Rangers Thoughts Presented by Vintage Ice Hockey: Peter Laviolette’s Promising Performance

Vintage Ice Hockey is the only company that sells premium-quality jerseysapparel and team merchandise for defunct minor league hockey franchises. It’s a family-run, hockey fan-driven company that’s committed to celebrating and preserving the legacies of defunct minor league hockey franchises. Check out their collection spanning over 100 years of minor league hockey and use code KTTC for 15% off your order!

The Rangers opened the 2023-24 against the Sabres on Thursday night in Buffalo with a dominating 5-1 win in Peter Laviolette’s debut as head coach.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Rangers.

1. What team am I watching? That’s what I asked myself as the final seconds of the season-opening first period wound down in Buffalo.

“This has been a nearly flawless period for the Rangers,” Joe Micheletti said at that moment as if he were reading my mind.

After 20 minutes, the Rangers had a 2-0 lead, had the shot advantage with 12 to just seven, had won 64 percent of the faceoffs, had converted their only power-play opportunity and had thoroughly dominated play. It was hard not to be overly excited and ecstatic about this Rangers team after just one of 246 periods.

2. With the hype and anticipation of a new season, the hiring of a new head coach, the implementation of a new system and 25 percent turnover rate in the opening night lineup, it would have been understandable for the Rangers to struggle out of the gate. Add in opening the season on the road against a tough opponent in the young-and-hungry Sabres team that missed the postseason by a single point, and it would have been painful but acceptable for the Rangers to look flat early on. The opposite happened.

“We were ready to skate, ready to compete,” Peter Laviolette said. “It kind of stayed that way the whole game.”

3. After creating some opportunities within the first two minutes of play, Artemi Panarin drove the net to secure his own rebound on a wrist shot from the slot, and without ever looking to his left, slid the puck meticulously across the crease for Alexis Lafreniere to bang it into an open net for the game’s first goal.

It would be hard to find any Rangers fan who, if given the chance, wouldn’t have picked Lafreniere to score the team’s first goal of the season in the first game of the season, let alone in the first 3:47 of the first game of the season. After the overpublicized frustrating preseason Lafreniere endured and the criticism he drew over the last month, he put it all to rest quickly in the first game that matters, reminding everyone that preseason play is meaningless.

4. It was Lafreniere’s defensive play that sparked a turnover with just under eight minutes in the second that led to a Panarin goal, though somehow Lafreniere wasn’t credited with an assist on the play. The fourth-year, former No. 1 overall pick was outstanding in the season opener and rewarded his new head coach for believing in him, actually coaching him up over the last two weeks and not shying away from keeping in the team’s top six.

“(Lafreniere) took a step from those practices and brought it into the game,” Laviolette said. “I thought the line was excellent.”

5. The Panarin-Filip Chytil-Lafreniere line was wildly impressive. They generated high-quality chances right from their first shift and produced the Rangers’ first and third goals, playing with a level of chemistry as if they have been a line for years. As a line, they outshot the Sabres 8-0 in the first period.

They weren’t the only ones with a big night. Chris Kreider scored his first of the season on a tip-in on the power play that gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead and added a shorthanded goal in the third to extend the Rangers’ lead to 4-1. That shorthanded goal came at the perfect time as it started to feel like the Sabres were about to break through.

6. Down 3-0, the Sabres scored with 1:30 left in the second when a shot blocked by Jacob Trouba unfortunately landed right on the stick of JJ Petrka. With 37 seconds left in the period, the Sabres got their first power play of the game (it would have been their second if not for Jordan Greenway retaliating on Kreider immediately following a boarding call) after a soft interference call on Erik Gustafsson (who made some key defensive plays in his Rangers debut). The Sabres didn’t score on that power play that carried over into third, but at 8:51 of the third, Chytil was called for tripping and less than two minutes later, Trocheck went off tripping as well. The Sabres were getting man advantages left and right, but the Rangers’ penalty kill prevented them from getting on the board.

“The penalty kill was absolutely courageous the way they defended,” Laviolette said, “and the way they blocked shots.”

Seconds after Jeff Skinner clanged a shot off the crossbar that would have made it a one-goal game, Mika Zibanejad recorded his second of three assists on the night on the all-important, game-ending Kreider shorty. With 1:29 left, Jacob Trouba scored a full-ice empty netter, and the Rangers went on to win 5-1.

7. It’s crazy to think I haven’t mentioned Igor Shesterkin yet, given that he turned away 24 of 25 shots faced. Shesterkin wasn’t challenged in the first period, but needed to make some keys saves at the end of the second and moments before Kreider’s shorthanded goal in the third. He came up big when he needed (which he always seems to) and earned his 100th career win in the process. The fact I didn’t mention him in these Thoughts until now is a testament to how great he is in that a one-goal-against performance against the third-highest scoring team from a season ago isn’t unordinary, for as silly as that sounds.

8. I wanted Peter Laviolette to replace Gerard Gallant. I was in the minority of wanting Laviolette’s sixth head coaching job in the league to be with the Rangers, but after more than two decades of watching him succeed everywhere he has been, if the Rangers were going to go with someone with NHL experience, I wanted it to be Laviolette.

This isn’t one-game sample size praise either. I believe in Laviolette and trust him as Rangers coach. You won’t find me jumping off his bandwagon if the Rangers falter or slide. Likely because I don’t think they will do either under him. (Sure, I could do without Vincent Trocheck leading all Rangers forwards in ice time by nearly three minutes, but it’s acceptable after last night’s overall performance.)

9. The differences in just one game between Laviolette’s plan his predecessor were stark. The Rangers forced turnovers and won 1-on-1 battles all over the ice, dominated the neutral zone, and rather than give the first power-play unit the entirety of each man-advantage, the second unit was given ample time to set up and create opportunities. Given the team’s play, preparation, chemistry and game plan, it’s almost as if I was watching a completely different franchise from last season.

10. “It’s one win, Laviolette said, “but it’s a good start.”

Not just a “good start,” a great start. A dominating start. A you-can’t-ask-for-a-better-first-game start. It was the kind of full-game effort we have so infrequently seen from these Rangers. In recent seasons, the first-period effort would have waned in the second and the two-goal lead would have been erased. On Thursday, the effort was maintained and the lead was extended. It was a refreshing and satisfying performance. The kind of performance that not only wins in the regular season, but the kind that wins in April, May and June.

Maybe it was just one of 82 and the Rangers will lay an egg in Columbus on Saturday night. I don’t think it was and I don’t think they will. I think it was a sign that these Rangers have taken the next step with the right head coach behind the bench to guide them.

Vintage Ice Hockey is the only company that sells premium-quality jerseys, apparel and team merchandise for defunct minor league hockey franchises. It’s a family-run, hockey fan-driven company that’s committed to celebrating and preserving the legacies of defunct minor league hockey franchises. Check out their collection spanning over 100 years of minor league hockey and use code KTTC for 15% off your order!