Rangers first half review; Standouts, Surprises, and Second half Surges
After a shaky start, the New York Rangers (27-13-4) settled the ship, winning 16 of their last 19 games to head into the All Star break with a third place spot in the Metropolitan division. The Rangers are just two points behind the Penguins and five points out behind the first place Islanders, with two games in hand on both teams.
The Rangers are also just six points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, and they have a whopping four games in hand on them, which really puts the strength of the East into perspective.
It was a first half that fans should be happy about, with the team showcasing numerous scoring options, the 12th ranked power play, and the 13th ranked penalty kill. The Rangers are averaging 3.00 goals for per game, which is good enough for sixth in the NHL, as well as just 2.32 goals against per game, which is third in the league.
Now that everyone is healthy, the team is beginning to mesh and play well, with production from all four lines as well as from the defenseman. The Rangers are getting hot at just the right time, and have become the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.
It took contributions from many different players to help change the Rangers record from 11-10-4 to 27-13-4 over the course of six weeks, and turn them into one of the most competitive teams in the NHL.
Rick Nash – 28 G, 15 A, 43 PTS, +18
This is an easy one. Right out of the gates, Rick Nash was red hot, scoring six goals in the first four games of the season. While some people though he would cool down, he never did, finding the back of the net on almost a nightly basis, and providing the go-to scorer that the team has not had since Marian Gaborik in the 2011-2012 season. Nash is not just a goal scorer, adding 15 assists to his stat sheet to average just under a point-per-game. He also leads the NHL in games with a goal scored, sitting at a whopping 22 games, showing that he has contributed in virtually every game for the Rangers this season. Rick Nash has also developed into a superb defensive player since the Olympic break last season, anchoring the Rangers penalty kill, and creating his own scoring chances off of defensive reads and takeaways. Nash leads the team in game winning goals (5), shorthanded goals (3), and plus-minus rating (+18). He is also tied with the Dallas Stars’ Tyler Seguin for first in the NHL in goals, and has earned praise around the league, solidifying himself as an early Hart Trophy candidate.
Martin St. Louis – 14 G, 22 A, 36 PTS
Since acquiring him in a trade for then-captain Ryan Callahan and some draft picks, Martin St. Louis has been one of the most important pieces of this Rangers team. St. Louis quickly earned the respect of his teammates, and solidified it after the playoff series comeback against the Pittsburgh Penguins, not missing a game despite the sudden death of his mother, and scoring a goal on Mother’s Day at Madison Square Garden. For that, he wears an A on his chest, and he has represented it well so far, continuing to be a veteran presence in the locker room, and a playmaker on the ice. St. Louis is off to a great start, scoring 14 goals alongside an impressive 22 assists, showcasing not only his goal scoring ability, but also his good vision and passing skills. St. Louis is a threat on the power play, leading the team with five goals on the man advantage, as well as eight power play assists. When paired with his former teammate Dan Boyle on the man advantage, St. Louis is lethal, and is a fantastic player to have on the team.
Derek Stepan – 8 G, 24 A, 32 PTS, +13
After having his best season during the 2013-2014 season, where he totaled a career high 57 points (17-40-57), Stepan is outperforming himself early, posting outstanding numbers to start the season. Stepan missed the beginning of the year with a broken leg, but since returning to the lineup on November 8th, he has been one of the most consistent scorers for the Rangers, putting up 32 points in 31 games this season. Stepan also has seven points (2-5-7) in his last five games, including a beautiful spinning backhanded pass to Carl Hagelin for the game winner against the Ottawa Senators. When Stepan is on the ice, the Rangers are a better team, and Stepan has shown himself to be one of the craftiest passers on the team.
Henrik Lundqvist – 23-9-3, .921 SV%, 2.25 GAA, 5 SO
What is there to say about Henrik Lundqvist. After a slow start, Lundqvist is at the top of his game right now, winning 14 of his last 16 starts, and allowing two goals or less in 13 of those games. He is seventh in the league in goals allowed average (2.25), tied for eighth in save percentage (.921), sixth in wins (23), and second in shutouts (5), rounding up an impressive stat line in a tremendous start to the season. Although the Rangers have a very strong defense, Lundqvist is the backbone of the lineup, as has been there for the Rangers on a consistent basis for the last 10 seasons, and “The King” is continuing that in the 2014-2015 season.
