When the New York Rangers defeated the Montreal Canadiens in seven games to capture the Eastern Conference last playoffs, most were taken aback since few would have called the Blueshirts Stanley Cup contenders. Though they were handily taken by the Los Angeles Kings in five games, the Rangers didn’t do what many teams tend to do once losing in the final, which is to panic. However, the first quarter of this season might be evidence to the contrary with them having dropped 14 of their first 25 games. Not a start you’d expect from a recent NHL finalist or, for that matter, a team that hopes to reach the finals again.
So far this season the Blueshirts have been putting up wins regardless of the arena in which they're playing. Sitting on an away record of 13-8-1, which almost mirrors their home stats of 14-7-3, suggests that success in the playoffs will not be greatly affected by whether they gain home-ice advantage or not. Would they prefer it? Of course. But it must be comforting for the Rangers to know that their chances of winning on the road are about the same as at home.
9 Rick Nash
Rich Nash was heaped with criticism for the Rangers loss to the Los Angeles Kings in last year’s Stanley Cup Final. Failing to produce a single point in the five-game series, and only 10 during the Rangers’ 25-game playoff run, Nash might even agree that he deserved the vitriol.
8 Henrik Lundqvist
7 Stingy Defence
The Rangers currently sit second in fewest goals against with 111, only behind the Montreal Canadiens who have 108 goals against. Much of the credit would appear to belong to Lundqvist, though there is a more deserving candidate: head coach Alain Vigneault. The Rangers allowed at least four goals in nine of their first 24 games this year. That’s not good, and if that trend had continued they would be nowhere near second for fewest goals against and possibly sitting outside of a playoff spot.
6 Marc Staal
5 Weaker Conference
4 Glen Sather's Proactive Nature
The Rangers have a salary-cap problem. Everyone knows it, and the recent signing of Marc Staal to a six-year deal worth $5.7 million per year might just exasperate the problem. However, some critics are lauding the signing by GM Glen Sather as one that secures the Rangers' Cup contention. But the true test for the veteran GM will come this trade deadline. He’s going to have to move salary and the two big names on the chopping block are left-winger Carl Hagelin and right-winger Mats Zuccarello, two prime pieces that I’m sure he’d love to keep. Unfortunately, what the Rangers need is a two-way center who can win faceoffs. Fortunately, they have Sather at the helm. Chances are, fan-favorite Zuccarello will sign for less than he’s worth as he’s been quoted as saying that he’d rather stay in New York for less money than play somewhere else for more.
3 Derek Stepan
2 A Strengthening Power Play
On paper their power play numbers might not seem like much. Sitting 11th in the league at 19.6 percent isn’t greatly enviable, even though it is an uptick from last year’s 18.2 percent. However, Nick Mercadante over at Blueshirtbanter.com shows that duing the Rangers’ recent winning ways they have more power play shots for 60 minutes than any other team in the NHL with 68.6.
The Rangers' slow start to the 2014-15 NHL campaign could be chalked up to losing in the final in five games. Unlike others who have suffered from a similar fate (see the Vancouver Canucks), the Rangers didn’t panic and start dismantling when they weren’t earning wins that they should have. Their recent western road trip shows that they were right to stay the course and that they can beat arguably better teams any night of the week. The recent come-from-behind victory over the Kings during the California road trip is pretty good evidence that they are looking for vengeance for last year -- and that they are capable of it.
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