At the end of the 2012 post-season, the Rangers were expected to make some significant changes in order to improve their chances at winning the Stanley Cup. Despite having a successful 2011/2012 campaign and topping the Eastern Conference standings, the Blue Shirts clearly needed to make some tweaks, and have made those adjustments in the offseason.
Gone are Brandon Prust, Ruslan Fedotenko, Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Mats Zuccarello, John Mitchell, Jeff Wowitka, and John Scott, while the team has welcomed the likes of Jeff Halpern, Aaron Asham, Michael Haley and Rick Nash;
As with any team in transition, the Rangers are going to have an adjustment period once the new season commences in October. Today, NYRZone.com takes a look at the upcoming regular season, making 5 predictions on goaltending, offensive production, defense, special teams, and regular season statistics:
The New York Rangers goaltending situation has not been this steadfast since Mike Richter and Glen Healy backstopped the Rangers to 54 wins in 1993/1994. Front man Henrik Lundqvist has had the most memorable year of his career in 2011/2012, leading the Broadway Blueshirts to 39 wins in 62 games, playing in the Winter Classic and All Star Game, and taking home the Vezina Trophy at the annual NHL awards banquet in June. Additionally, Martin Biron, one of the Rangers most important re-signings in the offseason, chipped in with 12 wins and 2 shut outs of his own last year, making the duo one of the all-time great Rangers goaltending tandems.
It will be no surprise to see Lundqvist break the 30 win mark for the eighth time in as many seasons with New York. Hank is a consummate professional and will be essential for a deep Stanley Cup run in 2013, and will have another career caliber season, but expect King Henry to have a slow start to the 2012/2013 . Lundqvist has been forced to make a big adjustment in his life off the ice with the birth of his first child, Charlise, earlier in July and fatherhood can have an impact on his game.
Henrik himself admitted to the magnitude of the adjustment, saying via twitter “Things I’ve realized during my first 18 days of fatherhood. Avg. 10h of sleep is now in my past… To dress someone that’s 19″ is not that easy.”
Biron, however, is also an essential piece of the puzzle. The 34-year-old backup can be expected to start 25 % of the starts in the first twelve to twenty games of the season. Biron can also be expected to play a significant amount of time down the regular season stretch to ensure Henrik is in good form for the playoffs in 2013. Expect the Rangers goaltenders to hit 49 wins as a tandem in the upcoming season.
The Rangers have worked hard this year to improve the offensive production that they lacked in 2011/2012. Despite bringing in playmaker Brad Richards, the club’s offensive production could not get into a rhythm in 2011/2012. The team placed 11th in goals per game average last season with 2.71, and landed at a dismal 20th in shots per game with an average of 28.5.
The upcoming season will not be any different in September and October, especially given the absence of team scoring leader Marian Gaborik. While Rick Nash has been brought in to help replace the injured Gaborik, Nash will struggle early on under John Tortorella’s system. Nash has played the last 9 NHL seasons in Columbus, and it will take some time to see his offensive production rise significantly. Moreover, as NYRZone.com has noted in the past, Nash would have to produce some of the highest numbers of his career if he were to take Gaborik’s place as team point leader.
Once Gaborik returns, however, we may see a rejuvenated Rangers squad that will have a well-balanced offensive output. Richards will likely center the top line with Gaborik on the Right wing and young sensation Chris Kreider on his left. Richards and Gaborik combined for 142 points in 2011/2012, while Kreider posted 7 points in 18 games in the Rangers playoff run last season.
The second line will include Derek Stepan, Ryan Callahan, and Nash, all of whom have broken the 50-point mark in 2011/2012, pushing Carl Hagelin to the third line with Brian Boyle and Aaron Asham. Newly acquired face off expert Jeff Halpern and former coyote Taylor Pyatt will join Mike Rupp on the fourth line to improve on the team’s 50% faceoff win percentage from last season.
By the end of the season, the Rangers should be able to increase their shots and goals per game slightly, but with the numerous roster changes, the team will not fully gel until late in the first half of the season. It will also continue to be of utmost importance for the Rangers to score first, as they won 81.4% of their games when scoring first in 2011/2012.
