Rangers Thursday Thoughts: I’m Thankful Artemi Panarin Isn’t an Islander

The Rangers' superstar single-handedly altered the rivalry

A very productive week for the Rangers as they went 2-1, winning both home games and losing on the road to the defending champion Blues. It’s going to take winning two out of three for the rest of the season for the Rangers to change a rebuilding season into a playoff season, but they have set themselves up to at least have a chance at playing past Game 82.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Rangers as usual.

1. Monday night’s win over the Islanders was very close to not happening. Not because of anything that happened in the actual game, but because of what happened last summer when reports started to come out on June 30 that Artemi Panarin was going to sign with the Islanders. Those reports thankfully turned out not to be true as Panarin used the Islanders as leverage, eventually signing with the Rangers and leaving about $1 million per season on the table to be on the Rangers side of the rivalry.

Panarin showed Islanders fans what could have been in the first meeting between the two teams with a five-point night in the Rangers’ 6-2 win. Those five points now have him on pace for 122 points, one point less than Jaromir Jagr’s Rangers record.

Here are the Rangers’ points leaders for the last six full seasons since the lockout-shortened season:

2018-19: 74 (Mika Zibanejad)
2017-18: 53 (Mats Zuccarello)
2016-17: 59 (Mats Zuccarello)
2015-16: 61 (Mats Zuccarello)
2014-15: 69 (Rick Nash)
2013-14: 59 (Mats Zuccarello)

Panarin has 26 goals and 41 assists and his 67 points have already passed the full-season totals for four of those six seasons. There’s a very good chance by next week’s Rangers Thursday Thoughts that he has passed all six. It’s very rare that any free-agent signing in any sport works out, but the first year of Panarin couldn’t possibly be going any better than it is.

2. When Matthew Barzal is on the ice, I’m scared. I’m not scared at the level of Alexander Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby or Nathan MacKinnon or Connor McDavid, but I’m still scared, and I’m even more scared when Barzal is on the ice in 3-on-3 overtime. There was a very real possibility Rangers fans would have had to spend the next seven-or-so seasons worrying about not only Barzal on the ice, but Panarin on his wing at the same time. It makes me nervous even thinking about it even though it’s no longer a possibility. Panarin choosing the Rangers over the Islanders drastically changed the future of this rivalry, and changed it for the better for Rangers fans.

3. The goaltending problem is still a problem. More and more trade speculation surrounding Alexandar Georgiev is coming out and the rumors are only going to gain steam as the deadline gets closer and closer, but the Rangers have to resolve the situation. I know there is faction of media and fans who think they could wait until the offseason to figure out their goaltending future, but that will mean another five-plus weeks after the deadline of one of the three watching each post-deadline game from the press box. How many hot dogs do they want Igor Shesterkin to eat exactly?

4. Shesterkin played his first two games as a Ranger, winning both and hasn’t played since and isn’t expected to play on Thursday in Long Island. If he does end up playing on Sunday against Columbus, he will have gone 10 days between starts. I understand the benefit of being in the NHL, learning how to be in the league and learning in practice from Henrik Lundqvist and Benoit Allaire, but nothing equals the experience and development of playing in actual games.

5. The situation is even worse for Lundqvist. Lundqvist played on Jan. 2 and on Jan. 11. He had nine days off between games and was tasked with facing the defending champion Blues on the road. to no surprise, the Rangers were easily beat. Either Shesterkin or Lundqvist is going to play on Sunday against Columbus, and given the rotation, it seems like it’s going to be Shesterkin, which means at the earliest, Lundqvist will play again on Jan. 21 against the Islanders, 10 days from his most recent start.

The whole thing is going to be taken to another level when the team has a 10-day layoff between Jan. 21 and Jan. 31 due to the All-Star break and the team’s scheduled five-day break. It’s all ridiculous and only gets more ridiculous with each passing day it’s not resolved.

6. Tony DeAngelo’s hat trick and five-point night last Thursday was extremely fun to watch and even with back-to-back pointless games against the Blues and Islanders, he’s on pace for 20 goals and 46 assists. As I wrote about Kaapo Kakko last week, immediate success isn’t always a guarantee for first-round draft picks, as DeAngelo was six years ago (19th overall). Now in only his second full NHL season after going up-and-down in the first two seasons he saw NHL action, DeAngelo has finally realized the potential that was the Lightning saw from him out of the OHL to select him with the first-round pick, the Coyotes saw in him to trade for him and the Rangers saw in him to acquire him for Derek Stepan. DeAngelo’s offense-first style of play doesn’t come without faults, as he was unable to clear the front of the net despite being on the man-advantage when Shesterkin couldn’t control a rebound to tie that game against New Jersey the game at 1, but DeAngelo more than made up for his defensive lapse with his career night.

7. No one wants the Rangers to allow more shots per game than any other team in the league, especially the three goalies, and I’m sure they are trying daily to make adjustments so a team as bad and offensively-challenged as the Devils aren’t able to record 49 shots against them like they did last Thursday. But on the other end of their league-worst shot prevention is the fact the Rangers’ defensemen have more points than any other defensive group in the league.

8. David Quinn clearly wishes his team played more like Barry Trotz’s Islanders and were capable of playing defensive-minded hockey every game, but that’s not who this team is, and that’s OK. The Rangers should accept that they are an offense-first team that is more like the Maple Leafs and Panthers and they don’t have to try to be the Islanders or Stats. Both of those teams wish they had some of the scoring ability of the Rangers, while the Rangers wish they could score three goals and have a guaranteed victory like those teams. The goal eventually is for this defensive group to play more defense, but for now, this style of hockey is fun to watch, even if it’s going to be hard to every be a true contender with such inconsistent defense.

9. The Rangers have scored 27 goals in their last five home games (all wins) and have scored only 12 goals in their last four road games (all losses). This is clearly who these Rangers are for this season: a team relies on its offense and goaltending to win games, while almost completely disregarding defense. That’s not necessarily a bad thing either. If they’re able to maintain their offense as their young defense gains continues to learn and develop, then they will have themselves the championship contender the rebuild was done to create. Dont’ try to make DeAngelo, Adam Fox and Jacob Trouba something they’re not, and try to hold them back from their offensive instincts.

10. The Met is so strong and so deep, it’s ridiculous. While Boston, Tampa Bay and Toronto are able to beat up on Buffalo, Montreal, Ottawa and Detroit, the Met’s only misfit is New Jersey and they have played much better for the last month. The Rangers find themselves 12 points out of a division playoff berth in the Met and eight points out of the second wild-card berth (with two games in hand on the Flyers).

The Rangers went 2-1 since last week’s Thoughts and they’re going to need to basically continue winning two out of every three games for the remaining 37 games in order to reach the playoffs. At 22-19-4 with 48 points, they’re on pace for an 88-point season. The Flyers are now on pace for 98 points, so if 98 points get you the last playoff spot, the Rangers need 50 points in their remaining 37 games, or 1.35 points per game. That translates to a 23-10-4 record. Once again, it’s not impossible, but it’s going to take the same play they gave over the last week for the rest of the season, and it all starts with winning the Battle of New York.