Much has been made of head coach Gerard Gallant’s hands-off coaching style by several Rangers players, who have described a team atmosphere in which they don’t overthink their game and are more focused on executing their standard of play.
That approach has allowed the Rangers to keep it simple through a majority of their games so far, which has resulted in an explosive start to the season. Gallant has preached competing at the same level for a full 60 minutes and the Blueshirts have steadily bought into that message.
What once was a team that played not to make a mistake has become a team that competes with unwavering trust in its strengths and talent.
After the Rangers went down 2-1 in the first period of their eventual 6-2 victory over the Blackhawks on Tuesday night in Chicago, however, Gallant evidently felt his team needed a reminder.
“The first was real tough to watch,” he said in his postgame interview at United Center before the Rangers traveled home for their matchup with the Avalanche on Wednesday. “We didn’t win many battles in that, but we hung around there in the game, like we’ve done a few times this year, and then found a way to play real good in the third.
“I watch games every night, like a lot of people do, and every team goes through [sluggish periods]. But it’s just when it’s your own team, you try to push them a little bit, ‘Let’s get it going here.’ Because it wasn’t good enough and they responded.”
So Gallant said he challenged the Rangers to “pick up your energy and do the right things” during the first intermission. And boy, did the Rangers deliver — like they have many times in such situations. With five unanswered goals through the second and third periods, the Rangers snapped right back into their recent form and cruised to another win.
Even after acknowledging he had to give the Rangers a bit of a push in between periods on Tuesday, Gallant still made a point to express his trust in his players.
“But I don’t got to say nothing really, they’re professional hockey players,” he said. “They know that we can do better than what we did in the first.”
While the Rangers continue to learn how to maintain the same compete level from puck drop until the end of regulation, the team has made strides in cleaning up its end-of-game play to close out opponents.
There was an alarming stretch earlier in the season in which the Rangers blew several third-period leads. Since then, the Rangers have been able to adjust their game according to their situation, particularly when they’re protecting a lead. Gallant has stressed the importance of not letting up just because you’re ahead and that’s come through in the last handful of games.
The Rangers have totaled nine goals in the third period in the last five contest, and, as play began Wednesday, had 30 goals in the final frame this season — tied for fourth in the league.
“At the start of the year, our third periods were the problem,” Mika Zibanejad said. “I think our third periods are starting to get a lot better. And that’s a good sign.”