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Blueshirt Takeaways: What a Difference a Month Makes

On Nov. 30, the Rangers blank the Devils 4-0 at the Rock. Just two games since Mika Zibanejad returned to the lineup, the Rangers are playing even better hockey.  Zibanejad scored the first goal in his first game back– a 4-2 win over Carolina and the second goal of this most recent win against the Devils on the road.

A month ago, I talked to a friend of mine about the Rangers’ awful loss to the Bruins. To make matters worse, leading-scorer Mika Zibanejad left the game with an upper-body injury. “Upper-body injury” is a coy way of saying, a player has had a serious injury to the head or a concussion in the National Hockey League (NHL).

Moreover, after a dismal end to October, the Rangers looked like a team that lacked the ability to compete and was getting embarassed at home. However bad the end of October was, in November, the Rangers turned their fortunes around.

It started when Zibanejad left the lineup and the Rangers called up both Ryan Lindgren and Filip Chytil. The Rangers reclaimed their game, hustle all over the ice, try you’re hardest to win battles for the puck, and play well defensively. The Rangers win games because they work hard and they have enough talent to score goals and to keep a lead.

In the month of November, the Rangers’ record was 9-4-2, which has moved them up to sixth place in a competitive Metropolitan division. They managed to beat the Washington Capitals 4-1 on Nov. 20—who had lost three games at that point.

So, which players are standing out? Panarin and Trouba were great additions. But let’s concentrate on the defense.

I think that this team’s defense doesn’t get enough respect..

Rookie defenseman Adam Fox has provided leadership with his steady defensive play and ability with the puck. Great playmaking d-men are hard to come by. You can argue that there are only a handful in the league. Erik Karlsson is definitely one of them, Brent Burns although he scores goals too, but over the last month of hockey, no defenseman has played better offensively than Fox. Watching him make a great pass—through sticks—to the back-post, where Zibanejad was waiting.

Great players help the team win. Fox has helped his team win in some important games. Nov. 12 a 3-2 overtime win over the Penguins. Just last Wednesday against the Hurricanes. The Canes wanted to get back at the Rangers for winning a game, despite outshooting the Rangers earlier in November. Lundqvist again held the fort against the Hurricanes, while Adam Fox powered the Rangers with a goal and assist!

This 21-year-old from Harvard University is not only mature and intelligent, he has hockey sense.

Rookie D-men

After a mediocre start to his NHL career, 21-year-old rookie defenseman Libor Hajek has stayed in the lineup and averaged 16:32 time-on-ice.

NHL defensemen average a lot of ice time. On the Rangers defense, Hajek and Lindgren, two rookies get less ice time than the veterans; Jacob Trouba and Brady Skjei. However, out of the three youngest defensemen on the Rangers, Hajek is a great skater, who possesses great athletic ability and a six-foot, two frame. Hajek’s athletic ability has largely gone unnoticed. He is good positionally and uses his size and skating ability to his advantage in both the offensive and defensive zone.

There is not an advanced statistic for giveaway/ takeaway differential. I argue that there should be. For example, Jacob Trouba is a minus-eight, because he has 21 giveaways and 13 takeaways. I think it can be a great statistic. It measures a players’ ability to create turnovers, which is very important in a fast game like ice hockey.

Hajek has 7 takeaways this season, meanwhile he has given the puck away 14 times. Not surprising because he is a rookie. Still, he just seems to be playing better. He is not flashy, he does not produce much offense, but he does pass the puck well in the offensive zone. Most importantly, he has cleaned up his awareness and instincts in his own defensive zone. Name a time when Hajek has given up the puck that ended up in his own net. I cannot.

Ryan Lindgren was called up from Hartford on Oct. 29. In the month he has played on the Rangers, the 21-year-old rookie has been solid on defense. Lindgren is not flashy, does not produce much offense, but he skates well and is always in the right position. He uses his stick well around his net to break up plays and plays similar to former New Jersey Devils cup-winning d-man Brian Rafalski.

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Anthony has been a sportswriter at In The Zone since Sept. 2019. He graduated from Montclair State, where he was assistant Editor of the student newspaper's sports section. He also co-hosts a sports-themed radio show on the campus station, WMSC 90.3 FM, which was recently named #1 college radio station in the nation.
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