Postgame takeaways: Rangers once again the NHL's hottest team, led by Igor Shesterkin

NEWARK, N.J. – It’s starting to feel a lot like October and November around here.

Back then, the Rangers were the hottest team in hockey. And today, you can say the same thing.

Thursday’s convincing 5-1 win over the rival New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center marked New York’s ninth straight victory. It’s the longest active streak in the NHL and the longest for the franchise since 2015-16, leaving the Blueshirts one away from tying their record of 10 straight, which hasn’t been done since 1972-73.

"From the start of the game, I thought we were on our toes and playing hard and playing fast," captain Jacob Trouba said. "That's the recipe we want."

Their latest triumphant had a funky feel to it, but a dominant result.

The Devils outshot them by a lopsided 40-18 margin and spent a total of 11:52 on the power play, but the Rangers (38-16-3) were opportunistic when they earned their scoring chances and went 5-for-5 on big night for the penalty kill.

"The PK did an unbelievable job," Mika Zibanejad said. "That’s a team that can score. I thought we didn’t give them much."

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - FEBRUARY 22: Erik Gustafsson #56 reacts with Alexis Lafreniere #13 of the New York Rangers after Lafreniere's goal scored during the first period against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center on February 22, 2024 in Newark, New Jersey.
NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - FEBRUARY 22: Erik Gustafsson #56 reacts with Alexis Lafreniere #13 of the New York Rangers after Lafreniere's goal scored during the first period against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center on February 22, 2024 in Newark, New Jersey.

The Blueshirts separately killed penalties of five and four minutes, scoring shortly after each of them to deflate their desperate opponent.

It left Jersey sitting five points out of the Eastern Conference's second and final wild card spot, while New York is perched atop the Metro Division with a six-point cushion.

"It might have been one of our best (PK) performances, just the way they tried to attack anything that was a bobbled puck or a loose puck or an entry puck," Rangers coach Peter Laviolette said. "We were trying to be aggressive, and I think it really limited the opposition."

Another step forward for Igor Shesterkin

It was an equally impressive performance from Igor Shesterkin, who nearly earned his second shutout in the last four games after going his first 33 appearances of the season without one. Only a Jack Hughes goal with 2:07 remaining prevented that from happening.

Still, the 28-year-old goalie has busted out of his slump in a major way since the all-star break, which was evident again while making 39 saves against the highly skilled Devils. He's now 5-0 in February with a .945 save percentage.

Shesterkin’s midseason slide coincided with an eight-week stretch of mediocrity from the Rangers, who went 11-12-2 from early December through late January. But both of those dips are starting to feel like a long time ago.

Matt Rempe ejected early

Matt Rempe hasn’t seen a lot of ice time through his first three NHL games – just 9:45 total TOI – but he sure has caused a stir.

His first-ever shift in Sunday’s 6-5 overtime win in front of 79,690 at MetLife Stadium was marked by a memorable fight with Islanders veteran Matt Martin, with Thursday’s opening shift bringing similar fireworks.

Just 13 seconds after taking the ice, the 21-year-old forward unloaded on Devils forward Nathan Bastian along the boards. The crunching hit left Bastian bleeding on the ice, with Jonas Siegenthaler chasing Rempe down for an ill-conceived challenge.

Rempe was tossed from the game with a match penalty − a harsh punishment given the lack of clear malicious intent or extension of his arm.

In the rookie's defense, his 6-foot-8 frame makes hits like that harder to avoid. Bastian is four inches shorter than him, which lines up his head perfectly with Rempe's shoulder. And with Bastian looking down at the time of the hit, he left himself in a vulnerable position.

But a direct hit to the head, which this clearly was, is almost always going to draw a call from the referees. There's an understandable emphasis on protecting players from brain injuries, which puts the onus on Rempe to adjust and figure out how to use his big body while limiting head contact on smaller opponents. It's also worth pointing out that Adam Edström was already defending Bastian, with the puck no longer on his stick at the time of the hit.

"That's just the big man and everything is down," Laviolette said when asked for his assessment of the hit. "There's nothing that's up. He never lifted his arm, and I'm glad (Bastian) came back and played and was not hurt from that hit. Nobody wants to see anybody get hurt, but it's just tough. He's a big guy. He was full steam ahead and kept everything down and tried to go through the body. I'm sure he hit everything, so it's tough. It's a tough call."

