The New York Rangers got their season started on the right note on Tuesday when they took down the reigning Eastern Conference champion Tampa Bay Lightning. They looked great in another strong effort against the Minnesota Wild two days later in a hostile Sant Paul building. Is it time to consider the Blueshirts a worthy wager to take down the Eastern Conference in 2023?
It wasn’t shocking, but the 2021-22 Rangers made their mark. Their 52-24-6 record was good enough for second place in the Metropolitan division, but that was before they marched their way to the Eastern Conference Final before dropping out to said Lightning in six games. It’s safe to say this club is for real.
The Rangers have appeal up and down their roster, but their early-season returns make them a strong candidate to take down the east.
Having the Best Goaltender Never Hurts
Sporting the reigning Vezina Trophy winner does not hurt your chances. The Rangers simply have one of the league’s premier netminders, to put it lightly.
Igor Shesterkin blew the hockey world away with a league-best 2.07 GAA and .935 Sv% last season. It became clear in a hurry that the Russian netminder was going to reign terror on opponents early last season, and that should have been well-recognized, given his numbers in the KHL prior to his arrival overseas.
The New York defense is the clear question mark of a team that can both score and provide elite goaltending. Shesterkin was the obvious backbone of a young team — himself included — en route to a successful season that saw them on the brink of a Stanley Cup Final.
Strong Top Six Leads the Way
If you witnessed the Rangers’ season-opening win on Tuesday, you may have noticed the club’s best players showing up. Namely, Mika Zibanejad.
The team’s top center, Zibanejad, opened his season with a two-goal effort. Not only did he do that, but he scored both of his tallies on special teams. The Swede notched a short-handed goal to open his club’s scoring before breaking a 1-1 tie with a power-play marker which stood as the game-winner. Artemi Panarin is the one who has been voted as a Hart Trophy finalist, and Chris Kreider challenged for the Rocket Richard Trophy a season ago, but Zibanejad’s Tuesday outing proved the Rangers have more than enough weapons up front to back up their world-class netminder.
The Rangers appear to be real once again this season. They’ve already knocked off a couple of top-tier teams in Tampa Bay and the Wild to open up their 2022-23 campaign. Combine a high-end offense with a goaltender that may stake his claim as the world’s best, and their +700 odds to take down the Eastern Conference might be a bargain sooner than later.
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