Forty-three games into the season, the New York Rangers have set themselves up to be one of the elite teams in the NHL. Tied for the league lead with 60 points and a 28-11-4 record record, there is certainly a lot of games left to be played, but the foundation has been laid to be a playoff team -- and a high seed at that.
The staple of the Blueshirts so far this season has been defense and goaltending. On the heels of an All-Star season from Henrik Lundqvist and a backup in Martin Biron who has been more like 1A than No. 2 plus a collective effort on defense to block shots and play simple, the Rangers have allowed the second-fewest goals in the league, 87.
They've also been a team that has not been very high scoring, but has put enough pucks in the back of the net to make their superb defensive efforts stand. New York has scored 120 goals this year -- good for 11th in the league. Mostly due to their excellent work at preventing goals, the Rangers have the league's fourth-best goal differential at plus-32.
But it all hasn't been great news in New York over the past week. The Blueshirts had one of their "worst" weeks with two losses in four games. They were shutout by the Ottawa Senators, 3-0, and recently fell to the struggling Montreal Canadiens, 4-11. Even though they beat the Phoenix Coyotes, 2-1 in shootout, and Toronto Maple Leafs, 3-0, New York has not looked as dominant because they've struggled to score. Five goals over four games just won't cut it.
Expect different lines as the new week begins -- with three games against playoff-caliber teams and games New York cannot win just scoring once or twice.
Nashville Predators, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 7:30 p.m. EST, NBCSN
The Rangers will begin their difficult mid-January test with a tilt against the fundamentally sound Predators, a team they will play only once this season. The Preds have 54 points on the year, but the Western Conference is widely considered the "stronger" conference, so they're no slouches. They've won four in a row and seven of 10. Nashville is also a team with about the same goals for as the Rangers (2.70 per game), and they rely on their defense and goaltending to get the job done. They are just outside the top third in limiting goals and have given up only six over their last four games. Nashville's success stems from the play of their world-class, workhorse netminder, Pekka Rinne, who is 23-11-4 with a 2.54 goals-against avereage and .920 save percentage. Defenseman Shea Weber leads the team with 32 points, while David Legwand and Patric Hornqvist lead in goals with 12. The Rangers may have the go-to scorer in Marian Gaborik and playmaker in Brad Richards, but other than that these teams are constructed similarly with a lot of youth, talented blueliners and a number of players still growing into their roles at the NHL level.
Pittsburgh Penguins, Thursday, Jan. 19, 7:00 p.m. EST, MSG
Even without Sidney Crosby and one of the premiere offensive defensemen in the game, Kris Letang, the Rangers know what they're going to see from the Penguins, and that's an uptempo style and a team that will still try to win with offense despite their losses. Before the 10-goal outbust over their last two games, they had six goals over their previous six games, so it's obvious they've been affected by their rash of injuries. Pittsburgh has fallen to eighth in the Eastern Conference with 50 points because of their losses. The Rangers beat the Pens both times, 4-3 at the end of November, and (may undeservedly) 3-1 two weeks ago, but these games are rarely predictable. Evgeni Malkin is going to be the focus of the defense as he has a ridiculous 51 points and 21 goals on the season and can perform even without the help around him. James Neal leads the team with 24 goals. New York has a good chance of winning if these two guys are contained, but that's a very tall task to ask any team at this point.
at Boston Bruins, Saturday, Jan. 21, 1:00 p.m. EST, MSG
New York may have three more points than the Bruins as of this posting, but there aren't many experts and people who believe their the better team right now. The two teams have yet to play any of their six games against each other. Saturday's game will tell the hockey world a whole lot about who the beast of the East is. Boston his deadly: It has nearly double the goal differential, plus-69, than any other team. It has two of the best goalies in the league in Vezina Trophy-winner Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask (even if he's the No. 2, though they've split starts) and have allowed the fewest goals in the NHL, slightly below the Rangers. They're averaging the most goals in the league with 3.59 per game paced by stud sophomore center Tyler Seguin with 17 goals and 38 points. They have five players with 30 or more points, with loads of depth throughout the lineup. Seven players have 10 goals or more. We'll learn a lot about each team from this game, which should easily be the game of the week in the NHL.
Next 5 Games
|Nashville||Tue 01/17||7:30 PM EST|
|Pittsburgh||Thu 01/19||7:00 PM EST|
|@ Boston||Sat 01/21||1:00 PM EST|
|Winnipeg||Tue 01/24||7:00 PM EST|
|@ New Jersey||Tue 01/31||7:00 PM EST|
Last 5 Games
|@ Montreal||Sun 01/15||L 1 - 4|
|@ Toronto||Sat 01/14||W 3 - 0|
|Ottawa||Thu 01/12||L 0 - 3|
|Phoenix||Tue 01/10||SO - W 2 - 1|
|@ Pittsburgh||Fri 01/06||W 3 - 1|