2016 was a bit of a mediocre year when looking at the recent history of the New York Rangers. They did, however, manage to end it on a winning note, winning three in a row entering the new year. Here’s how they fared in the last month of 2016…
Monthly Record: 10-5-0 (20 points)
Overall Record: 26-12-1 (53 points, 3rd in Metropolitan Division)
High Point: A brief goalie controversy briefly emerged in New York, as Antti Raanta made four straight starts, looking spectacular in them, and even earning NHL Star of the Week honors. The quartet, the first time Raanta had made that many consecutive starts in his career, included shutout wins over Chicago and New Jersey (the former of which went into overtime). However, Henrik Lundqvist returned with a vengeance. After being forced out of a Dallas game on December 15 due to concussion analysis, Lundqvist returned to the very same game and recorded a shared shutout with Raanta. He followed it up with back-to-back shootout wins over Nashville and New Jersey, and for his efforts, he earned Star of the Week honors as well. Lundqvist concluded the year by making history, earning the 390th win of career in a 6-2 win over Colorado on December 31, passing Dominik Hasek for most all-time by a European-born goaltender.
Low Point: The Pittsburgh Penguins proved to be a constant thorn in the Rangers’ side in 2016, eliminating the Rangers in five games en route to a Stanley Cup title back in the spring, and dominating them in two of three regular season meetings in the ensuing active season. On December 20, the Pens humbled the Rangers in 7-2 fashion. More horrors awaited the Rangers in their next game, as they fell victim to the Minnesota Wild’s 12-game winning streak, getting crushed 7-4 at Madison Square Garden.
Three Stars of December
1st Star: Derek Stepan
Stepan got off to a bit of a rough start on the season, but has become on the of Rangers’ biggest leaders as the season has gone on, and December saw him take the team lead in points, currently at 30. Stepan ended December with at least one point in five of the final six games, the most notable of which was the Rangers’ 4-3 win over Ottawa on December 27. Stepan scored two goals, helping the Rangers overcome a 3-1 deficit. Stepan’s 21 assists are tied for 9th in the NHL with his teammate Mats Zuccarello and several others.
2nd Star: Antti Raanta
A career backup thus far in his career, Raanta saw extended playing time for the first time in his career, making four consecutive starts. In those starts, Raanta recorded two shutouts, including an overtime thriller against his former comrades in Chicago on December 9. He followed it up by shutting out the Devils two night later. Raanta may be a little too old (27) too be considered a long-term heir to Lundqvist, but it’s good to know that should the unthinkable happen to Lundqvist, or if he just needs a rest, the Rangers can still procure quality goaltending.
3rd Star: Henrik Lundqvist
The whispers began to rise when Lundqvist was skipped for four consecutive games, prompted by a rough four goal performance against the Islanders. Was this the end of The King’s reign over New York City? Further questions permeated when Lundqvist was removed from the Dallas game on December 15, when Lundqvist took a cheap shot from Cody Eakin. However, not only did he return, but also posted a shutout, teaming with Raanta for the first shared shutout in Rangers history. Lundqvist followed that up with overtime heroics against the Predators and Devils, before ending the month with his aforementioned history. Unlike Hasek, though, the Rangers hope Lundqvist won’t have to go elsewhere to earn his first Stanley Cup.
Looking Ahead: 3 to Watch In January
January 4 @ Philadelphia-The Rangers took down the Flyers in a Black Friday thriller, but that was immediately before the Flyers embarked on a 10-game winning streak. With the two hated rivals firmly entrenched in the five team logjam that is the Metropolitan Division, it’ll be a chance to make a big statement, especially on a nationally televised stage, for each team. This will be one of two January meetings between the rivals, the other on January 25. (8:00, NBCSN)
January 7 @ Columbus-The Blue Jackets, also part of that aforementioned Metro logjam, were already a handful when the Rangers saw them in November, a 4-2 loss at Nationwide Arena, but should everything fall in place, Columbus could have a chance to break the record for longest winning streak in NHL history. The 1992-93 Penguins will probably be big Rangers fans that night, though the Rangers will have enough reason to beat Columbus with former coach John Tortorella and former player Brandon Dubinsky on the opposing bench. The teams will face off for the first time at Madison Square Garden on January 31. Following this game, the Rangers will take a de facto “bye week” through January 13. (7:00, MSG2)
January 14 @ Montreal-With all the focus on the Metropolitan madness, we forget that the Montreal Canadiens have pulled off a very good season in the Atlantic. The Rangers will travel to Bell Centre for the first time this season, and it will be part of a Canadian back-to-back, as the Rangers will face Toronto the day before (7:00, MSG)
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffMags5490