Internally, externally, surely Rangers will enter the season with great expectations. This is the natural sequence after the trip to the conference finals.
But if you thought Gerard Gallant would pay attention to that, well, you don’t know the club’s second-year head coach very well, do you?
“Last spring is over,” Gallant said at the introductory press conference at the practice rink on Wednesday, a day before his team opened training camp. “I guess we can all sit here and ask each other if we had those expectations last year and the answer would probably be no.
“I can’t lie to you – I didn’t. We had a great run. We played great hockey. I knew we were a good team, but we beat some great teams and we didn’t want to beat those teams in the playoffs.” It was a great experience for our players, but it doesn’t make sense.
“There are a lot of teams that are going to be better in our division, so your goal from day one is to try and make it to the playoffs,” he said. “It’s not like we’ve won 52 matches so we’re going to win 60 this year. I wish it were, but I don’t see it that way.
“It’s going to be a fight.”
Three of the Rangers’ top six in the playoffs – Ryan Strom, Andrew Copp and Frank Vatrano – went on to be free agents. Free-agent takeover Vincent Trochek will step into Strom’s jersey number 16, Artemi Panarin’s center and first power-play unit in both the spot and role, but The other two positions are ready to grab,
Sammy Blass will find first crack with Mika Zibnejad and Chris Kreider to line up on the right, while Vitaly Kravtsov will start with Panarin and Trochek. At least for these early scrimmage days, the Alexis Lafrenier-Philippe Chitil-Capo unit will remain intact. They are still relative children, but they are no longer inexperienced after a 20-game run in the tournament (19 for Kakko, cough, cough).
It took a while for the Rangers to adapt to Gallant’s system last season. After more revisions from a strict man-to-man to zone coverage for a couple of weeks into the season, the club never looked back, essentially closing the playoff spot until Christmas. The ride might not be as smooth this time around.
Gallant said Doesn’t expect a change in system or team approach, Therefore, the Rangers would not be a high risk-high reward team coming from their own end and through neutral territory. And of course the emphasis will be on ForeCheck to become more effective.
Because although the Rangers slid to 110 points, good for seventh-overall in the NHL, they relied heavily on Vezina winner Igor Shesterkin, who won Jacques Plante’s record .944 after flirting for most of the season with a .935 saving percentage. registered. The Blueshirts were 28-3-1 when Shesterkin posted at least a .925 saving percentage, but just 7-10-3 when he didn’t.
This was largely a function of a stalled five-for-five attack. Rangers scored two goals, or at least 28 times, over a quarter of the season. He was 20th in five goals each at 2.35 per 60 minutes, 31st in shot attempts (after the last) and 30th in shots over the net. They have to improve in these areas to take some of the burden off their all-star Netminder and incoming backup Jaro Halak,
They will need even more power output from Zibnejad, who recorded only 12 goals in 2019-20 compared to his 19 in 57 games. And he would need a meaningful contribution from Kravtsov, the winger said a year later to grab a top six slot opportunity that he hadn’t seen any way out of before moving back to Russia.
Gallant joked (I think) when asked if the Rangers could count on Shesterkin putting up a similar number this season. Now that I think about it, I’ve never asked then-head coach Tom Rennie, John Tortorella or Alain Vignoault if anyone could count on Heinrich Lundquist to copy his past work in any given season . Of course, the blueshirts relied heavily on the king.
“Yeah, because I expect Kreider to get 52 goals…,” he answered the question with a smile. “I hope the team will be better in all areas.”
you know what? That’s what the Rangers should be able to accomplish.