Rangers veterans have responded in a big way under Peter Laviolette


BOSTON — The Rangers are just past the one-third mark of the season.

Is it still early?

Is this still the “start” of the season or are we entering the meat of the schedule with patterns already having been established? 

The Blueshirts faced off against the Bruins here Saturday in the second clash of 2023-24 between the two clubs with the best point-percentages in the NHL.

The B’s were on top at .750 off their 42 points (19-5-4) in 28 games, a few ticks ahead of the Rangers’ .732 off their 41 points (20-7-1) in 28 contests. 

There has been only one other time in franchise history that the Rangers achieved 20 victories within their first 28 games.

That was in 1993-94, when the club went to 20-6-2 with a Game 28 victory over the Devils.

Something else happened that season, too. 

(By the way, to add some context, the 1971-72 Rangers were 19-4-5 after 28 games in a league without overtimes, shootouts and guaranteed winners in all games. They improved to 20-4-5 with the next contest. Trivial trivia.) 

The last time the Rangers achieved 20 victories within their first 28 games was the 1993-94 season.
The last time the Rangers achieved 20 victories within their first 28 games was the 1993-94 season. NHLI via Getty Images

“I think we’ve played well. I think we started the season well,” head coach Peter Laviolette said when asked for a big-picture kind of view following Friday’s 5-1 Garden victory over Anaheim. “I don’t think it’s ever perfect for any team. 

“We’ve also done it through some injuries, too, and [it’s positive] for guys to be able to sustain that. In a bigger picture, and I’ve told this to players, I’ve liked the way we’ve worked in practice. I think it just kind of sets the identity for who you’re going to be and what you’re going to be.” 

That is consistent with the message Laviolette has sent since his introductory press conference in June during which he talked about establishing playoff-type habits beginning with Day 1 of training camp.

The competitive nature of each practice may not necessarily have the athletes whistling while they work, but there is constant buy-in that produces a constructive environment. 

Veterans who begged to be coached up in training camp exit meetings with general manager Chris Drury in the wake of the first-round defeat to the Devils are responding to being coached up. 

“It’s early. There are certainly things in games I wish we did better,” Laviolette said. “I wish we generated more [offense] earlier, and I wish we defended a little better lately. 

“There’s always something, you’re always going to be coaching something, fixing something, because neither ever really rides the entire year the way you want. I don’t ever really think that everything just goes away completely. I think you’re constantly coaching and teaching and going over things.” 

The Rangers faced off against the Bruins on Saturday in the second clash of 2023-24
The Rangers faced off against the Bruins on Saturday in the second clash of 2023-24 AP

The Blueshirts defeated the Bruins 7-4 at the Garden on Nov. 25.

Jonathan Quick was in net for that one while Igor Shesterkin got the nod on Saturday.

Quick, who played Friday, has not gotten back-to-back starts since Jan. 18-19, 2017. 

The Rangers have gone 5-4 in the interim, allowing 34 goals (albeit three empty-netters).

The Bruins, whose loss to the Blueshirts represented their second of three straight, have gone 5-2-1 since leaving Manhattan.

That includes Friday’s 5-4 overtime victory on the Island in which Boston rallied to tie with 3:09 remaining in regulation. 

Laviolette has made some personnel adjustments in the wake of injuries to Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko that have placed two members of the erstwhile Kid Line on long-term injured reserve.

The coach has also done some tinkering lately with the spot on right wing beside Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad. 

After Kakko held down that spot for the first 11 games of the season, Blake Wheeler got the next 11.

Then it was Jonny Brodzinski for three.

And now, the match against the B’s will be Wheeler’s fourth straight assignment with Kreider and Zibanejad. 

“You have to keep getting better, you have to keep moving toward the future,” said the coach. “The start of the season, if you want to look at it from a rearview-mirror thing, I think our guys have worked hard to get to this point. 

“We have to continue to work hard. It gets harder as the season goes on. Everybody knows that.”

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