BY JUSTIN TASCH
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
The first half of the season was a roller-coaster for the Rangers, who rebounded from their horrible start only to get a reality check over the last three-to-four weeks. They possess the first wild-card spot with 49 points — eight fewer than they had at this point last season — as they reconvene for practice Friday, but are just three points up on last place in the MetroMania division.
Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly of the Rangers’ first half.
Henrik Lundqvist’s renaissance has been life-saving. After posting career-worsts last season with a 2.74 goals-against average and .910 save percentage, the 35-year-old has a 2.52 GAA in 35 starts with a .924 save percentage, fifth-best among goalies with at least 20 appearances. And excluding the first two games of the season over which he surrendered eight goals on 42 shots, Lundqvist has a 2.38 GAA and .928 save percentage in his last 33 games.
Having adjusted to a more aggressive style while moving further out from the goal line, his numbers recently are even more impressive. He has a 2.10 GAA and .939 save percentage over his last 19 games.
Henrik Lundqvist has improved his play this season.
(Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)
In backup Ondrej Pavelec’s last four starts he’s stopped 147 of 153 shots. The Rangers have the NHL’s second-best 5-on-5 save percentage at .943.
Michael Grabner is again leading the team in goals halfway through the season, this time with 18 in 42 games. Kevin Hayes has satisfactorily adapted to becoming the team’s primary matchup center. Eleventh-year vet Marc Staal has bounced back. Sophomore Pavel Buchnevich leads the team in points-per-60-minutes at 2.58 despite averaging the seventh-most minutes among forwards at 14:44 and 11th-most even-strength minutes among forwards at 11:45. Paul Carey has turned himself into a full-time NHL player as an effective fourth-liner.
After a 3-7-2 start, the Rangers went 16-5-1 over their next 22 games. Mats Zuccarello had 20 of his team-high 31 points during that stretch. Through Wednesday, the Rangers had the sixth-best penalty kill in the NHL at 83.7 percent.
As Ryan McDonagh mentioned Sunday, the Rangers haven’t gotten enough from their top players, and the captain is among that group. Zuccarello and J.T. Miller have been the team’s two most productive players but need to be more consistent away from the puck.
The Rangers’ power play has gone ice cold, 8-for-69 over the last 24 games. Marquee signing Kevin Shattenkirk has just three power-play points during that stretch and has six points overall in those 24 games.
With just 11 goals in their last seven games and Chris Kreider (blood clot, rib resection) likely out for a considerable portion of the season, the Rangers need more scoring from the likes of Rick Nash (nine goals) and Miller (eight goals) and some more playmaking from their centers.
The Rangers need more from Rick Nash and others.
(Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)
Sixteen of Nash’s 17 points this season came during a 21-game stretch. He had just one point in his first 11 games and has zero points in his last 10 games.
Production from their defensemen is down. They have 77 points from defensemen through 42 games compared to 93 points at this point last season.
Defensively the Rangers have been porous, with Nick Holden on the top pair and Brendan Smith disappointing after a great playoff run. Beginning with their Nov. 15 game in Chicago through Wednesday, which encompasses the Rangers’ last 24 games, they’re allowing a league-worst 35.79 shots against per game, surrendering at least 40 shots against eight times. They have the second-worst 5-on-5 shot-attempts differential at -280. Recently they’ve been slower and less engaged.
These trends cannot continue if the Rangers want to secure a playoff berth, even if Lundqvist continues to thrive.