PITTSBURGH — The last time the New York Rangers played a game in Pittsburgh they were getting absolutely obliterated in an elimination game.
On Monday, in what was their first meeting with the Penguins since that first-round playoff matchup this past spring, they returned the favor and beat the defending champs at their own game in a convincing 5-2 win that was also perhaps the Rangers’ most impressive performance of the season.
Playing their second game in 24 hours and without two top forwards (Pavel Buchnevich and Mika Zibanejad) the Rangers erased an early two-goal deficit and stormed back for five consecutive goals to continue their early season scoring surge.
It was the type of performance that Rangers fans probably did not see enough of last season.
They were winning races to pucks, playing with speed, rolling four lines out on the ice that all had the potential to score, and not sitting back and waiting for their goalie to bail them out and win the game for them. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the win was the fact they were able to keep attacking in the third period, even as they protected a lead and recorded 9 of the first 12 shots on goal of the period.
Overall, the early season numbers for the Rangers offense right now are pretty staggering:
- Their win on Monday was already their 10th game this season with at least five goals.
- No other team in the NHL has more than four so far this season. Their current total also matches their total from the entire 2015-16 season. Ten teams in the league failed to reach that total all of last season.
- They now have a league-leading 81 goals on the season in only 20 games. When their game against Pittsburgh ended on Monday, that was 20 more goals than the next highest scoring team in the league. Their 56 even-strength goals were 14 more than any other team.
- Michael Grabner, signed over the summer to a two-year, $3.3 million contract, is now tied for the league lead with 12 goals, just as everybody almost certainly predicted the moment he was signed.
- As a team they have scored on more than 13 percent of their shots this season
The latter point is the one that looks impressive in the short-term, but has to be a little concerning going forward. That is simply a number that is going to come down a bit at some point. Keep in mind that over the past 15 years only 11 teams have finished an 82-game season with a shooting percentage higher than 11 percent. Eight of those came during the two-year window between 2005-06 and 2006-07 when goal scoring in the NHL had a brief surge coming out of the 2004 lockout.
Nobody has done it since the 2009-10 Capitals.
None of those teams finished higher than 12 percent.
Individually, they have four players (Kevin Hayes, Pavel Buchnevich, Jimmy Vesey and Grabner) that are currently shooting north of 20 percent. Over the same time period referenced above only 34 players (minimum 100 shots) have finished a season higher than 20 percent, and only nine of them have come since the start of the 2007-08 season (that is no more than two per season).
So again, there are a lot of players here that are going to eventually cool off in the goal scoring department.
But what you really have to give the Rangers credit for here is going out over the summer and addressing what was a pretty big problem a year ago (speed, forward depth, balanced scoring) and retooling their forward lines.
They saw what happened when they went up against a faster, more skilled Penguins team in the first round and committed to fixing it. It was on display Monday, and they showed that even if they still have some flaws to deal with on their roster they are never really out of a game right now thanks to their offense.
Even if they do not keep scoring at this ridiculous of a pace, these early games — and goals! — still count in the standings. If nothing else the Rangers are taking advantage of this hot streak and building themselves a heck of a cushion for when the inevitable goal scoring slump and regression happens.