The New York Rangers entered the Olympics as one of the hottest teams in hockey, winning 8 of their last 11 games. Coming out of the break they had seemingly picked up where they left off taking down the defending cup champions in regulation with backup Cam Talbot in net. Since then, they have dropped two in a row despite flashes of strong play against playoff bound Philadelphia and Boston. Going forward Rangers fans have several questions for the final stretch and playoff push.
WILL THE FIRST LINE DEFENSE STAY TOGETHER?
This is the only question that has already been settled and answered. Dan Girardi signed a 6-year $33-million deal to ensure for the next five years that the stellar McDonagh-Girardi combination will line up as the first defensive unit. This is great news for the Rangers as Girardi was slated to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. But not every contract negotiation has gone this smoothly.
WILL THE CAPTAIN GET A CONTRACT?
Negotiations for a long term deal with Ryan Callahan have been unsuccessful thus far, with the team and it’s captain reportedly being apart on years and money. With the trade deadline looming later this week the rumors have been abound with Callahan and this will probably be the next question answered in the coming days as Callahan is traded or not and in the hopes of rangers fans, signed to a long term deal.
HOW IMPORTANT IS ZUCC?
Mats Zuccarello was a big loss with his injury during the Olympics. The teams top point-getter prior to the international competition broke his hand and should be returning later this month. His absence has already had an impact with the Rangers scoring 7 goals in the first 3 games. It will be interesting to see how much his absence will impact the team and his line for the remainder of his injury. The time he spends out of the lineup also proves interesting as it will serve another opportunity for JT Miller to prove he is worthy of the regular roster for the most important part of the season.
CAN THE SCORING CONTINUE?
A mark of past Rangers teams has been a lack of scoring, holding back a team that had the defense and goaltending of a cup contender. This year the Rangers have 9 players with over 10 goals. They have also had a top-10 power play, previously a glaring weakness. Though they are still in the leagues bottom half of scoring, these numbers have steadily improved as Alain Vigneault’s offensive minded system has progressed with the current lineup. If the Rangers keep buying into and improving within the new coach’s system this trend could have their scoring at a more competitive level than past playoff runs. The ability to score without relying on a single star like they’ve done in the past (Jagr, Gaborik) should indicate that this more balanced scoring will hopefully be sustainable.
HOW FAR CAN THEY GO?
For the Rangers, this question has been asked this time of year for the last half decade. With a special talent like Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes, every year has the potential for a cup run. The King’s performance is only raised a notch when the games get more important and don’t take my word for it, ask Finland’s national team or the Washington Capitals. Two years ago, Lundqvist’s quest for the cup he is surely destined to hoist made it all the way to game 6 of the eastern conference finals. That is the closest the Rangers have been with Lundqvist. Ultimately the key to the Rangers playoff run is scoring and if they are able to continue to put the puck in the net — and players like Nash can step up to the occasion — they could be a dark horse cup contender.