The Rangers have been point-eaters through the first quarter of the season, compiling 31 of them off a 14-4-3 start that has put them on target to end their four-year playoff drought, and no, the invite to the 2020 qualifying round did not count.
Neither the biggest supporters nor the loudest critics of Garden chairman Jim Dolan’s decision last May to change course by dismissing president John Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton while installing Chris Drury to fill both executive roles could have expected this kind of getaway.
The change behind the bench from David Quinn to Gerard Gallant has had an impact. So has the adjustment in personnel under which imported sandpaper forwards Barclay Goodrow, Ryan Reaves, Sammy Blais and Dryden Hunt have changed the equation in the room and on the ice.
And now is this the part at which Chris Kreider and his 16 goals and Igor Shesterkin and his .935 save percentage enter the conversation?
The fact is, before they faced the Sharks at the Garden on Friday night, and not in the aquarium but on the ice, these Blueshirts had recorded an opening 21-game record that was tied for the third best in the franchise’s 95-season history. The third best!
Here is a look at the other four Rangers teams that matched or exceeded this club’s 21-game, 31 point-production, even while acknowledging that there was no such thing as an overtime loser point until 1999-2000, no such thing as a shootout until 2005-06, and no overtime at all between 1942-43 and 1983-84:
1. 2015-16: 16-3-2 for 34 points
This was the year in which Henrik Lundqvist, who generally got off to lukewarm starts, exploded out of the gate, after being challenged to do so by then-head coach Alain Vigneault, and carried the Rangers through Thanksgiving with a .946 save percentage and 1.74 goals-against average. The King’s work papered over numerous cracks in the structure that had begun to develop on the team that had won the Presidents’ Trophy the previous season and had been to the conference finals three of the prior four years.
The Rangers quickly leveled off, winning just 11 of the next 28 games (11-14-3) before a brief spurt convinced management to go for it by trading a couple of second-rounders and a prospect to Carolina to rent Eric Staal. Vigneault primarily used Staal as a third-line left wing, the Blueshirts stumbled to the finish line at 46-27-9 and they were routed out of the playoffs in a five-game first-round loss to the Penguins, whom the team had eliminated each of the previous two tournaments.
2. 1971-72: 14-3-4 for 32 points
This was the best edition of all of the franchise’s 90 non-Stanley Cup winners, which means the second-best team in the modern era. The season represented the apex of the Emile Francis era. The GAG Line was at the height of its powers: Vic Hadfield recorded a then-franchise record 50 goals, Jean Ratelle recorded 109 points (46-63) in 63 games before suffering a season-ending broken ankle when hit by a Dale Rolfe slap shot and Rod Gilbert added 43 goals. The Ed Giacomin-Gilles Villemure goaltending tandem was elite, Brad Park was in his prime and then there was the Bulldog Line, the Ted Irvine-Pete Stemkowski-Bruce MacGregor unit … all of it.
The Rangers made it to the Cup final without Ratelle by defeating the defending champion Canadiens in the quarters and sweeping the Blackhawks in the semis before going down in six games to the Bruins in the Cup final while Ratelle made a cameo appearance.
3. 1969-70: 14-4-3 for 31 points
This was The Cat’s team, which was battling for first place before Park broke an ankle in Detroit on Feb. 19. They went 3-10-3 without him in the lineup before his return sparked a stretch run that culminated with the 9-5 final-day victory over the Red Wings that elevated the team into fourth place and the playoffs via a goals-scored tiebreaker over the Canadiens. The 38-22-16 Blueshirts were ousted in a six-game first round by the eventual champion Bruins.
4. 1931-32: 13-3-5 for 31 points
This group presented the great names of the past, Frank Boucher, Bill and Bun Cook, Ching Johnson, Murray Murdoch, John Ross Roach in net and Lester Patrick behind the bench. After winning Game 22 to go 14-3-5, the Blueshirts won just nine of the final 26 games (9-14-3) to finish 23-17-8. And though they did advance to the finals, the Rangers were swept in a best-of-five by the Maple Leafs. A year later, though, the Rangers beat Toronto in the final to win their second Cup.