(AP) — A New York Rangers team with championship aspirations is on its third coach in four years after Gerard Gallant was fired following two 100-point seasons.
They finished third in the Metropolitan Division before getting ousted by New Jersey in seven games in the first round — including shutout losses in two of the last three games. Peter Laviolette was brought on and will be seeking better scoring balance throughout the lineup for a team that was ninth in the league with 3.33 goals per game.
COACH: Peter Laviolette, (752-503-25-150 over 21 seasons, 1 Stanley Cup title).
SEASON OPENER: Oct. 12 at Buffalo.
DEPARTURES: RW Patrick Kane, RW Vladimir Tarasenko, C Tyler Motte, G Jaroslav Halak, coach Gerard Gallant.
ADDITIONS: F Blake Wheeler, F Nick Bonino, F Tyler Pitlick, D Erik Gustafsson, G Jonathan Quick.
GOALIES: Igor Shesterkin (37-13-8, 2.48 GAA, 0.916 save percentage) and Quick (16-15-6, 3.41 GAA, 0.882).
FANDUEL SPORTSBOOK STANLEY CUP ODDS: 17-1.
LAST SEASON: Coming off a run to the conference finals, the Rangers were in win-now mode last season, especially after acquiring veteran forwards Kane and Tarasenko ahead of the trading deadline. They finished third in the Metropolitan Division and topped 100 points for the second straight season but were ousted by New Jersey in the first round.
STRENGTHS: Shesterkin gives the Rangers a strong chance to win most nights. He is 73-13-12 with nine shutouts, a 2.29 GAA and 0.925 save-percentage while making 110 starts the last two seasons. The Rangers have the potential to be a high-scoring team again after averaging 3.33 goals per game last season, ninth in the league. Artemi Panarin (29 goals, 63 assists) will be looked to boost his goal-scoring after falling one goal short of joining Mika Zibanejad (39 goals, 52 assists) and Chris Kreider (36 goals, 22 assists) in the 30-goal club. The Rangers should be strong on the power play again, after finishing seventh (24.7%) last year and fourth (25.2%) the previous season.
WEAKNESSES: The top two lines account for the bulk of the scoring, and when they struggle the team has a hard time producing. Always looking for the perfect extra pass, the Rangers find it hard to generate chances when the lanes are clogged. Gallant urged more shots on net to create opportunities, something that Laviolette will also be looking to encourage.
WHAT TO EXPECT: A handful of newcomers were brought in to bolster depth, but a team with championship aspirations has its third coach in four years after Laviolette replaced the fired Gallant. Laviolette will be tasked with find a better scoring balance, with the Kid Line of Kappo Kakko, Alexis Lafreniere and Filip Chytil likely to be broken up with all three getting chances on the top two lines. A solid road team last season at 24-9-8 the Rangers will need to replicate that early as they play seven of their first nine away from Madison Square Garden. Defensemen Adam Fox (12 goals, 60 assists) and K’Andre Miller (nine goals, 34 points) both topped 40 points, and Laviolette has said he wants all defensemen to be more involved in the offense.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Chytil (22 goals, 23 assists) took a big step forward a year ago, nearly doubling his previous career high for points — 23 in 2018-19 and 2019-20. The energetic 24-year-old Czech could see time centering the second line with Kakko and Kreider.
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