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Now in first place, the Rangers still have room to grow

Bobby Bevilacqua

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The Rangers have won four in a row and are 10-1-2 this month, but are yet to find their “A” game. Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

The Rangers came back from a 3-1 deficit on Tuesday against the Coyotes, eventually winning 4-3 to extend their win streak to four games, and giving the Blueshirts points in 10 consecutive games (8-0-2). The Rangers are 10-1-2 in the month of February, largely without star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.

The Rangers are 27-6-2 since December 8th, an incredible streak of success that propelled them into first place in the Metropolitan Division ahead of the New York Islanders. Earlier in the season, the Rangers trailed the Islanders by 14 points, but have closed that gap, and are now second in the Eastern Conference.

New York is averaging over three goals per game (3.12), which is second in the NHL, behind only the Islanders. However, they’re also averaging just 2.38 goals against per game, fourth in the league, and evident of their stout defense and goaltending when they are playing their best.

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Rick Nash is the leader of one of the best offenses in the NHL; the New York Rangers. Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

 

The puzzling thing about this streak of games is that the Rangers are not even close to playing their best hockey of the season. In the last 12 games, with a record of 9-1-2, they have given up three or more goals in eight of those games. Yet the motto of this team seems to be “finding ways to win.” On many occasions, the team has battled back from a bad start or lucky bounces to force overtime or come away with a win.

Last night was a perfect example. The first period was horrific, giving up three goals on 17 shots and two power play opportunities. After gathering themselves in the locker room, they came out strong, scoring quickly, tightening the defense a bit, and scoring three straight goals to earn a win.

Most of the 10 wins in the month of February have been full of what looked like bleak moments, tenseness, and explosive offense. The reason other teams should be scared of this Rangers team is that this isn’t their usual style of gameplay, and once they get back to their “A” game and Henrik Lundqvist returns, the Rangers will be a force to be reckoned with.

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Once the Rangers get Henrik Lundqvist back in net, the Blueshirts will be an even deadlier team to face. Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

 

Clearly, the Rangers haven’t been as good defensively this month as they normally are. The defensemen have been prone to turnovers in all areas of the ice, leading to scoring chances. They haven’t played like the shutdown defensive team we saw in December and January. Even Cam Talbot, who has done a good job filling in for Lundqvist, has allowed three or more goal in eight of his 11 starts, but has battled back and made timely saves to earn the win.

Over the next few months, I’m sure we will see guys like Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, and Marc Staal all sharpen up defensively as they continue to play. Even Dan Boyle, who has been more of a liability defensively this season, can get better as he continues to learn Alain Vigneault’s system and stays healthy.

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Ryan McDonagh and his fellow defenseman have been in a bit of a rut lately, but have the talent to turn the team’s defensive play around.

 

On offense, the Rangers have been outstanding, and are getting better with every passing week. Not only do they have one of the best scorers in the NHL on their team in Rick Nash (37-21-58), the supporting cast is providing a lot of spark for New York.

Derick Brassard is having a career year, surpassing his previous highs in assists (35) and points (48). He was signed to a five year, $25 million contract in the offseason, and is surpassing all expectations. Fellow center Derek Stepan is averaging close to a point per game since his debut, solidifying the second line.

After a rough stretch early in the year, Chris Kreider has been dominant. His size and speed are unparalleled, and he is learning how to use both of those factors to set up plays as well as getting himself to high quality scoring areas. His play has been really improved.

Fellow Boston College product and rookie Kevin Hayes has been the Rangers best offseason acquisition, and he is showing the fans why he will be a key piece for years to come. Hayes is developing into a consistent scorer, and has been a really solid center for the third line, totaling 29 points (12-17-29) this season. Carl Hagelin has been even more of an offensive force than in past seasons, and alongside Hayes, combines for a strong third line.

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Kevin Hayes is proving himself to be an important player on the Rangers, and his development has shown that he is on the rise. Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

 

Even the bottom line is starting to come together and play well. Stempniak had two goals last night, and Tanner Glass had his best game of the season. The trio is finally starting to come together and play the aggressive, forechecking style of play that Alain Vigneault wants from them.

What I’m trying to say is that the Rangers are a first place team, 10-1-2 in the month of February, and are not even close to playing the best hockey they are capable of.

As soon as the stout defensive play returns to the team, limiting shots on goal and closing down areas of the ice, this team will improve. And when they get Henrik Lundqvist back, on top of the strong defense, the Rangers are going to be a scary good team, and will be really tough to beat.

They are built for the playoffs, combining a lot of experience in the forwards and back end, with two goalies who are capable of winning games, and an explosive offense. There is no reason to think that this team can’t make another run to the Cup, because they certainly have the pieces too.

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St. Louis, Girardi, and Stepan are just three of the guys who bring talent and playoff experience to New York as they aim to make another run at the Cup. Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

 

With the trade deadline approaching, the Rangers may wind up making a move or two. The sixth defenseman spot could be improved, and a depth winger couldn’t hurt, but it is not a necessity.

Vigneault has found a way to use Kevin Hayes and JT Miller on faceoffs, improving that area of their game, and has this team running extremely well.

The next stretch of games will be a test for the Rangers, as they will take on the Flyers, Predators, Red Wings, Blackhawks, Islanders, and Capitals, on the road for five of those games.

The rest of NHL needs to look out and play attention to the Rangers, because they are red hot, and are just now working on getting back to their “A” game.

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Posted on February 27, 2015, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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