January 15, 2015

Halfway through the season, do the Rangers have what it takes?

Henrik Lundqvist (Getty Images)
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After a dismal start last season, which featured a 3-6 record through an early nine-game road trip, the New York Rangers dug in and turned it around. They bought into head coach Alain Vigneault’s system and turned on the afterburners in mid-December, tearing through opponents in the process en route to the Stanley Cup final.

They finished with a 45-31-6 record, good for second in the Metropolitan division and 96 points. They fought through the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Montreal Canadiens to earn a berth in the final round of sports most prestigious competition, their first visit in 20 years. It seems as if pressure got to them however, as costly mistakes had them defeated in five games by the Los Angeles Kings.

Rick Nash (61) and Dan Boyle (22) celebrate Marty St. Louis' goal (Photo: Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images)

Rick Nash (61) and Dan Boyle (22) celebrate Marty St. Louis’ goal (Photo: Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images)

Flash forward to the 2014-15 season, and a similar situation has arisen. Early issues and health were key in the Rangers’ losses in October and November. But since December 6, the Rangers are winners in 13 of their past 15 games, which includes a three-game sweep against the Anaheim Ducks, Kings and San Jose Sharks, widely known as three of the league’s best teams.

It’s safe to say the Rangers are one of the hottest team in the league now and at their most dangerous. They’ve finally established their identity as a fast, puck-moving, transition team that can hurt you on the rush, and with the goaltending tandem of Henrik Lundqvist and Cam Talbot, they have solidified themselves as a contender for years to come.

The question that will remain however, after last year’s run, is do the Blueshirts have it in them again this season? My answer, and the most popular one among the fanbase is ‘yes’. Here’s why.

The current core has now experienced what it takes and knows the grueling steps needed just to get there in the first place. To me, it seemed like the Rangers were in awe of the spectacle, and they got caught like a deer in headlights at times. They got antsy and strayed away from the game that makes them successful. Giving credit where credit is due, the Kings were good enough and smart enough to take advantage.

In their place as it stands, they still have the same team that made it there from last year, save for some minor tweaks to the bottom six. The core includes Lundqvist, Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Rick Nash, Marc Staal, Martin St. Louis and Mats Zuccarello to name a few.

Dan Boyle salutes the SJ crowd after a video tribute  (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Dan Boyle salutes the SJ crowd after a video tribute (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

With the addition of some new faces including Dan Boyle and the resurgent play of 2014 acquisition Kevin Klein (trade of the year for general manager Glen Sather?) the Rangers have made some improvements, and are looking to take another shot at the silver chalice.

However, I believe they still need one or two pieces to make another deep run. Perhaps a capable 3rd line center to take some pressure off Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard and a winger to take the spot of Tanner Glass on the 4th unit. Glass hasn’t really been beneficial to the team so far this year and players of his caliber aren’t really needed in a league where speed and scoring have taken over from pugilistic face punching antics.

They also need to improve in the faceoff dot and significantly. They currently rank 29th in the league from the circle and their woes really showed in their most recent 3-0 loss to the New York Islanders. Only winning 27-of-59 from the dot, it allowed the Islanders to dictate the pace of play, and it really stopped the Rangers from getting anything going on offense.

The need for major changes is most certainly not required but the tweaks mentioned could go a long way between making early golf reservations to getting a second shot at lifting the 34 pound silver trophy overhead come June. With 42 games to go and the trade deadline coming up on March 2, nobody knows what Sather might have up his sleeve.

Of course his record shows, you might want to strap in for the ride. It could be another wild one come the NHL trade deadline.

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