From numerous reports, the Rangers are ready to open up their season on January 19th at the Garden. But it will not be our Garden. The Rangers will open up at the TD Bank-north Garden in Boston to begin their quest for the Cup. It should be a very energetic and passionate 6 months for all hockey fans and Ranger fans. Expectations are higher than ever with the Rangers missing the Stanley Cup Final last year by two games. After their deep playoff run they went out and got Rick Nash to fill a huge void in their scoring struggles. The lockout happened (sorry to remind you), but Marian Gaborik and several other Rangers were able to get healthy in the last three months. A gigantic parade in the Canyon of Heroes is on every Ranger fan’s mind as of now. But will it happen? Can the Rangers build off last year’s success and bring home Lord Stanley or will they fall short this season? Here are some of my predictions for the Rangers in the 2013 season.
1) The Rangers Will Finish Between The 5th And 8th Seed(s) In The Conference- I have no idea what the Rangers record will be this year. All I know is that they are an incredibly talented group. But can they get back to one of the top seeds in the conference and win the division? I do not believe so in a shortened season. Why? The Rangers are healthy now but they have a completely new lineup. They will need time to figure out if Richards can work with Nash (which he should) and they will need to sort out the bottom six forwards. Prust, Feds, Anisimov, and Dubinsky were key elements to the Rangers chemistry. Now, their bottom six is entirely different with Asham, Halpern, Pyatt, and Haley potentially making the team. The Rangers will not have time to figure out chemistry with a shortened camp and season so they will start slow out of the gate. This will result in them not winning the division.
2) Marian Gaborik Will Have A Huge Season (If Healthy)-If Marian Gaborik can stay healthy, he will have his biggest year as a Ranger. That’s because of the acquisition of Rick Nash. Nash probably won’t help Gabby on the ice, but what he will do is take the pressure of Gaborik. Gaborik was the most talented forward on the Rangers for the last three years and when he did not produce the fans would be all over him. This year those fans who would be all over Gaborik will be all over Nash, right from the first face-off in Boston on the 19th. This will take pressure off Gaborik and will allow him to escape the spotlight he has been in for the last three years. If he could stay healthy, Gaborik can have an MVP-like season.
3) “The King” Will Win Another Vezina Trophy, Maybe An MVP As Well- First off, I just want to say I met Henrik Lundqvist on the street the other day in midtown. He was on the phone and still talked to me for a second. That made my day. But about his game, I have said for years Lundqvist is the best Ranger I have seen play in my lifetime and every year he has been just as great. The only reason his numbers were better last year was because he finally had a good defense in front of him for the first time in his career. The Rangers are more stacked than ever, particularly on defense so this will help Lundqvist like it did last year. Let me just give you this statistic. Last year in 42 starts “Hank” had 27 wins, a GAA of 1.77, a save percentage of .941 and 7 shutouts. Now Lundqvist will probably not start 42 games this year, but he will play a higher percentage of games than he did last season because of the shortened season. Lundqvist was tired at the end of last year when he struggled a little bit in March, but this year he is well-rested and has a great opportunity to put up unbelievable numbers. Lundqvist will get his hands on a Vezina trophy for the second straight year, maybe even a Hart trophy.
4) Marc Staal Will Be His Old Self- Marc Staal came back last year just in time for the Winter Classic. It was very special. But fans including myself wondered how effective he would be. At first he looked timid going into the corners and playing the body. He did not look very good and was very inconsistent. He got better though as the playoffs went on, but still wasn’t the Marc Staal we knew before the concussion he suffered in 2011. This year because of the lockout, Staal will return to the promising form he was in before his concussion. This lockout or extra three months gave him even more time to get better and rest. Expect Staal to be a huge impact on the Ranger blue line this year.
5) The Rangers Will Defeat The LA Kings For The 2013 Stanley Cup- I truly believe this is inevitable. The Rangers are loaded on paper. They have a no-nonsense coach who will get everything out of them including hard work. The Rangers have one of the most talented offenses in the league. They have a stay-at-home defense with a great balance of offensive and defensive presence, and they have the best goalie in the world, period. This has the making for a Stanley Cup team. The Kings should be back in the Finals as well. The Kings underachieved in the regular season last year but destroyed teams on their path to the Cup. They will most likely avoid a Stanley Cup hangover with the lockout giving them much needed rest. I am predicting them to go back to the Finals and play the Rangers. But the Rangers will win. It is the year of the Rangers in the hockey world. Out of all the years I have seen this team play, I never been more confident in the Rangers. They will beat the Kings in the Stanley Cup Final this year, and bring Lord Stanley back to New York City for a terrific summer to be.