Internally, just as on the outside, Rangers are sure to enter the season with high expectations. This is the normal arrangement after a trip to the conference finals.
But if you think Gerard Gallant would admit it, well, you don’t know the club’s second-year coach very well, do you?
“Last spring ended,” Gallant said at the opening press conference Wednesday at the training ground, a day before his team opened training camp. “I think we can all sit here and ask each other if we had these expectations last year and maybe the answer isn’t.
“I can’t lie to you – I didn’t. We did a great job, we played hockey great. I knew we were a good team, but we beat some great teams and deservedly beat those teams in the playoffs. It was a great experience for our players, but that doesn’t mean something.
“There are a lot of teams that will be better in our division, so from day one your goal is to try to make the playoffs,” he said. “It’s not like we’ve won 52 games, so we’re going to win 60 this year. I hope that’s the case, but that’s not what I’m looking at.
“It will be a battle.”
Three of Rangers’ top six forwards in the playoffs – Ryan Strom, Andrew Cobb and Frank Vatrano – have left free agents. Acquisition of free agent Vincent Trochek would step into Ström’s No. 16 jersey, a place and a role as hub for Artemi Panarin and in his first PU, but The other two points are available to grab.
Sami Blais will get his first rift lined up right with Mika Zibanijad and Chris Kreider while Vitaly Kravtsov will start with Panarin and Trochek. At least on these opening brawl days, Alexis Lafreniere-Filip Chytil-Kaapo Kakko’s unit will remain intact. They’re still relative kids but now they’re no longer inexperienced after 20 matches (19 in Kakko, cough, cough) in the tournament.
Rangers took some time to adjust to the Galant system last season. After tough man-to-man adjustments to more area coverage a few weeks into the season, the club has never looked back, essentially closing out a playoff place by Christmas. Maybe the ride won’t be so smooth this time.
Galant said Don’t expect changes to the system or team approach. Hence, the Rangers would not be a high-risk, rewarding team that gets out of its way and through the Neutral Zone. And there will certainly be an emphasis on becoming more efficient in the frontal examination.
Because even though the Rangers scored 110 points, which is good for a seventh place in the National Hockey League, they were largely dependent on Vesina winner Igor Shesterkin, who scored . . The Blueshirts were 28-3-1 when Shesterkin scored no less than 0.925 savings, but only 7-10-3 when he didn’t.
This was largely the result of a five against five attack. Rangers scored two goals or fewer 28 times, more than a quarter of the season. They ranked 20th in five goals to five per 60 minutes at a rate of 2.35 per goal while they were 31st (next to last) in shot attempts and 30th in shots on the net. They will have to improve in these areas to relieve some of the burden on all the netminder stars and Ward Jarrow Barber Backup.
They will need a more powerful production from Zibani Nejad, who scored just 12 goals, compared to 19 in 57 games in 2019-20. They will require a meaningful contribution from Kravtsov, and a chance of a top six place a year after the winger said he foresaw no way to do so before returning to Russia.
Galant joked (I think) when asked if the Rangers could count on Chesterkin to come up with similar numbers this season. Now that I think about it, I didn’t ask then coaches Tom Rainey, John Tortorella or Alan Viñault if anyone could count on Henrik Lundqvist to repeat his past in any given season. Of course, the blue shirts were very dependent on the king.
He answered the question with a smile “Yes, because I expect Kreider to score 52 goals…”. “I expect the team to be better in all areas.”
you know what? This is an expectation that the Rangers must be able to fulfill.