By Eric Bancker
The Rangers season seemed to be doomed right from their home-opener this year. The New York Rangers superstar forward, Marian Gaborik, went down opening night in Madison Square Garden with a separated shoulder and was figured to be out for a month or potentially longer. The Rangers knew that they would need their young core to pick up the slack but that seemed to be a tall task since Gaborik accounted for about 1/5 of the Rangers goals last year. So far the young guys have stepped up and the Rangers find themselves in a good position early on in the season.
Since Gaborik’s injury the Rangers are 4-3-1, the overtime loss is from the night Gaborik got hurt. Now that record may not be anything great but without a former 40 goal-scorer in your lineup it shows that the Rangers can survive until he is 100% and ready to come back. The Rangers have leaned heavily on their top line of Ryan Callahan, Artem Anisimov, and Brandon Dubinsky. The trio has combined for 12 goals and 27 total points, the Rangers have scored 31 goals so far this season so their importance can’t even be measured at this point.
The Rangers are averaging 3.10 goals a game, after last year where they only averaged 2.70 goals a game. This of course caused them to miss the playoffs for the first time since the lockout and this was with all of their players healthy. The Rangers are currently missing Marian Gaborik, Vinny Prospal, and Chris Drury who last year were responsible for 34% of the Rangers goals. The Rangers are only two points behind the division leaders, the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins who are currently tied with 13 points.
The one concern for Rangers fans with this strong start is that they do this sort of thing every single season. They start hot in the first 10 games and then they can’t score for the next 60 games and then get hot the last 12 games of the season. Brandon Dubinsky had 8 points in the first 10 games of last season and had 10 points in the first 10 games of the 2008-2009 season. Dubinsky finished 2008-2009 with 41 points and finished last season with 44 points. It appears that if history tells us anything it’s that the Rangers are set to fall apart once again and their strong start will be wiped away by 3-4 months of half-hearted hockey.
If the Rangers are to continue their strong play then they will not only need to keep their offense going but the defense needs to get better. The Rangers are giving up an average of 3.00 goals a game. There is practically no separation for the amount of goals they score per game and the amount they give up per game. The defense has been bad and as usual they have left Henrik Lundqvist out to dry on many occasions. The two games that really stood out this season was the 6-4 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers and Friday’s 4-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. The Rangers started backup goalie, Martin Biron, against the Thrashers and the Rangers defense as well as Biron fell apart quickly. The Rangers were down 5-2 at one point in the game and fought back to come within one goal of tieing the game when Atlanta finished them off with an empty-net goal. The Rangers really lost a heartbreaker on Friday after a hard-fought effort but the defense looked bad and Henrik Lundqvist played a great game in net but he wasn’t able to keep the Rangers alive as Jeff Skinner scored the go ahead goal with about 4:00 left in the 3rd period. The Rangers gave up a bunch of odd-man rushes and they were surrendering too many high percentage shots to the other team. The Rangers have put together shot blocking clinics in many games throughout the season. They need to get back to this style of play if they are to succeed.
The Rangers are at home tonight against the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Chicago Blackhawks. The Rangers are coming off a shutout against the Toronto Maple Leafs so the Rangers have a ton of confidence coming back home. They are 1-3-1 at MSG this year and the Rangers will look to turn that around as well as send a message to the rest of the NHL if they can beat the Blackhawks who are without their superstar forward Marian Hossa.