Seventeen games into the season and the Rangers have answered most of the challenges that have come their way. Integrating a whole host of new players - Check! Improving the defense - Check! Improving the offense - Check! Improving special teams, both Power Play and Penalty Kill - Check and Check!
It's fair to say the Rangers have done mostly right this year, on the way to a 13-4-0 record that matched the franchise high water mark in wins, set last season. They've even won four straight on the road, to pace themselves to a 5-2-0 record away from MSG.
Next up, dealing with divisional foes. With seven games in fourteen nights to close out the month of November, the Blueshirts will face off against Metropolitan opponents in five of them.
First up will be the Columbus Blue Jackets, a team they've beaten on seven straight occasions, including a clean sweep last season when they beat them four times. They've won three straight in Columbus, but will be facing a team tha is 6-1-1 in the last eight games, has blown out Montreal (10-0) and St Louis (8-4) as well as beating Washington and Anaheim. They've given up more than two goals only twice in that eight game stretch and finally seem to be buying into John Tortorella's defense first approach. It's the last game of a four game road trip, so the Rangers would do well to avoid looking ahead to home.
Next will be a Sunday meeting back at MSG with the Florida Panthers, a team they're 13-4-0 against dating back to March 2011. Florida has won once in regulation n the last six games, though they do have three overtime wins in that stretch - including an OT win against the league leading Canadiens as they kicked off a four game road trip - and are 4-3-0 in the month of November. They'll travel to Toronto (Thursday) and Ottawa (Saturday) before finishing the road trip in New York.
New York will quickly turnaround from Florida to face the Penguins for the first time this season in a home and home series on Monday and Wednesday. Pittsburgh is 8-2-1 over their last eleven games, and are averaging 3.78 goals a game in their last nine. The Penguins of course eliminated the Rangers in the playoffs last season, and went on to win the Stanley Cup, prompting the Rangers to revisit their team make-up.
Pittsburgh remain offensively focused around Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, who have contributed 18 of the team's 46 goals, whereas New York now has six players with seven or more goals. It's worth noting however that Crosby in particular, is on fire, with ten goals in nine games, and six over the last five. They have a three game road trip ahead of the Rangers, with stops in Washington (Wed), Buffalo (Fri) and Brooklyn (Sat) before heading home to host the Blueshirts on an extra day's rest.
The Flyers are then next up for the Rangers, again in the first match-up of the season between the traditional foes. Philadelphia is second in the league to the New York in terms of offense this year, but has scored 15 fewer goals. They have a below par 7-7-3 record, and six of their seventeen games have gone to OT or shootout. Defense and goaltending has been an issue, with 36 goals allowed in their last ten games. They've managed to hold not yet held a team to fewer than two goals this season, and have allowed three or more on 14 occasions. The last three games played in Philadelphia between these two teams have gone to a shootout, with the Rangers winning twice.
Back at MSG, New York will close out the month by hosting the Senators and Hurricanes. When Ottawa visits on the 27th, it will mark the first occasion the team's have met since Derick Brassard was traded for Mika Zibanejad. While Zibanejad has had his ups and downs since joining New York, Brassard's tenure with Ottawa has been mostly down.
The team has a whole has struggled to score goals, scoring three or more goals on only four occasions after sixteen games this season. They're 5-2-1 in the month of November, but have only registered eleven goals in the eight games. On no occasion in that span have they actually scored more than two, relying heavily on the form of Craig Anderson with 194 saves on 205 shots for a .947 save percentage over that span. Not to be outdone, backup Mike Condon has made 68 stops on 69 saves to win his last two games.
Finally New York hosts one of the four teams that beat them. The Hurricanes have struggled this year, posting a 5-6-4 record through their first 14 games. They have however, won their last two against New York after losing 19 of the previous 20. Perhaps they're finally turning things around. They've allowed just 43 shots in their last two games on the way to a 5-1 win over Washington and a 1-0 shutout of the Sharks.