Derek Stepan (21) of the New York Rangers celebrates his second goal of the game in the second period with teammates Marian Gaborik (10) and Michael Del Zotto #4 during the game against the Florida Panthers at Madison Square Garden on December 11, 2011 in New York City. Rangers defeated the Panthers 6-1. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
The mathematical midpoint of the New York Rangers' season has come and gone, but the All-Star break provides the natural point to reflect on the first "half" -- 47 games to be exact. The Rangers are 31-12-4 with 66 points, best in the Eastern Conference and No. 2 in the NHL.
Let's take a look at the midseason report card for the players (which is overwhelmingly positive) and then how the team's overall game components stack up as well.
Artem Anisimov (7G, 15A): Defense has remained on par, but Anisimov has been far too inconsistent on offense. He's now on the fourth line, and that extra offensive "drive" and aggressiveness often seems missing. After an eight-point October and 10-point December, Anismov is now pointless in his last 15 games. His game has stalled this year, and there's an argument to be made it has also regressed. GRADE: D
Brian Boyle (3G, 11A): He was never going to replicate his 21-goal season of last year, but nobody thought he'd be on pace for only five this year. He's getting chances, though, that are just not falling. He's constantly matched up against the opponent's No. 1 line, and his play in that role has been superb. But New York needs to generate more secondary scoring, and he's one of the culprits. GRADE: B-
Ryan Callahan (17G, 19A): The captain's point production has picked up just where it ended last season; in fact, he's due to easily surpass his career highs. That doesn't mean the other parts of his game have slipped. He's the Rangers' best forechecker, best forward shot-blocker and plays on the penalty kill and power play (leads the team with seven goals). He is the embodiment of what the Rangers 'black and blue' style is about. GRADE: A
Brandon Dubinsky (5G, 16A): He's on pace for a career-low 10 goals, but that's due to a career-low six percent shot conversion. Still, he plays on the power play and is often in a top-six role and needs to convert like that type of player. He's one of those guys that can play well in any zone, is physical and key cog to to how the Rangers go into battle. GRADE: B-
Ruslan Fedotenko (6G, 7A): He's the definition of a Tortorella player in that he's not a liability in any situation, and he's forward who thinks defense first. Fedotenko is often shuffled all over the forward lines, but the fact of the matter is, the team is better if he's in a bottom-six role because he doesn't offer too much on offense. His ability to defend (often opponents' top forwards) and penalty-killing prowess is top notch. GRADE: B
Marian Gaborik (25G, 14A): Seventh in the league in scoring and already past his output from last season (22 goals in 62 games), Gaborik has been everything the Rangers could ask for. He's also committed to playing a two-way game. Without him, the Rangers' offense is merely average. GRADE: A
Carl Hagelin (8G, 8A): Many thought he would make the team out of camp, but the rookie stuck in the AHL until November. In 29 games, all he's done is ignite any line he's on. His speed is dimensional. His defensive game is excellent. And his offensive ability has been impressive. Hagelin hasn't missed a beat nor looked overwhelmed at the NHL level. All good teams need surprises like this. GRADE: A (albeit in a short time)
John Mitchell (5G, 6A): Called up with Hagelin at the time of Andre Deveaux's suspension, it was thought he'd be sent down pretty quickly. All he's done since his call up is earn the trust of Tortorella by being sound defensively and strong on the puck, with some scoring -- he's got a heavy wrist shot -- ability as well. The seventh-round pick the Rangers used for Mitchell looks like a steal right now. GRADE: A- (again, in an abbreviated time)
Brandon Prust (2G, 9A): It doesn't seem likely he'll come close to the 29 points he put up last year, but the point-producing role isn't Prust's. He does the heavy lifting and is the first player to stick up for a teammate. Fearless is the word that best describes him as he will hit, block shots and sacrifice his body with reckless abandon. The grinder is a good cycler, though his offensive game is limited, and he's a good penalty killer. Another guy whose role is best served on the checking unit. GRADE: B
Brad Richards (16G, 17A): The end-of-the-year point total could be his worst since he tallied 48 in 56 games with the Dallas Stars in 2008-09, but Richards' presence has absolutely made a difference as a leader and as someone who commands respect from opposing teams. Plus, he has six game-winning goals. Still, part of the reason he was brought in was to quarterback an ailing power play -- and even though he leads the team with 13 power-play points, the man advantage has been horrific. GRADE: B+
Mike Rupp (4G, 0A): The big man was brought in to be an enforcer and a respected leader in the clubhouse. He's only played in 25 games -- and granted, in limited minutes on the fourth line -- because of an injury, but has drawn rave reviews from the entire team. Plus, he had the first two Rangers' goals in the Winter Classic when the team looked down and out. The good part about him is that he's not an immobile fourth-liner; he can kill penalties and do some things in the offensive zone. GRADE: B+
Derek Stepan (10G, 21A): Coach John Tortorella wanted to ease Stepan into a more elevated role this season, but the center forced his hand with his all-around game, that has no real glaring weaknesses. As of yet, the 21-year-old has not been victimized by the sophomore slump. Instead, he's on pace to make about a 10-point jump -- while playing an excellent two-way game with responsibility on the penalty kill and power play. Stepan also leads the forwards with a plus-17. He thinks the game at such a high level and is one of the reasons he's meshed with Gaborik and stuck on the top line. GRADE: A
Stu Bickel (0G, 4A): The kid will fight anybody, and even though he's the first one to get his ice time cut toward the end of the game, Tortorella couldn't have expected this much from him. It's tough to assess his performance because he's not playing a whole lot, so I'll give him a SATISFACTORY instead of a grade.
