The Kingless Rangers stay hot as postseason approaches
BY CHAYIM TAUBER
It’s not supposed to happen like this.
Cinderella isn’t supposed to wear her slipper past midnight and still be the belle of the ball.
A team isn’t supposed to lose the face of its franchise, particularly when that star is the goaltender, and keep winning. A team destined to be in “salary cap hell” isn’t supposed to be able to pull off what the New York Rangers did at this year’s deadline.
Of course the Rangers have been majoring in “unlikely” all season.
Last season’s other Cinderella team, the LA Kings, are out of the playoff picture at this point in the season. That makes sense for a team that gets hot at the right time and “momentums” its way through the postseason and to a cup. Yet here are the New York Rangers. And in the coldest New York winter in recent memory, New Yorkers are talking about the spring – of 1994 that is.
It’s a testament to the veteran core that the Rangers have established that with Cam Talbot in net, the team has managed to go a shocking 10-2-2. Talbot’s play in net has been both shaky and inconsistent and yet the Rangers, backed by an offensive proficiency and veteran leadership lacking for years, have remained red hot.
Rangers’ forwards that underperformed last season, Chris Kreider, Derrick Brassard, Derek Stepan, and Rick Nash have all outperformed last season’s output. Nash in particular is one of the favorites to win the Hart Trophy as the league’s best player as he currently sits at second in the league in goals, first in shorthanded goals, and is in the top ten in +/-.
And goal-scoring doesn’t even figure to be the Ranger’s greatest strength this season.
Kevin Klein has been a revelation this season as he currently sits at second amongst NHL defenseman in +/-. Captain Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, the disappointing Dan Boyle, and newcomer Keith Yandle round out what, on paper, figures to be one of the best blue-lines in the NHL.
The recent addition of Yandle is a direct reaction to the ineffectiveness of Dan Boyle. The Rangers’ primary free-agent addition was signed to be the maestro for a struggling Rangers’ power play that had been seeking a true quarterback from the point. Boyle’s play has been nothing short of a disappointment this season and with the Rangers very much in the chase for the Cup and with their power play still struggling, the Rangers made a move to upgrade what was their greatest weakness.
Yandle is the premier power play point-man in the NHL. At 28, he’s roughly a decade younger than Boyle and far more effective. Though the loss of super-prospect and future draft picks was hefty price to pay, it was a cost made expendable by the emergence of rookie Kevin Hayes, the re-signing of locker-room and fan favorite Mats Zuccarello, and the bevy of young talent the Rangers have waiting in the wings.
Though the window to win is a small one (Lundqvist turned 33 on Monday), the Rangers have pushed all their chips to the middle of the table as they are as well suited for a cup run as any team in the NHL.
The optimistic Rangers’ fan could see the Lundqvist injury as something of a blessing in disguise as the Rangers net minder is getting a substantial rest before the grind of the hectic and taxing postseason. His injury, though a scary one (a vascular injury caused by a puck to the neck), is not one that required rehabilitation. The team’s strong play in his absence and continued winning streak is enabling him to be extra cautious and take his time coming back.
The Rangers are no lock to win a cup. We’ve seen time and time again that any team can win in the postseason if their goaltender gets hot. The parity in the NHL should also scare Rangers fans as there is not a single team that is an easy matchup in the postseason.
Still, the time is now. The veterans are in place, the blue line has tremendous depth, Lundqvist should be back rested and ready to roll, and the Rangers just acquired the NHL’s best power play point man. They are one of the quickest teams in the NHL and though physicality and size seem to be the annual Rangers Kryptonite, New Yorkers have a lot to be excited about.