Defense will again be the Blue Shirts’ strong suit in 2012/2013. John Tortorella’s “defense first” system allowed the Rangers to hold opponents to only 27.8 shots per game last season, a total only bested by the Blues, Red Wings, Penguins, Devils, and Stanley Cup Winning Kings.
Additionally, The Rangers recorded a plus/minus of +32 as a team and allowed only 187 goals against, an Eastern Conference best and only surpassed by the Blues and Coyotes. Defenders Ryan McDonagh and Daniel Girardi have become among the best blue liners in the NHL and are solidly backed up by Michael Del Zotto, Marc Staal, Anton Stralman and Stu Bickel.
The defensive core of the franchise will continue to impress in the 2012/2013 season and will start the season strong. The defensive game is an integral part of the New York Rangers identity, and is essential to their success, so it is not likely that many changes will be made on the blue line.
Since the Rangers are rounded so well defensively, the Penalty kill should also be active in the 2012/2013 season. Last season New York were 86.2 % effective when they were at least a man short, and the success can be attributed to the culture of shot blocking, and persistent play, especially when in the corners of the defensive zone. The Rangers also ranked eighth in the league in short-handed goals with 8 and allowed the third least number of power play goals against with 36.
This trend will continue in the 2012/2013 season as the defensive core will again provide the necessary blocking power for Lundqvist on the penalty kill. Moreover, look for Marc Staal to return to his form as an elite defender after returning from a severe concussion sustained in a collision with his brother Eric in 2011, and watch for Rick Nash to contribute on the penalty kill as well.
The Power play, on the other hand, needs vast improvement over the 23rd best from last season. The team’s hopes in this area lie with Brad Richards, Ryan Callahan and Marian Gaborik maintain their power play production from 2011/2012, when the trio combined for 30 goals with the extra attacker. Rick Nash will be expected to improve his power play output, as he recorded only 6 goals in that area last season.
In addition, Jeff Halpern will be used more often than not in power play situations. Halpern led the Washington Capitals in face off percentage last season with 58.4%, only outdone by Jonathan Towes, Patrice Bergeron, Joe Pavelski and Manny Malhotra.
Given the roster changes, however, it is expected that the Rangers will be equally as good or even better on the penalty kill for 2012/2013 and will see an improvement as well in their power play generation.
Although the Blue Shirt Brotherhood will improve in most areas of the game over last season, the Flyers, Penguins, Bruins and Capitals will be the biggest challenges for the Rangers heading into next season. The Penguins, for example, are likely to be the largest threat with Evgeni Malkin coming off an award – winning season and star forward Sidney Crosby returning to true form.
In addition, the Flyers and Bruins will play their tough brand of hockey and the Capitals are looking to rebound from another disappointing post-season. The Rangers, while they will improve in goals for and against, and improve their shots on goal statistics, will not have the same kind of storybook season they had last year. Expect the Rangers to finish with a record of 49-23-10, and finish the season in 4th place.
The playoffs, however, may be a bright spot for New York, ending up in the top 4 in the Eastern Conference standings. It is likely to see Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Boston, the Rangers, Ottawa, Washington, Carolina and Tampa Bay to make the post season. The Blueshirts, advantage for the post season will be giving Henrik Lundqvist plenty of time to rest down the stretch, and adding a 3rd defense pairing in the playoffs will keep the defenders from tiring out as they did this past post-season.
The Rangers are likely to be strong throughout the last 25 – 30 games of the season, and their late success and defensive game will propel the team to finish the post season as the Eastern Conference Champion and Prince of Wales Trophy recipient.
The 2012/2013 season and playoff push is sure to be another entertaining season for Rangers fans. The addition of some much needed grit and depth is sure to help the team throughout the early parts of the season, and the return of Gaborik to the lineup will add the offensive punch they need to make the second half of the season a success. Goaltending and defense are sure to be solid, and while scoring and special teams may take a while to fire on all cylinders, a system of four rugged lines will ensure the Rangers late season and playoff success.