Perhaps Peter Laviolette was the strong force the New York Rangers have been looking for behind the bench after all.
After fans and analysts questioned how well the Laviolette experiment would work, the first couple of weeks in the 2023-24 NHL season have shown a much different story. Following the Rangers’ 3-1 win over the Calgary Flames, the team has shown no signs of slowing down in what has been an excellent start to their season.
At 4-2-0, the Rangers have been far from perfect. That being said, the performances they have put on the ice to begin the year have shown early confidence in what the new coaching staff is teaching, and just how good this group can be later in the year.
“There are things we can do better. I don’t think that we were full tilt tonight. I thought we defended too much. When we’re on our game, we’re pressing the issue. We’re forechecking & we’re beating people to pucks,” Laviolette said after Tuesday night’s win north of the border.
Arguably the best part of the Rangers’ fast start to the season has been the improved play of their young talents. Filip Chytil has played even better than last year’s career year and Alexis Lafreniere’s third score of the season has shown an improved turn in play over the last few games.
Add in the improved play from Kaapo Kakko and the youth of the team that needed to step up this season to make New York a viable contender have done so through the first couple of weeks in the new year.
“We just have to keep playing and create chances offensively…it’s still a real young season but just to get more games with the same guys is good. Obviously, Fil and Bread (Artemi Panarin) are amazing so it is really fun to play with them,” Lafreniere explained.
Infusing the improvements from the young players on the roster with veterans who are playing at their highest level has left the Rangers as one of the top teams in the early portion of the season. They’ve won in several different ways in each of their games, and have shown a penchant for doing the necessary things needed to win in the long term.
The Blueshirts rank 10th in the league in face-off win percentage, the fewest shots on goal allowed per game, and are among the best teams in puck possession so far this year. The formula has worked and allowed them to be tied at the top of the Metropolitan division through the first six games.
Of course, the 2023-24 NHL season is still in its infancy. The important thing for the Rangers is to continue to play at this high level under Laviolette’s staff. The better they play against tougher competition, the easier it will be for chemistry and trust to seep through the rest of the locker room – something that was lacking from the previous year’s group under Gerard Gallant.
A new season brings new challenges though, and so far, the Rangers have excelled right through them.
“You are on the road, dealing with some time changes, so I thought the guys stuck with it and got ourselves the two points,” Laviolette stated. “Every game can’t be an A+ game. You want it to be and if it’s not you want to correct it. We’ll do that. Sometimes you’re playing the hand you are dealt.”