Archive for the ‘NHL’ Category

Rangers On The Rise!

Posted: December 28, 2010 in NHL

By Jonathan Vogelman

As we approach the halfway point of the NHL season, the New York Rangers find themselves in a familiar position- in the thick of the fight for a five through eight seed in the Eastern Conference.  In past years this discouraged me.  I always assumed (pretty accurately, as it turned out), that they would either barely miss the playoffs, or squeak in and get knocked out in the first or second round.  Some of those post-lockout Ranger teams gave Ranger fans reason to hope.

Tom Renney was the first decent coach the team had hired in a very long time, and Jarmoir Jagr and Henrik Lundqvist helped bring the franchise back to respectability.  Unfortunately, the Rangers weren’t much more than a mediocre team, composed of only one or two skilled players, and a bunch of overpriced veterans and underachieving youngsters.  However, through the first thirty-five games of this season, those days seem long gone.  Regardless of what playoff seed (if any) the Rangers end up with, they are now an exciting team to watch, and appear to have an even more exciting future.

The Rangers lack the offensive firepower that the elite Eastern Conference teams have. Teams like the Philadelphia Flyers, Pitsburgh Penguins, and Washignton Capitals.  Their only elite players are winger Marian Gaborik and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.  However, while Lundqvist is their backbone and Gaborik consistently provides an offensive spark, the Rangers’ core is made up of young, homegrown talent.

Since the lockout, the Rangers organization has placed an added emphasis on drafting well and developing players from within their own organization.  A look at the players that form the identity of this team shows how much the youth movement has paid off.

The Rangers two highest point producers are forwards Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky, while rookie Derek Stepan and sophomore Artem Anisimov have added valuable scoring depth.  All four players were drafted and developed by the Rangers organization.  On defense, homegrown talents Marc Staal and Dan Girardi have emerged as one of the best shutdown defensive lines in the league and Michael Del Zotto, despite some sophomore struggles, remains one of the NHL’s most promising, young, offensive defenseman.  All but two of the Rangers six active defenseman are under twenty-seven years old, and only three of their twelve active forwards are over thirty.

While such a young team inevitably goes through bumps in the road, Head Coach John Tortorella has implemented a style of play that feeds on his players’ exuberance.  The Rangers stick to a simple game plan every night- Out-hustle, out-hit, and essentially, out-will their opponent.  They play an aggressive fore-checking style that caters to their less-skilled, more grind-it-out type of players.

Third-liners like Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust, who played minimal roles on other teams before coming to New York, are counted on to kill penalties, and use their size and toughness (somewhat respectively) to maintain possession of the puck in the offensive zone and generate secondary scoring opportunities.  Prust, who never scored more than five goals in a full season before this year, has scored that many already, and Boyle might be the biggest surprise of the season, as he ranks second on the team with twelve goals thus far.

These Rangers will rarely put more talent on the ice than their opponent, but they are so fun to watch because of how they go about their business.  We’ve seen what can happen to even the most talented group of players when they fail to put in the hard work necessary to consistently win games in the NHL.  Teams that look good on paper wont go very far without a full sixty-minute effort every night they play.  There have been games this season where the Rangers flat out stunk, but even on those nights, you would be hard-pressed to question their effort.

When attempting to objectively determine a teams willingness to compete, to do the little things that not every player or team is willing to do, two of the most important statistical categories that come to mind are body checks and blocked shots.  Not surprisingly, the Rangers lead the NHL in both of those categories.  When a team plays like that, it makes the losses a lot easier to handle.