The New York Rangers surprised many last season making it to the Stanley Cup finals before losing in five games to the Los Angeles Kings. To many, despite being crowned the Eastern Conference Champions, they weren’t necessarily the best team in the East. Well fast forward one year later and the Rangers are proving that they should be taken seriously.
The Rangers currently sit in the first Wild Card spot in the conference with 52 points. And though that doesn’t seem amazing, the fact is the team has played fewer games than any other team in the NHL. Despite losing their last game to their state-rival the New York Islanders, the team is still 8-2-0 in their last 10 games.
Nash Playing Richard Like
Half-way through the season the 2015 Rangers look like a much stronger team than their 2014 selves. One thing that makes them much stronger is this year they seem to have a true number-one scorer in the lineup. Rick Nash is having a career-year with 26 goals and 41 points in 40 games and is tied with Tyler Seguin in the Rocket Richard Trophy race. In fact his 26 goals are as many as he had last season in 65 games. Last season Mats Zuccarello led the team in scoring with 59 points in 77 games.
Nash won the Rocket Richard Trophy back during the 2003-04 season as a 19-year-old when he tallied 41 for the Columbus Blue Jackets. He is on pace to win the award for the second time and eclipse the 50-goal mark for the first time in his career. Nash is also on pace to finish with 84 points, which as good as he has been during his career, would only be the second time the 6-foot-4 left wing has finished a season with more than a point per game.
Lundqvist Can Still Be Better
What is also interesting, depending on how you look at it, is that goaltender Henrik Lundqvist’s numbers haven’t been stellar. His .917 save percentage is the 16th highest in the league, his lowest mark since the 2008-09 season. While his 2.31 goals against average is 12th amongst goalies this season and is his second highest total in the past five years.
King Henrik is still playing solid for the blue shirts and his 20-9-3 record is proof of that. His five shutouts this season are second most in the NHL and are as many as he had all last season. But if he can elevate his game to the level seen during his Vezina-winning season in 2012, the Rangers could become a very legitimate threat in the East.
Filling the Holes
What has also helped the Rangers is the fact that despite getting rid of some important pieces from last year’s team, they have been
able to fill the holes. The team said goodbye to Brad Richards, Benoit Pouliot, and Anton Stralman amongst a couple others. In their
Despite losing one of the team’s most trustworthy defenders in Stralman, the team was able to bring in veteran defenceman Dan Boyle via free agency. And though he missed the start of the season, Boyle still has nine points in 24 games and is a plus-8 with the team. What has also helped the Rangers is having Martin St. louis to start the season and contributing more with the club.
St. Louis Back On Track
The 39-year-old was acquired by the Rangers towards the end of last season in exchange for Ryan Callahan. St. Louis didn’t get off to the start he wanted with the team scoring just one goal and finishing with eight points in 19 games. This year though he has been much more productive, recording 32 points through the team’s first 40 games.
The Rangers sit four in the NHL with 3.05 goals per game and sixth with 2.35 goals against per game, a great recipe for success. Only the Nashville Predators with a 1.56, have a better 5-on-5 goals for/against ratio than the Rangers 1.29. The team has the ninth best power play and 11th best penalty kill and allow the ninth fewest shots against this season.
The Rangers look to be firing on all cylinders and if they can keep up their strong play of late and even have Lundqvist play like everyone knows he can, the blue shirts could surprise and could become the Kings of the East.
Craig is an intern at The Hockey News where he has written for both the website and the magazine. He is also a featured-blogger at http://www.hockeyforums.net/index.php/blog/46-its-a-canadian-game/. Craig has an Honours in Journalism from Wilfird Laurier University and is currently completing the Sports Journalism Program at Centennial College. Follow him on Twitter @Craig_Hagerman.