Reaching 50 victories, which the Rangers did Saturday night against the Devils, was quite an accomplishment. Especially for a club that started 7-7-4.
"Fifty'' also had some significance for one of the newest Rangers, Keith Yandle. With a goal and an assist against the Devils, he became one of only three defensemen who have reached 50 points in each of the last two seasons and three times in the last five seasons.
Forty-one of Yandle's points came with the Coyotes, who traded him to the Rangers on March 1. Much like the Rangers' slow start, it has taken time for him to hit his stride. He has eight points in his last eight games.
When he arrived in New York, Yandle was unsure of his role and surroundings, went pointless in five games, flipped passes to nowhere, scored against Buffalo, then went without a point in the next four games. Fans started moaning. Writers banged out critiques.
Then, against Anaheim on March 22, he had three assists. In the seven subsequent games, he has a goal and four assists, is making better decisions with the puck and has been more aggressive defensively. "It's a work in progress coming to a new team," he said. "The practice time we've been getting has helped me out. It's close to a month I've been here and now it's a time where you've really got to be focused with the playoffs coming up. Every day, I'm getting a little bit more comfortable."
The results are coming. He leads all Rangers defensemen in points (2-7-9) since his acquisition despite playing less per game (19:22). In his last five years with the Coyotes, he averaged about 23 minutes per game.
With the offensive side of his game established, Yandle now needs to make better decisions consistently with the puck, a flaw that coach Alain Vigneault has noted. After Tuesday night's win in Winnipeg, he said Yandle is improving in that phase of the game. Said Vigneault, "Sometimes it's about taking a little extra time to allow for a clean breakout."
Yandle has been a playoff performer, with three goals and 16 assists in 27 games over three seasons. The Coyotes did not reach the postseason in five of his eight seasons in Arizona.
For Yandle, who grew up in Milton, Massachusetts, it's a different atmosphere in New York. "Coming to the rink here and having the chance to win every night, it's what you play for," he said. "It shows a lot about this team and the way guys compete every night. There are winning ways in this locker room."