarin line. Hopefully, playing with more skilled linemates along with having a long offseason to get stronger and improve his conditioning should lead to some much-improved play from Kakko.

“I like the progression,” head coach David Quinn said when asked what he thought of the Panarin line. “I think they’re making strides and creating some offense. Kaapo has just got to learn to play off those two guys. If he does that, continues to go in that direction, that line can be a very effective line for us. He understands the role he’s going to have to play on that line with those two players. That being said, we have also talked with both Bread and Strome about the chemistry on that line and what it’s going to take to have success. It’s not just one guy. It’s all three of those guys understanding what their roles are on that line and what they’re going to have to do to have success.”

Kakko will be just 20 years old when he celebrates his birthday in February. If he continues to develop and play close to the potential that everyone hopes he can when he was drafted, this second line could be just as good if not a notch better than what it was last season.

 

New York Rangers will get offers for the number 1 pick

Alexis Lafreniere

The New York Rangers’ future took a dramatic turn last Monday with one bounce of a ping pong ball. The number one overall selection in this year’s NHL Entry Draft belongs to the Blueshirts.

Team president John Davidson knows who he and the Rangers organization want to pick as the top selection in the NHL Entry Draft which is to be held in October. Alexis Lafreniere is the projected top player and would look great playing on Broadway at Madison Square Garden. The winger played for Rimouski of the QMJHL recorded 112 points in 52 games this past season.

The decision to draft Lafreniere may not be as simple as it may appear, some team could make an offer for the pick.

Davidson spoke at length with Pierre LeBrun and Scott Burnside on this week’s Two-Man Advantage podcast. He discussed what it means to land the top pick in New York.

“When you sit there and you’re going to get the No. 1 pick, it opens up a whole lot of different thoughts and ideas. Most teams when they get the No. 1 pick, it’s generally a player that’s a very, very good player. So you don’t mess with it all. It opens up the avenue to do other things throughout your organization. It’s something we always will look at and analyze. We’ll see where it all goes.”

The Ottawa Senators are one club that could make an intriguing offer to get the Ranger’s first-round selection. The Senators will have the No. 3 and No. 5 picks in this year’s draft. They might be willing to give up their two picks for the number one overall selection.  This draft has plenty of potential in the early selections. The next two projected players are center Quinton Byfield and forward Tim Stutzle.  Byfield could be the center the Rangers have been looking for, but is it the direction the team wants to go?

Another team that could throw an offer at the Blueshirts are the Los Angelos Kings.  They sit with the Number two overall selection ( they same spot the Rangers drafted Kaapo Kakko last year). The Kings would have to add some of their current prospects into the mix for J.D. and general manager Jeff Gorton to consider such a move, but again every offer made has to be considered. No offer is a bad offer, just one that may not fit the team’s needs.

The last time New York had the No. 1 pick was 55 years ago, taking forward Andre Veilleux in 1965. He never played in an NHL game, but doubt that will be the same conclusion this year.

Up to this point, the Rangers have been in a rebuild mode.  a ping pong ball has now changed the outlook of the Blueshirts, one that includes an NHL Hart Trophy finalist with Artemi Panarin, an always improving center and team leader in Mika Zibanejad, Kaapo Kakko entering his second NHL season smarter and more improved and the undisputed best player available in Lafreniere potentially joining the club, the team will have to change its model from rebuilding to playoff-bound.

Listening to offers is part if every president and general manager’s job. The decision to pull the trigger on such offers is why these guys get paid the big money. A decision, either way, could have an impact on the next six or seven seasons. That’s years that no team can ill afford to lose.

Takeaways From the New York Rangers Playoff Loss to Carolina

New York Rangers, Artemi Panarin

Nobody really likes the phrase “a good loss” or something related to that and most in the New York Ranger organization probably subscribes to that. But there are lessons to be learned that can be used moving forward, for a team that is very young and talented.

Another thing that the Blueshirts and their fans will also realize is that despite beating the Hurricanes all four times in the regular season, Carolina is a really good hockey team. The team that made the conference finals last season is mostly intact. The Canes did a great job of being good with the lead, and who made it really difficult for the Blueshirts to get any kind of offense going.

Head coach David Quinn even said “The better team won the series. Let’s call a spade a spade. You played three games and the best team won.”

The top players on the New York Rangers needed to play better

The Rangers only scored four goals in three playoff games. One each by Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, and Marc Staal. Team leaders need to step in the playoffs, especially with a roster that has so much youth and inexperience on it.

Kreider knows this and at least stepped up and admitted as much. In his post-game comments, he said: “We thought the playoffs were a blood sport and we were out there running around looking to hit instead of playing the puck possession style that we play. A big part of that is on me obviously. We needed to snap out of that sooner. We needed to acknowledge that. I should have done whatever I could to get us on the right track there.”

Even as tough as the Hurricanes played, the Rangers only scored one goal on the power-play, and that was on a two man-down situation for Carolina. They were completely shut out on the 5-on-4 power plays, not to mention being completely smothered in 5-on-5 situations.

This lack of production from top players led a Rangers team that did not play smart or efficiently, and did not play the way they played before the season was paused.

The New York Rangers should be happy with the improved play of Kaapo Kakko

The 19-year-old made a nice impression as soon as he stepped on the ice when summer camp began.

“I feel like he feels much more comfortable coming back,’’ said teammate Jesper Fast. “You see he’s smiling, he’s happy — I mean, like it’s a new energy for him. The way he’s been looking so far this camp . . . he’s looking real sharp. He looks strong on the puck, and [he] had a good scrimmage, so after that giving him more confidence going forward.’’

