Everything is going well right now for the Rangers, and the team is feeling really good about itself.
Should they be worried it’s all too good to be true?
Coach Gerard Gallant isn’t going to spend time worrying about that, but he’s well aware things aren’t necessarily going to be this good forever.
"We're real happy with the way things are going today,’’ he said after practice Saturday, before the league postponed Sunday’s game against the Islanders at Madison Square Garden. "But you know that tomorrow things could change in a heartbeat. So you’ve just got to keep playing and having fun doing the job, like you've done from Day One . . . Let's keep doing what we're doing.’’
What they’re doing is winning, and doing so in different ways, getting contributions from their entire lineup. They’ve won seven of their last eight games, and are 13-4-3 through 20 games, which was the sixth-best record in the 32-team NHL entering Sunday and good enough to have them comfortably in a playoff spot in the Metro Division.
History says 77% of teams holding a playoff spot on Thanksgiving end up making the playoffs, but the Rangers aren’t exactly ready to hang playoff bunting around the Garden just yet.
"It's a nice statistic, but there's still a lot of hockey left to be played this year,’’ Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Adam Fox said. "Obviously, we've put ourselves in a good position in this first [quarter] of the year . . . I think we want to continue the momentum we have right now and put together a lot of wins. We know we're in a pretty tough division. So I wouldn't say you're [ever] secure.’’
The first 10 or so games of the season, the Rangers had a good record, but it was mostly because of the stellar goaltending of Igor Shesterkin. The Rangers understood they had to play better as a team, though, and they’ve managed to do that. The last 10 or so games, the team is playing better overall, with all four lines playing well, the defense playing well, and Shesterkin (11-3-2, 2.22 goals-against average, .933 save percentage) continuing to do his thing.
Friday’s 5-2 win over the Bruins in Boston demonstrated the Rangers’ quality to a national television audience. Third-line winger Julien Gauthier had two assists in the three-goal third period that allowed the Rangers to pull away from the Bruins, and on Wednesday, it was the fourth line — led by two goals from Kevin Rooney — that powered the 4-1 win over the Islanders.
"It's not always the top line,’’ Fox said. "We're getting production from everyone, and that's what you need to win and beat those teams like Boston, and the good teams in this league. So yeah, I think it's taking a full team effort and it's really coming together.’’
"I don't want to say too much, because we hope everything keeps going same way,’’ Artemi Panarin said. "But I see our progress, how we started the season, with just ‘Shesty’ [Shesterkin] playing good. Lots of shots, dangerous shots, against us. Right now, it’s so much better. And then people feel the confidence. There’s a good collective in locker room, so I'm happy with this year.’’