Feb 7, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) stops Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) on a shootout attempt at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Rangers won 4-3 in a shootout. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

New York Rangers Taking On The NHL's Eastern Giants

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

As we head down the home stretch of the 2013-2014 NHL season, with many teams vying for playoff positions, it’s a good time to reflect. The New York Rangers will need to do something to secure a spot and once in, to do some damage. There is no question that in the Rangers’ conference, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Boston Bruins are the beasts to be slayed, and likely any pre-playoff jockeying will still result in having to go through them. The Bruins have the luxury of a fourth line that, on most teams, would be a second or even first line. The Rangers’ current fourth line of Brian Boyle, Dominic More, and Daniel Carcillo, have been playing very well by providing the grit the team needs and a voracious fore-check; they may be able to contain the Bruins line. Here it is clearly a case of a winning team’s need, not for goal scoring out of everyone, but also relentless puck pursuit, possession, and the ability to play more of the game in the opposition’s end of the rink. Derek Dorsett is the odd man out of this group. The last two starts he has been given resulted in team loses, though one could not say he is to blame. The choice to play the above mentioned three ahead of him seems a sound one: the team has had dramatic results with that line intact.
Both the Bruins and Penguins feature a high-powered offense, being the only two teams in the Eastern Conference, as of today, to score over 200 goals, at 204 and 206 respectively. The Rangers, by contrast, have mustered 172. To counter this, strong defensive play, a tireless back-check from the forwards, and most importantly, a hot goaltender are needed. Enter the King, Henrik Lundqvist. He will need to make all of the routine saves, and then add the spectacular ones when most needed. When Hank has faltered, so has the team. Goalies in general enjoy a higher save percentage than goals scored in the shootout and penalty shots, for instance. Lundqvist has enjoyed particularly impressive success in this department…until this season. This is but one strong indication of his struggles. Yet, in the games leading up to the Olympics, and in the awe-inspiring performance in blanking the Red Wings 3-0, for Lundqvist’s 300th career victory, and 49th shutout, the Ranger goalie has shown he can still win the big games. Heck, Mike Richter had to stop Pavel Bure en route to the Stanley Cup in 1994. Lundqvist will have to be ready for the current day snipers. Lundqvist being at his best will represent the Rangers’ best shot at going deep.
This leads to what may be the only Achilles heals of other teams, even the beasts, particularly the Pens, their defense, and goaltending. The Ranger shooters will not only have to shoot often, but with much more accuracy than they have shown. It is a source of impending dread to witness another 40 plus shot performance and still lose by a goal or two. How can a team dominate by putting up twenty shots in a period, and still be tied or down a goal? The twenty shot total does not include the Ranger penchant for missing the net and killing rallies when pucks shot wide carom out to the neutral zone. Rick Nash, Brad Richards, Chris Kreider, Martin St. Louis, Derick Brassard, Ryan McDonagh, et al,  all have to be deadly accurate to take advantage of what will certainly be fewer chances down the stretch and into the playoffs. Another dreaded sight is when the opposition gets its one or two chances in a period and the shooter is able to lift the puck in close, scoring into the only open space available to him. The Rangers need to hone the craft of doing just that.
Let’s add team speed to the mix as well. The Rangers have it and must use it to their advantage. This will put the other team’s defense back on their heels and will limit their fore-check. Nothing is more of a potential game breaker than a whirl of a blur created by the “Road Runners” Carl Hagelin or Chris Kreider as they “Taz” spin past a hapless flat-footed defenseman. They need to also find the net. There’s reason for optimism here; this is the right of every Ranger fan, even if we are not quite the beasts.

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