Finally, the New York Rangers’ focus shifts from the Big Apple’s NHL headquarters to the sheet of ice just over a dozen blocks south. With multiple reports stating that the two sides have reached a tentative agreement, the Rangers will have a few weeks to get ready for the shortened season.
As the Blueshirts attempt to build on their success in 2011-12 — the team’s first Atlantic Division title and trip to the Eastern Conference Finals in 18 and 15 years, respectively — there are questions that surround the team. Here are a few that will be answered either before the season, or throughout the
1. How long will it take for Rick Nash to gel with his new teammates on the ice?
The Rangers fell short in the postseason because of an inconsistent offense that struggled to score the timely goal (Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals notwithstanding).
Acquiring Nash is supposed to be the antidote. But, whether or not the chemistry between the five-time all-star and projected linemates Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik will be immediate remains to be seen.
Remember, one of the reasons why Richards was brought to New York was to help Gaborik bounce back after a tough 2010-11 campaign. However, the Slovakian sniper finished third in the league in goals while playing most of the season with Derek Stepan in the middle. Richards and Gaborik didn’t mesh well early in the season, and head coach John Tortorella didn’t put the two back together until March.
In an abbreviated season, Tortorella — who has frequently changed lines during his tenure in New York — won’t have as much time to wait and see if chemistry develops between linemates.
2. How will the Rangers’ style of play be affected?
Much was made during last year’s playoff run about how the Rangers looked like a tired team. One of the reasons why the Blueshirts appeared to be worn down was because of the physically demanding style that team played.
Make no mistake though, the Rangers would not have finished at the top of the Atlantic Division or Eastern Conference if they didn’t play the way that they did. The shot-blocking, blue-collar, in-your-face hockey that Tortorella’s troops carried out made the Rangers one of the toughest teams in the league to play against.
Despite this, having to play that way on a nightly basis ended up being their undoing in May.
With a shortened campaign, the Rangers won’t have to worry about a six-month grind during the regular season, but whether they can prevail in stretches where they play back-to-back games, or three in four nights.
3. Can Henrik Lundqvist repeat his Vezina Trophy-winning season?
Undoubtedly, the Swedish goaltender is the most important player on the Rangers roster. Last season, Lundqvist had career bests in wins, goals against average, and save percentage.
However, after a career year where “King Henrik” was crowned for the first time as the NHL’s top masked man, is it possible for him to take his game up another level? Lundqvist turns 31 years old in two months, and even though he will be playing in less games overall in 2013, his recovery time between starts will be less than a year ago.
Even if there is a slight drop-off, rest assured that Lundqvist will still be one of the game’s top goaltenders, and will be relied on to lead the Rangers on another long playoff run.
4. Will Michael Del Zotto be signed before opening night?
The 22-year-old defenseman is a restricted free agent. Several pundits anticipated that Del Zotto would sign a contract with the Rangers before the lockout began on September 15th of last year, but an agreement never came to fruition.
Team president and general manager Glen Sather said in early September that the Rangers’ first round draft pick in 2008 will “come to his senses.” Since training camp is abbreviated, and there are no pre-season games, time is short for the two sides to work out a deal and get Del Zotto in uniform for the season opener.
5. Will Chris Kreider be called up from the Connecticut Whale?
Kreider gave up his senior season at Boston College in order to don a Rangers sweater in the 2012 Playoffs. But despite scoring five goals in eighteen playoff games, the 21-year-old’s adjustment to a full season of pro hockey has been a difficult one.
The Blueshirts’ first round pick in 2009 has registered just five goals and seven assists in 33 games through January 5th. After the slow start, there is speculation that Kreider will remain in the AHL when the Rangers return to the ice.