For the second year in a row, the New York Rangers have made it to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Last year, they reached the Eastern Conference Finals, where they lost in six game to the Tampa Bay Lightning. This time around, they're arguably a better bunch. With that said, here are three reasons why the Rangers will be the ones kissing and raising the Stanley Cup when it's all said and done in the 2023 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.
3. Igor Shesterkin
Shesterkin remains one of the best goalies in the NHL. While his numbers are not as impressive as the ones he put up a season ago, the Rangers definitely still have their honest full confidence in Shesterkin to deliver the goods between the pipes.
“When I start to not play good this season, I think about too many different things,” Shesterkin told The Athletic, via Arthur Staple. “When you’re in a hole, you have to think of new ways (to get out). Like in a black line, you’re trying to find the white line … You can’t think things are super great once the black line is out. Just try to stay in the middle always. Not very high, not very low. In the middle, always.”
In the 2022-23 NHL regular season, Shesterkin appeared in 58 games (all starts) and collected a .916 saves percentage and a 2.48 goals allowed per game average. Among goalies this season who have appeared in no fewer than 40 games, Shesterkin is fifth in the league with a 28.1 goals saved above expected and fourth with a 0.009 save percentage above expected.
The 27-year-old Russian netminder will have his hands full in the first round of the 2023 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs against the high-octane attack of the New Jersey Devils, who know a thing or two about dominating the puck-possession battle, but if there's a goalie who can pass such a test, it's someone like Shesterkin. Also remember that in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Shesterkin posted a 2.59 GAA and a .929 saves percentage across 20 total starts.
Shesterkin is also in great form heading into the postseason. Over his last four starts in the regular season, he allowed just seven goals and rejected 111 of 1118 shots faced for a .941 saves percentage.
2. Special teams
The Rangers have an undeniably talented roster. At even strength, it's tough to contend with the Rangers when everyone's healthy. On the power play, they are much more menacing to deal with. New York finished the 2022-23 NHL regular season seventh in the league with a success rate of 24.08 percent on the man advantage. Mika Zibanejad is a beast especially on the power play, as he led the Rangers in the regular season with 20 PP goals.
Moreover, the Rangers were third in expected goals for per 60 minutes of power play (9.87), with only the Edmonton Oilers and the Florida Panthers having better numbers in that stat department. In terms of penalty killing, the Rangers were just 13th having snuffed only 81.17 percent of opposing power-play attacks. It's not great, but it's not bad either. That being said, even when they're shorthanded, the Rangers showed in the regular season that they can still win possessions at a high rate, relatively speaking. In fact, New York was fourth in the NHL with a 17.22 CF% when it's killing penalties and second with a CF/60 of 19.4.
It sounds so cliche, but again, there's no arguing against the talent of the Rangers. Their top line is loaded, with Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, and Patrick Kane. On the season, Kreider has 36 goals and 18 assists, Zibanejad has 39 goals and 52 assists, and Kane has 21 goals and 36 assists. Right behind that line is the trio of Artemi Panarin (29 goals, 63 assists), Vincent Trocheck (22 goals, 42 assists), and Vladimir Tarasenko (18 goals, 32 assists). The Rangers' acquisitions of Kane and Tarasenko have given their offense more life and added tremendous experience to a crew that can definitely benefit from it during what's expected to be a tough journey in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Even when plays schemes get spoiled by their opponents, the Rangers always have their collectively elite talent to rely on to make things happen on the ice. Case in point: the Rangers were just 17th in the NHL during the regular season with a 5-on-5 expected goals for (175.3) but were 10th overall in actual goals for (180). Their actual goal differential of +28 was third-best in the league, with just the Presidents' Trophy-winning Boston Bruins and the New York Islanders in front of them with +59 and +29, respectively. Lastly, the New York Rangers' 5-on-5 PDO was at 101.1 –No. 4 overall.