Rangers still not playing their best hockey as second half Beacons

The 60 minutes the Rangers played to shut out a very good Golden Knights team 4-1 at the Garden on Friday night served almost as a microcosm of the season’s now-complete pre-All-Star stretch.

Because, aside from acknowledging the much-needed stellar work provided by Jaro Halak in net, the Rangers haven’t been all that impressive. They gave many chances. They were never really in control. Their game was not very buttoned up. That’s the impression they’ve made in the first 49 games.

Maybe that’s not fair, because in a business where results are of the essence, the Rangers got the result in this one and have consistently had the results over the last 23 games, during which they’ve gone 16-4-3 since hitting bottom on 11-10-5 of Dec. 3.

Perhaps that doesn’t quite do justice to a team that will break eight overall in NHL points percentage at .633 with an overall mark of 27-14-8.

“When you go through something like we did in the first two months, everything is chosen. It’s not pleasant,” Chris Kreider, whose 20th goal gave the Blueshirts a 1-0 lead late in the first period, told The Post. “You focus every day on improvement. You look inward. You learn about yourself and your teammates.

“And you get stronger when you get over it. This is not just a cliché. We are a better team now than we would have been without those adversities. This is real”.

Chris Kreider looks to pass during the Rangers' win over the Golden Knights on Jan. 27.
Chris Kreider looks to pass during the Rangers’ win over the Golden Knights on Jan. 27.

This was a weird one from the start. Vegas produced a Grade-A odds pass. Halak, who will enter the break riding a five-game hitting streak that has seen him own a .937 save percentage and 1.81 goals-against average, turned it all around.

(Yes, all of them, the one goal he gave up to Phil Kessel early in the second period to cut the Blueshirts’ lead to 2-1 came on a ricochet off his body on a shot down the goal line. as a chance without risk.)

The fact is that Halak, who struggled during training camp and early in the season, gives the Blueshirts their best backup goaltender since Alexandar Georgiev deep into the 2019-20 season, when he shared the net with Igor Shesterkin.

It was, in fact, a measure of faith from coach Gerard Gallant (and goaltending coach Benoit Allaire, who always has faith in his guys) to start the 37-year-old veteran with a nine-day layoff and Shesterkin apparently in good health.

The Rangers apparently have a streak.

The Kreider-Vincent Trocheck-Barclay Goodrow unit played hungry hockey. They were aggressive in the zone, keeping it simple and getting to the net. Kreider got his goal when a Troczek drive glanced off his foot. He didn’t get in the way the next time, when Trocheck buried a feed up the middle to Goodrow for a 2-0 lead late in the first period.

Gerard Gallant
Gerard Gallant’s Rangers are not playing their best hockey yet.

That display of gritty hockey, Kreider insisted, is representative of what the Rangers’ identity is or can become.

“I think when we do the right things, we’re a good team and we do them more often,” the wing said. “When we forecheck, when we break the puck cleanly, when we have neutral zone support, it’s hard to beat.”

The Artemi Panarin-Mika Zibanejad-Jimmy Vesey unit had multiple shifts in which the trio threatened, albeit without a goal. And the Kids were more than energetic: Filip Chytil scored his eighth goal in the last 11 games on a third try after two fumbles that gave the Rangers a 3-1 lead at 14:20 of the third.

Will Cuylle made his debut at the Garden and was challenged by Keegan Kolesar, one of the league’s most notable pitchers, to drop the gloves from the opening draw of the second period. That doesn’t seem to be within the code, but the 20-year-old Blueshirts rookie accepted the challenge in his second NHL game and did well in the contest.

“Good for him,” Gallant said. “It was caused by a tough guy. Showed up”.

The Rangers do more than just show up. They win, even if they don’t always score style points. That’s not the point.

The thing is, the Blueshirts have the eighth best record in hockey. The thing is, they are seven points away from a play-off spot. The thing is, the Rangers haven’t played their best hockey yet.

The second half is calling.