Twenty games have come and gone and the New York Rangers find themselves 6th in the Eastern Conference with 27 points (12-5-3), trailing the Atlantic division-leading Pittsburgh Penguins by 5 points but with four games in hand. What’s more, their first matchup of the season out of six will take place Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. With Sidney Crosby back from a concussion that kept him out of hockey for nearly eleven months – and 8 points (2 goals, 6 assists) in 4 games played – it will be a true example of how the Rangers measure up against the elite of the NHL.
We’ll save the future for when it happens, this is about how the Rangers – through peaks and valleys already – have come out of the gate fast and are looking to take the next step as an organization into long-term success and the elusive Stanley Cup. Some players have come back to form, some players have elevated themselves to new heights while some are still searching for their game.
Join me after the jump for the analysis of the first quarter of the season.
Like any good hockey team, it starts from the net out and, in this case, it starts with Henrik Lundqvist. In 16 games, Lundqvist is 9-4-3 with a 2.05 GAA, .935 sv %, and 2 shutouts. After losing his first 3 starts, Lundqvist turned in a dominant, 40-save performance against the Western Conference-champion Vancouver Canucks on October 18 that seemed to jump-start his season, as it would lead to a 3-1 Western Canadian road trip by the Rangers.
The good feelings wouldn’t last, however, as the Rangers would drop their first two games of a six-game home stand to the Maple Leafs and Senators. They followed up the disappointing losses by reeling off seven games in a row, mostly due to Lundqvist’s heroics in between the pipes. Some of the saves Lundqvist can make or sequences of shots he can stop are truly amazing and, to an extent, are the reason why the Rangers are playoff contenders this year and, arguably, every season. The brilliance followed him into MSG on Saturday after shutting out the Philadelphia Flyers 2-0, turning aside 29 shots and making an imprint around the NHL that the Rangers won’t be an easy team to play against.
Aside from Lundqvist’s exceptional play in goal, the Rangers have benefitted from Marian Gaborik returning to his 2009-2010 season form, healthy and dominating, at times, on offense. With shoulder and leg ailments past him, Gaborik has played in all 20 games played thus far, scoring 17 points (10 goals, 7 assists) to lead the team in scoring. Of those 10 goals, 7 have been scored on the road.
The statistics aren’t the most impressive aspects of Gaborik this season. It’s the sight of speedy Slovakian flying in the neutral zone, using his legs to make things happen, something that didn’t happen enough last season. Also known for his quick-release, Gaborik is using it confidently to attack the net. All in all, Gaborik’s offensive game has fully returned, which means the Rangers have a game-breaking offensive talent to help them win games.
One of the more telling subplots to the Rangers season thus far are the struggles of Brandon Dubinsky. Through 20 games, Dubinsky has just one goal. Juxtapose those numbers with his start last season – 11 goals through 20 games – and its no wonder people are concerned.
Could it be complacency following his new, 4-year $16.8 million deal signed in the offseason? His shots are down considerably from a year ago, including five games where he hasn’t registered a single shot. However, he hasn’t been a liability on defense, sporting a +/- of 3 and a .037 QUALCOMP – 4th best amongst Rangers forwards – meaning Dubinsky is taking care of his own end against the opposition’s best players.
The pressures of living up to his contract seem to be the biggest culprit of Dubinsky’s slow start. As with any slump, the grip on the stick becomes tighter and over-thinking, rather than playing instinctually, becomes the norm. Dubinsky has three quarters of a season left to turn it around, and I believe by the halfway mark we’ll be talking about just that.
The news of losing your best defenseman to post-concussion symptoms for an indefinite amount of time is crippling for any team. The devastating news of Marc Staal not being healthy enough to play could have been used as a crutch if the team had trouble defensively. However, it’s been the complete opposite for the Rangers.