Derick Brassard – 12 G, 23 A, 35 PTS
Following a strong season last year, where he scored a career high 18 goals to go with 27 assists, as well as another 12 points (6-6-12) in the playoffs. For that, he was rewarded with a 5 year, $25 million contract. While many people expected him to step up and become the second line center, not many people expected him to step up and embrace the first line center role in the absence of Derek Stepan. Brassard has not just taken that role, he has thrived in it. Brass is on track to record almost 70 points, shattering his career high of 47, and could set career highs in goals and assists as well. Brassard is also lethal on the power play, leading the team in power play points with 14 (4-10-14). He is a great passer, has a strong shot, and has a ton of chemistry alongside Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello on the top line. Brassard’s career year is coming at the perfect time for the Rangers when they need him most.
Kevin Klein – 8 G, 9 A, 17 PTS, +15
Coming into this season, Kevin Klein had hit the four goal mark just twice in his NHL career. So far, he has doubled that total, and has developed a strong offensive game and a booming slap shot. Klein has always been known for his defense, something he is still very good at, but never for his offense, hitting the 20 point mark just once in his career. The Rangers have benefited from his offensive outburst, with Klein leading Rangers defenseman in points with 17. Klein also has three game winning goals, and is second on the team in plus-minus, with an outstanding +15 early on in the season. Klein is also the type of player to stand up for his teammates, and is a great locker room guy. Having another defenseman with the ability to score adds so much dimension to the team, and Klein has been the biggest surprise for this Rangers team.
SECOND HALF SURGES
Chris Kreider – 10 G, 14 A, 24 PTS, +12
The first player that I think will have a second half surge is Chris Kreider. Kreider has shown signs of that lately, scoring five goals and four assists in the last 10 games, using his tremendous size and speed to his advantage. It seems like at least once a game, Kreider blows past a defenseman for a breakaway, cashing in on those opportunities more often than not. Chris Kreider hit a goal drought from November 9th to December 14th following the death of his grandfather, but his heart is back in the game, and Kreider has been deadly. He completes a strong second line alongside Derek Stepan and Martin St. Louis, who are both playmakers and excellent passers, and has been working closely alongside his veteran linemate. Kreider has the skills to become an elite goal scorer, and we may get to see a continuation of his offensive outburst in the second half.
Kevin Hayes – 6 G, 10 A, 16 PTS
During the offseason, Rangers General Manager Glen Sather signed free agent Kevin Hayes, a former 2010 first round draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks. The six-foot-five, 225 pound Hayes was a finalist for the Hobie Baker Award in 2014, putting up 65 points (27-38-65) for the Boston College Eagles. So far, Hayes has impressed, successfully transitioning to the center position and showing a lot of promise at the NHL level. Hayes is having a strong rookie season, scoring his sixth goal of the season, using his big frame to slide a rebound into the back of the net. You can’t teach size, and Hayes has it, and is learning to use it to his advantage. Hayes has shown tremendous patience, a knack for possession, and is developing into a nice playmaker. Although he is struggling in the faceoff circle, winning just 34.2 percent of his draws, it’s something that will come with time, especially due to the face that he is converting from the right wing position. With the first half of the season under his belt, and some time off, I expect Hayes to become a key contributor down the stretch as he learns how to hone his skills and truly become a strong NHL center.
Those are my predictions. If you were impressed by anyone else, or think someone is due for a hot end to the season, let me know in the comments section below.
Posted on January 24, 2015, in In the Crease and tagged Alain Vigneault, Cam Talbot, Carl Hagelin, Chris Kreider, Dan Boyle, Dan Girardi, Derek Stepan, Derick Brassard, Dominic Moore, Henrik Lundqvist, Jesper Fast, John Moore, JT Miller, Kevin Hayes, Kevin Klein, King Henrik, Lee Stempniak, Madison Square Garden, Marc Staal, Martin St. Louis, Mats Zuccarello, Matt Hunwick, MSG, MSL, New York Rangers, NHL, NHL 2014-2015 Season, NHL All Star Game, NY Rangers, NYR, Rangers, Rangers Nation, Rangerstown, Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh, Tanner Glass, The Ranger Zone. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.