There's plenty of room for debate on the match penalty, but one thing that's for sure is that Rempe can throw hands. His fight with Siegenthaler last about three seconds because his first right landed clean and sent the Jersey defenseman crumbling to the ice.

Martin said Rempe's punching reach may be better than legendary defenseman Zdeno Chara − and he may have been onto something. The 241-pounder is quickly emerging as a formidable heavyweight.

Alexis Lafrenière 'running' with opportunity

The dye was cast shortly after Rempe's exit.

The Rangers successfully killed the ensuing five-minute penalty to frustrate the Devils, then quickly cashed on their own first power play.

It was Zibanejad following his own rebound to put his stamp on a 1-0 lead five seconds into the PP, with Alexis Lafrenière stealing the show from there.

The 22-year-old winger has consistently put himself into quality scoring positions this season − he's tied with Chris Kreider for the team lead with 72 individual high-danger scoring chances at five-on-five, according to Natural Stat Trick − and now the goals are starting to drop at a higher rate.

He ripped a shot from the slot past Jersey goalie Nico Daws with 2:04 remaining in the first period to double the Rangers' lead.

Jonny Brodzinski didn't get an assist on the play, but his defensive work to tie up Devils defenseman Luke Hughes' stick and caused the turnover that landed right in Lafrenière's lap. It provided yet another example of the value the Blueshirts are getting in the versatile forward who signed a team-friendly two-year, $1.575 million extension Wednesday.

Kreider pushed the Rangers' lead to 3-0 by scoring his 29th goal at the 9:53 mark of the second period. It was setup by a stretch pass from Shesterkin, who earned his first assist of the season and third of his career on the play, followed by a cross-ice feed from Artemi Panarin off the rush.

Later, Lafrenière added to his big night with his second goal of the game and 16th of the season. This one came on a quick move and well-placed forehand off the rush, making it 4-0 New York with 40 seconds remaining in the second period.

"He's got a lot of confidence," Trouba said. "He’s obviously putting the puck in the net, and he's had a lot of opportunities to put the puck in the net that haven't (gone in). ... He already was a great player for us, but I think he's taking a massive step, especially this year, all season."

"I'm happy for him," the captain added. "Everything he's been through – his development and growth – he's a great person who takes it very seriously and puts a lot of pressure on himself. He's kind of running with it right now, and it's good to see."

Finally, Vincent Trocheck scored his 26th of the season late in the third period to put the finishing touches on the one-sided win.

'Speed and physicality'

While the Rangers were out-shot and out-possessed by significant margins, they were undoubtedly the more assertive team.

They've noticeably upped their physicality in recent games. That comes, in part, from the additions of Edström and Rempe − "It adds to the layer and depth of that," Laviolette said − but it's also an ongoing embrace of the ferocious style their coach wants them to play.

"When we're at our best, we're playing with speed and physicality," Trouba said. "Lavi says that all the time – but honestly, it's true. We (can) slow the game down and try to go east-west too much. When we're getting on our toes and we're playing physical and playing hard, it's really no fun to play against. ... If guys like myself can step up and kind of add that element to our game and make it not enjoyable to play against the Rangers, we know we have guys that are going to put the puck in the net."

The Rangers dished out 26 hits, including a jarring blow from Trouba that sent Bastian flying to cutoff a rush opportunity in the second period.

Laviolette said "it might have been one of our most physical games" − and it was about more than just laying body checks. Net-front protection, winning wall battles and preventing opponents from getting inside to high-danger areas are keys to the winning brand of hockey the bench boss believes will set them up for playoff success.

The players seem to be buying in.

"We can control how we play and the level of intensity we bring to the game," Zibanejad said. "We want to keep going. You want to keep working on things. You want to keep the intensity up through every game. It's not going to always be like this, but try to take it one game at a time. We know what's ahead and how the games are when that happens."

Vincent Z. Mercogliano is the New York Rangers beat reporter for the USA TODAY Network. Read more of his work at and follow him on Twitter @vzmercogliano.

This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: Postgame takeaways: Rangers once again the NHL's hottest team