After witnessing multiple encouraging signs last year and
landing the summer’s best free agent, many are expecting the Rangers to take
the next step towards Stanley Cup contention in 2011-2012.
There are lots of reasons to believe the team is on the
upswing, but there is also the possibility that some of what we saw last year
was a mirage and the Blueshirts might not live up to expectations.
Here are five reasons the Rangers could be worse next
We can’t expect that kind of performance from Henrik
Lundqvist again. The 29-year-old Swedish
netminder turned in arguably his best season yet for the Blueshirts a year ago,
but his statistics were buoyed by a league-high 11 shutouts. The addition of backup goalie Marty Biron was
supposed to limit Lundqvist’s workload, but Biron’s injury caused Lundqvist to
make 31 starts to close out the year, the fifth consecutive season Lundqvist
made at least 68 starts. Lundqvist is among
the NHL’s elite, but at some point he’s probably due for an off-year and
the constant over-working could catch up with him.
The young defense may have overachieved. It’s hard to find flaws with Marc Staal’s
defensive game, but it could be argued that the rest of his compadres played over
their heads last season. Dan Girardi led
the league in blocked shots, but he’d never previously approached the
consistently dominant level of play he turned in last year. Mike Sauer stepped into the lineup in
November and looked like a 10-year veteran and Ryan McDonagh was quickly
assimilated into the team’s second defensive pair in January. Both rookies didn’t struggle with the growing
pains that many young players do and could endure sophomore slumps. Steve Eminger could be the team’s seventh
defenseman, but for a journeyman he too played well above expectations for much
of last season. It’s hard to know what
to expect from Michael Del Zotto and Tim Erixon, but the defensive core seems
to have more questions than answers.
Abnormalities: Early-season clutch goals and a 12-6-0 record
in the second game of back-to-backs. The
team’s constant refusal to give up in games resulted in a host of comebacks
early in the season that granted the Rangers several more points than they may
have deserved. Hard workers tend to
catch good breaks, but the Blueshirts haven’t been a great team when trailing
in recent years and as enjoyable as the team’s never say die attitude was at
the start of last season, it might not be fair to expect the same this
year. The Blueshirts will only play 14
back-to-backs this year, but it will be very difficult for them to match their
inexplicable success in the second game of back-to-backs a year ago. New York
was nearly impossible to beat on the back-end of a two-game in two-day set last
season and that was again a tribute to the hard work of the Blueshirts and
coaching by John Tortorella. The team’s
record in back-to-backs was so much better than the league norm that we should
probably expect a return to the mean.
Unprecedented shootout success. Whether by design or not, the Rangers paired
one of the best shootout goalies in the league with a veritable shootout
all-star squad of forwards. Henrik
Lundqvist long ago established
himself as one of the NHL’s best breakaway stoppers and the lineup of Erik
Christensen, Wojtek Wolski and Mats Zuccarello gave the Rangers a virtual
murderer’s row of dekers. The
problem? None of those three are
guaranteed to make the team this year and though Brad
Richards might be a solid fill-in, it will be next to impossible for the
Blueshirts to match their 9-3 shootout record of a year ago. The nine extra points gained in the shootout
were the difference between a playoff berth and elimination last year, so their
importance can’t be overstated.
Injuries. The team’s constant
collective effort to block shots resulted in a few costly casualties last
year, but it could be much worse going forward. Throwing oneself in front of a frozen piece of rubber flying at speeds
of up to 100 miles per hour is a pretty good recipe for broken bones and if
Coach John Tortorella insists on maintaining that philosophy the Rangers might
lose more key players for even longer periods of time. The team’s two best forwards, Marian Gaborik
and Brad Richards, already have separate injury concerns of their own.
A difficult early-season schedule. Thanks to the continuing construction at
Madison Square Garden the Blueshirts will
play four exhibition games in Europe as well as their first two regular season
games before heading west for another five road games until they return to New
York for seven straight at home. If the
Rangers use the extended global road trip to team-build and develop chemistry,
it could be beneficial, but that’s an awfully grueling schedule loaded with
lots of flyer miles. It could be tough for
the Blueshirts to get off to a good start.
Depressed? "Why The Rangers Could Be Better Next Yeat" is up next!
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