A sweep of the season’s first road trip has allowed the New York Rangers to erase an inauspicious 0-1-1 start. Gerard Gallant’s group has rattled off four straight victories to boast a 4-1-1 mark after six games. Has it been pretty? No, it has not. You may not be wrong in saying the only game in which the Rangers were the better team throughout was a 3-1 win in Nashville. Yet here they sit, with points in five straight and nine out of a possible 12 points on the season.
Not all the glory goes to Gallant for the team’s early success. The majority of it should be bestowed upon Igor Shesterkin and Adam Fox, who have both been exceptional in the early part of the season. Thus far, the 25-year old Russian goaltender has lived up to the four-year, $5.66 million contract given to him in the offseason. Owning a stellar 1.47 goals-against average (GAA) and a .953 save percentage (SV%), Shesterkin has allowed the Rangers to win games they ultimately should not have.
And let’s not forget about Fox, who has followed up a Norris Trophy-winning campaign with a terrific start. Not only has he continued his superb offensive play, but he has shown that he can consistently shut down the opposition’s best forwards. Aside from these two, the rest of the roster has been consistently inconsistent. Chris Kreider and Jacob Trouba have shown more positives than negatives, impacting the games in each of the four Rangers’ wins.
But besides the brilliance of Shesterkin and Fox, Gallant’s system is evident in how the Rangers play the game. To fully understand the impact of the new head coach, let’s take a look at the comparables between his years in Vegas and the start to 2021-22 with the Blueshirts.
Gallant’s System Leads to Success in Tight Contests
Gallant was the head coach in Vegas for two full seasons before being replaced by Pete DeBoer early in his third year. The Knights went 20-18 in one-goal games from 2017-2019 (10-9 each year). Comparatively, the Rangers were 9-16 in one-goal contests over their last two seasons.
Dropping close contests plagued the Rangers mightily. They managed just two wins in one-goal games during the 2020-21 season, a mark they have matched just six games into Gallant’s tenure. None of the early successes in close games should surprise anyone. He mentioned being a tough team to play against and has stressed they would be the hardest working team in the league.
I want them to be the hardest working team in the league. I want them to work hard, compete hard, I want people to say they compete for 60 minutes and that’s why they’re winning hockey games every night… If we don’t put in the work, the skill and talent don’t follow.
(from, ‘Gerard Gallant teases ‘hard-working’ Rangers at introductory press conference’ by Joe Pantorno, AM NY – 06/22/21)
No, they have not outworked their opponents for the majority of the six games they have played. But ultimately, the mentality that Gallant has instilled and the grind-it-out style of play sees the Rangers winning games they would have lost badly just a season ago.
Gallant Turns Teams Around Fast
A drastic improvement in the first year under Gallant is not an outlier but rather a trend. Gallant’s first head coaching gig came in 2003-04 with the Columbus Blue Jackets. At the time, the Blue Jackets were 9-21-4-3, but once Gallant took over, they improved to a respectable 16-24-4-1. After the lockout in 2004-05, Gallant led Columbus to a franchise-high 74 points and 35 wins.
His next opportunity came with the Florida Panthers, who, after finishing 29-45-8, went 38-29-15 in Gallant’s first season. Then, of course, came Vegas, where he led the expansion Golden Knights, a team that many thought would crumble in their first season, to a miraculous 51-24-7 record and a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Now Gallant has his sights on taking a Rangers back to the playoffs and leading the Blueshirts through the rebuild and back into contention. To do so, the Rangers must adapt to the hard-nosed, gritty style that Gallant has so effortlessly been able to relay to whatever roster he has come across.
Complacency is the enemy for the Rangers and Gallant. There is a lot to be excited about and a ton that has to be improved upon. The Blueshirts still have to navigate the toughest division in hockey, making each game a vital one. An early glance at success cannot have this group thinking they are close to where they need to be.
They aren’t and expect Gallant to keep pushing the right buttons, getting this team sharper as the roster gets healthier. But after the first six games under the new regime, you cannot ask for a much better start than what the Rangers have done thus far.
Brendan Azoff is a THW contributor and podcast host dedicated to covering the New York Rangers. His passion for hockey started when he first laced up the skates at three, growing into his love for writing and talking about the greatest sport in the world. His podcast, The Backcheck, breaks down the Rangers, Islanders, and NHL news and can be found on The Hockey Writers Podcast Network and Belly Up Sports. Brendan has been writing about the Rangers and the NHL for over two years, with his content also found on Puck Prose, Blue Line Station, and E2G Sports. If you want to connect with Brendan and stay up-to-date on his posts, follow him on Twitter. He is always available for content ideas and interviews, don’t be afraid to ask!