That confidence carried forward into the three playoff games. Kakko played the most five-on-five minutes of any Rangers forward in Saturday’s 3-2, Game 1 defeat to the Hurricanes, his 12:51 clocking in at 65 seconds more than  Panarin. He appeared to have more “hop in his step” then he had during the regular season.

The expectations were high for Kakko, and somewhat unrealistic, after he was chosen second overall in the NHL Draft last summer. The 6-3, 199-pounder led Finland to the gold medal in the World Junior Championships in 2019, scored 22 goals in 45 games as a 17-year-old in Finland’s professional league, and helped Finland win the World Championship tournament.

The pause seemed to refresh Kakko, who just turned 19 in February. While much of the world was on lockdown in April and May, he was able to work out and skate back home in Finland. The benefits have been obvious and hopefully continues into next season.

But for now, the Rangers will step back and evaluate their team in preparation for next season, whenever that takes place.

 

 

 

 

 

Three Takeaways From the New York Rangers Loss to the Islanders

New York Rangers, Kaapo Kakko

The New York Rangers really needed to kick off the rust last night in their 2-1 loss to their cross-town rival Islanders. The lack of game of real game sharpness and the style the Islanders play made for a very frustrating night for the Blueshirts. However, there are some positives that came out of this contest.

The New York Rangers know that Carolina and the Isles play very different styles

The clogging, suffocating defensive style that the Islanders play has always given the Rangers some issues. The Blueshirts usually play better against faster teams and even the tougher teams. But teams that are good at clogging the neutral zone make it tough for the Rangers to get their transition game going.

Post-game, head coach David Quinn thought they got frustrated as the game went on, that their transition game stalled and they got bottled up a little bit in the neutral zone.

Another thing that makes it tough is when a team has to spend a lot of time killing off penalties. In the first period, the Rangers spent three and a half consecutive minutes of the first period killing penalties, including 33 seconds of five-on-three. They did a really good job of killing penalties, but it means that you spend less time getting your offense going, against the team that excels at stifling offensive production. This is was really the main reason why Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad did not look good, something that Quinn is not expecting on Saturday.

Kaapo Kakko looks much improved coming off the break

One of the more pleasant surprises in last night’s game was the play of forward Kaapo Kakko. For many games during the season, Kakko was criticized for hesitating, or passing the puck, instead of shooting it. Not last night. Kakko was aggressive with his shots including the time when he came out of the penalty box, made a little move against an Islander defender, and got off a good shot that was stopped.  Kakko also got a few shifts on the Artemi Panarin-Ryan Strome line in place of Jesper Fast.

Quinn told the media after the game that Kakko won’t start in the top six on Saturday, but it is a possibility if he’s trying to get some different looks.

The New York Rangers defense looked a little different

Many in Rangers nation celebrated the fact that former defensive assistant Lindy Ruff took a head coaching job in New Jersey, as Ruff was the brunt of much frustration when the Rangers defense broke down in the season.

In his post-game media availability, Jacob Trouba talked about the effect that Gord Murphy has had on the defense. “Obviously, Gord’s here now and Lindy moved on so that’s a little bit of a different voice. PK is something we went over a lot the last week or so.” Trouba said. “A little bit of a different feel. It was nice to get some practice in today because there are a couple of changes with a different voice leading the way.”

Speaking of the defense, Marc Staal had a minor injury but was held out due to precautionary measures. Quinn expects him to play Saturday in game one against the Hurricanes.

Rangers’ Kaapo Kakko ready to lace up skates despite being Type 1- Diabetic

When training camp began for the New York Rangers at the training facility last week, 19 -yeard old Kaapo Kakko was on the ice with his New York Rangers teammates. His underlying medical condition has placed on the back burner with a pandemic virus on everyone’s mind.

Kakko and his Blueshirts are preparing to travel to Toronto and begin their quest for the Stanley Cup with a “win it all” attitude. The team’s 2nd overall selection in the 2018 NHL entry draft has been willing to participate in the unusual playoff format since the NHL’s Return to Play guidelines were released.

“I want to play, and I’m so young (19) that my diabetes is OK right now,” the rookie forward said to Dan Rosen of NHL.com. “Just keep sugars down and it’s going to be OK.”

The concern for Kakko is not because he is at a greater risk to get the virus, but how he will battle the virus if he should contract it.  Rangers head coach David Quinn had a discussion with the rookie a few months back and the conversation was one of a dad talking to his son as opposed to a coach speaking to a player.

“[Kaapo] and I had a conversation maybe two months ago,” Rangers coach David Quinn said per Rosen. “When I brought it up to him it had never crossed his mind what could be at stake and the fact that he could be more vulnerable. Obviously, we did our homework, and I actually said to him, ‘You should look into it from your end too, not just the Rangers’ standpoint. Talk to your doctors back in Finland, ask them if you’re more at risk or how much more at risk you are than everybody else. And you need to be comfortable playing.’

“He’s got a great future, and his health is first and foremost, the most important thing here. Based on all the information we have and all the information he got, he’s here and eager and I don’t think he has any concerns.”

Kakko’s first season was a battle to adapt to the NHL style of play. He appeared in 66 games netting 10 goals with 23 points. The learning curve was difficult but the time away from the rink could be beneficial for a kid who so needed to find a way to recharge during a hard 82 game NHL season.

The rookie will continue to be as safe as he can with the uncertain times around him and keep preparing for the teams Qualifying Round best of five series against the Carolina Hurricanes set to begin on Aug. 1. The team will head to Toronto and have one exhibition game against the New York Islanders on July 29 (8 p.m. MSG Network).

Quinn along with the team will heavily rely on a well-rested Kakko to have a hot start right out of the gate with the hope of the team finding the hot streak that was abruptly shut down in March amid the Coronavirus.