If you take a look around, many things are changing. Autumn is turning in to Winter, stores and people are decorating for Christmas way too early, and the Florida Panthers organization changed coaching staffs. Something else that’s changed is the New York Rangers on-ice performance. After a dreadful season-opening nine game road trip, the Blueshirts have gotten their season back on track. Maybe it’s sleeping in their own beds consistently, maybe it’s some home cooking, or maybe it’s that the team is getting healthy (likely a combination of all three). Whatever it is, the Rangers have won five of their past six, and have taken four straight intradivision match-ups.
The four consecutive division wins started with a road victory against the Islanders two Tuesdays ago. After Henrik Lundqvist earned his second shutout of the season with a 2-0 victory over the Sabres on Halloween, two goals from Carl Hagelin and Derek Stepan’s second career hat trick blew the Carolina Hurricanes (because Raleigh screams “Metropolitan”) out of MSG 5-1 last Saturday. A 2-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks ended the three game winning streak on Monday night, but the next two on the schedule were dates that were circled on the Rangers schedule.
Anytime the Rangers and Penguins meet, it’s a big deal (NBCSN’s “Rivalry Night” aside). Pittsburgh has had a strong start to the season, but the rest of the Metro Division has been mediocre at best. Pittsburgh came out strong in the first period, peppering Lundqvist with twelve shots in the opening frame. The Swedish netminder made some very good saves to keep New York in the game, otherwise the game could have easily been 3-0 early in favor of the Pens. Goals from Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan within a span of 1:05 at the end of the period gave New York the lead for good in a convincing 5-1 win. The loss snapped Pittsburgh’s four game winning streak. For as much as the Rangers struggled to start the year, they played their best hockey of the year against one of the league’s best teams.
There wasn’t any time to indulge in the victory over the rival Penguins. After the game, the Rangers made the trip to Columbus to face a new division foe. Rick Nash wouldn’t be playing his first game in Columbus since being traded (he’s still out with a concussion and there’s still no timetable for his return), but there were many former Rangers playing for the Blue Jackets and vice versa. Carl Hagelin would be the star of the game, scoring the first goal and the eventual game-winner en route to a 4-2 victory. No former Blue Jackets managed to tally any points against the old squad, but former Blueshirts Fedor Tyutin (goal), Brandon Dubinsky (assist) and Marian Gaborik (assist) each found the scoresheet.
The Rangers are starting to look like the team that most expected them to be coming in to the season. They’ve won five of six, won four consecutive intradivision games, but what’s most important is that they’re back at .500 (8-8-0). They’ve got momentum, and have two home games coming up against struggling teams (Florida on Sunday, New Jersey on Tuesday) before playing six of eight on the road. Leaving for a road trip two games over .500 would be a vast improvement compared to coming home three games below .500 like they did to start the season.