The New York Rangers are the NHL's hottest team, as they've won six in a row and are 9-2-1 in their last 12 games. Their unsteady beginning to the season -- with well-documented worldwide traveling plans -- is now a distant memory. During the past week, the Blueshirts grabbed two more victories, avenging a heartbreaking defeat by the Ottawa Senators earlier in the year, and winning 3-2 on the road. Then, the Rangers traveled back to Madison Square Garden to to take on a Carolina Hurricanes squad that's really struggled to find its footing early this season -- and they dismantled them 5-1, aided by a four-goal third period.
The first few weeks of the season brought some troubling signs -- such as the team struggling to find line chemistry, which led to some weak offensive showings, and a defense that seemed a bit out of whack. But the past few weeks have really seen the Rangers maintain a level of consistency and return to their black-and-blue identity that has given opponents fits. Furthermore, they've started to find lines that mesh well together -- and they've gotten balanced scoring throughout the lineup because of it: from forwards to defensemen. Derek Stepan has elevated his game, Brandon Dubinsky finally found the back of the net and Sean Avery potted his first of the season last week. You become a much more dangerous team (and one that's much harder to defend) when you have four competent lines that can generate offense. And right now, it appears that the Blueshirts have that ability.
More promising is the fact that the defense has raised its level of play in Marc Staal's absence and the young/inexperienced core, has really began to impress. Michael Del Zotto appears more confident and surehanded on defense, which allows him to to utilize his natural offensive talents more confidently. Jeff Woywitka and Steve Eminger have also been adequate third-pairing defenders who have played a very simple game.
With all that being said, it's important to note -- and coach John Tortorella has said this recently -- that hockey is all about momentum, and right now the Rangers have it going their way. It's important to keep perfecting the little parts of your game so that those inevitable ruts don't appear for long stretches. Right now, the Rangers are two points behind the division-leading Pittsburgh Penguins, but with 21 points, they're also tied with four other teams. You just can't afford to take any nights off in the NHL.
at New York Islanders, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 7:00 p.m. EST, MSG
This week's schedule features two road games against teams the Rangers played once during this season and it begins a four-game road swing. A match up against the Isles is always an intense one, and often times it's one a team wins when they can keep their emotions in check the best. The Isles have not been very good in recent years, yet they always 'get up' for games against their local rivals. The Rangers lost to the Islanders in the fourth game of the season, 4-2, in part because they couldn't contain John Tavares (hat trick), but also because they took eight penalties in the game and went 0-for-4 on their own power play. Since that game, though, the Isles have won one game in nine chances, 1-5-3. Their defense has been shaky and their offense has been dormant; they have scored the least amount of goals in the NHL with 29. Tavares leads with way with 13 points, but other than a few talented young forwards, the Islanders don't possess a a very scary attack. New York is currently employing a three-goalie rotation, as well, and would do well to move someone like Evgeni Nabokov while they can. The team from Long Island has the second-worst goal differential in the Eastern Conference, at negative-14.
at Montreal Canadiens, Saturday, Nov. 19, 7:00 p.m. EST, MSG
The Habs are tough to pin down as they don't really have a No. 1 scoring option to hone in on, but a varied attack, with offensive ability (that may not be 'star' level) across the board. They like to play a more finesse game, which contrasts with the dump/chase and heavy forechecking/hitting style the Rangers like to employ. The last time these two teams met, the Rangers used a three-goal first period to beat the Canadiens 4-2. Tomas Plekanec paces the team with 14 points, though there are four players with at least four goals on the season. Max Pacioretty leads Montreal with seven goals. Since the game against the Rangers, the Habs have won twice in overtime and lost once -- and tend to play in a lot of close games. The Blueshirts dropped both tilts in Montreal last season, but this is a different team that has grown up a lot since then. New York was also eight games over .500 on the road last season and was very comfortable away from MSG.
Next 5 Games
|@ New York Islanders||Tue 11/15||7:00 PM EST|
|@ Montreal||Sat 11/19||7:00 PM EST|
|@ Florida||Wed 11/23||7:30 PM EST|
|@ Washington||Fri 11/25||4:00 PM EST|
|Philadelphia||Sat 11/26||2:00 PM EST|
Last 5 Games
|Carolina||Fri 11/11||W 5 - 1|
|@ Ottawa||Wed 11/09||W 3 - 2|
|Winnipeg||Sun 11/06||W 3 - 0|
|Montreal||Sat 11/05||W 5 - 3|
|Anaheim||Thu 11/03||SO - W 2 - 1|