NHL.com is looking ahead to the Stanley Cup Qualifiers by examining five of the biggest questions facing each of the 24 remaining teams. Today, we look at the New York Rangers.
The New York Rangers were 37-28-5 (.564 points percentage) and will enter the Stanley Cup Qualifiers as the No. 11 seed in the Eastern Conference. They will play the No. 6 seed, the Carolina Hurricanes (38-25-5, .596 points percentage), in one of eight best-of-5 series. The qualifiers will start Aug. 1 at a site to be determined.
Here are 5 key questions facing the Rangers:
1. Who will be their starting goalie?
The Rangers have three options: Henrik Lundqvist, Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev. There is no clear favorite right now, according to president John Davidson, who said it will be a "battle" in training camp. Going with Shesterkin or Georgiev would signal a clear changing of the guard in New York, especially because Lundqvist has historically dominated the Hurricanes. He's 33-12-1 with a 2.00 goals-against average, a .934 save percentage and two shutouts in 46 games against them, including 3-0-0 with a 2.33 GAA and .947 save percentage this season. Shesterkin, a rookie, made 27 saves in a 5-2 win at Carolina on Feb. 21. Georgiev hasn't faced the Hurricanes since allowing seven goals in an 8-5 loss Oct. 7, 2018.
Video: SJS@NYR: Shesterkin robs Kane shorthanded with glove
2. Can Mika Zibanejad pick up where he left off?
The Rangers' No. 1 center was the hottest goal-scorer in the NHL before the season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. New York needs his offense; he scored 11 goals in a six-game goal streak heading into the pause, including an NHL career-best five against the Washington Capitals at Madison Square Garden on March 5. He led the NHL in goals (23) and points (36) from Jan. 31 until the pause. Zibanejad's six-game goal streak began after forward Chris Kreider, who regularly plays on his line, fractured his foot Feb. 28.
Video: WSH@NYR: Zibanejad scores five goals, OT winner
3. Will Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome regain their chemistry?
Panarin, a forward, is a contender for the Hart Trophy as League MVP after scoring an NHL career-high 95 points (32 goals, 63 assists) in 69 games. His chemistry with Strome, a center, and forward Jesper Fast made New York's second line as dangerous, even if it is different in how it plays, than the first line of Kreider, Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich. Strome was third on New York in scoring with an NHL career-high 59 points (18 goals, 41 assists) in 70 games. Zibanejad's line is more about power and getting to the net. Strome's line, particularly because of Panarin, is more about dynamic skill and controlling the puck. Each line works hard to get it back.
Video: NYI@NYR: Panarin finishes Strome feed in front of net
4. Can their penalty kill help them?
It could be the difference in the series against Carolina if the New York penalty kill thrives. The Rangers struggled in that department during the regular season, finishing tied for 23rd in the NHL (77.4 percent). But they were 14-for-16 (87.5 percent) on the penalty kill in four games against the Hurricanes, a big reason why New York won all four. Another important factor for the Rangers was their power play, which went 5-for-15 (33.3 percent). New York was 25-9-1 when it did not allow a power-play goal this season and 12-19-4 when it did.
5. Will their history of success against the Hurricanes matter?
It shouldn't, because the pause provides a fresh start for every team, but the Rangers have dominated the Hurricanes, going 31-6-0 against them since Feb. 22, 2011. Zibanejad has more points (27; 12 goals, 15 assists) against them than any other team in his NHL career. Kreider has more goals (11) against the Hurricanes than any other Rangers player since 1997-98. Panarin had nine points (three goals, six assists) in the four games against Carolina this season. Confidence in this series should not be a concern.