Michael Del Zotto (5G, 19A): Del Zotto's comeback season has been one of the best in the NHL, and he's still only 21. His biggest improvement is in his defensive-game positioning and physicality -- and he plays a far more simple game on offense, as well. That's not to say he's never out of position, but he's thinking the game like a pro now. His ascension is key to forming solid top two pairs (and not breaking up the top one). He could be considered the team's MVP for what he's meant. GRADE: A-
Dan Girardi (4G, 13A): No Marc Staal for three-quarters of the season? No problem, as the unheralded Girardi even proved his worth to the league with an All-Star selection. He's among the league leaders in ice time, blocked shots and has become one of the best shutdown blueliners in the game. GRADE: A+
Ryan McDonagh (4G, 15A): Asking a 22-year-old second-year player to play on the top pairing and over 25 minutes a night is a lot. But not for McDonagh, who has filled in for Staal admirably. The ups-and-downs are there with any young player, but McDonagh is physical, the best skating defenseman on the team and has also seen his offense grow. McDonagh and Girardi are a huge reason why the Rangers have given up 1.68 goals per game, third fewest in the league. GRADE: A
Michael Sauer (1G, 2A): Before suffering a concussion Dec. 5, Sauer had picked up where he left off in his rookie season. He's a stay-at-home guy and uses his big body to his advantage in defending. There's still not a lot to go on from this season, so Sauer gets an ABOVE AVERAGE grade from me.
Marc Staal: Too early to say anything yet, but through 11 games he's shown glimpses of his old self and a lot of rust to shake off.
Anton Stralman (1G, 6A): Stralman signed, then began playing on the third pairing, but has proven to be capable with Del Zotto. He's another offense-first guy who still has to adjust to the Rangers' defensive style, but he hasn't been half bad. GRADE: B
Martin Biron (9-2-0, 1.87 GAA, .927 SV%): Tortorella has constantly called him "1A" to Henrik Lundqvist's "1" and for good reason. Biron's play has enabled the coaching staff to go on with the plan to give the King more rest this season. Biron has been the best backup in the NHL this year, and he'd certainly be an upgrade over many other teams' No. 1's. GRADE: A
Henrik Lundqvist (22-10-4, 1.87 GAA, .937 SV%): The stats tell the story and right now Lundqvist is putting together a Vezina-worthy campaign. He's fifth in wins, third in GAA and SV% and second in shutouts with five. The Rangers' defense has been great, but Lundqvist has been game-changing. GRADE: A+
Offense: The 10th-highest scoring team in the league, New York doesn't boast an elite or flashy offense, but scores enough and puts points on the board through hard work. GRADE: B+
Defense: Players have stepped up (and pleasantly surprised) after injuries and this unit remains one of the youngest in the NHL, yet this team has allowed the third-fewest goals in the NHL. GRADE: A
Special Teams: The penalty kill has been exceptional (No. 3), but the power play has been terrible (24th) and could be the Achilles' heel deeper into the season. GRADE: B-
Coaching: Tortorella and the staff has done a remarkable job with this young group and everyone has bought into the team concept. After such an stellar first half, Tortorella is one of the frontrunners for Jack Adams Award should the Rangers continue it through the rest of the year. GRADE: A+
|New York Rangers||47||31-12-4||66|
|New Jersey Devils||48||26-19-3||55|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||49||25-19-5||55|
|Tampa Bay Lightning||48||21-23-4||46|
|New York Islanders||48||19-22-7||45|