My midseason analysis: The Rangers’ first 41 games

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This is a midseason analysis I wrote for The Journal News and LoHud.com today:

The record is the record, and it’s as superb as it is surprising.

It is 27-10-4, good for first place in the NHL’s Eastern Conference, second overall, at the halfway point of the Rangers’ season.

In fact, it couldn’t be better.

But could the Rangers be better? Will they be better? Won’t they have to be better? And where is the ceiling for this team in 2011-12? Is it a solid playoff team that could win a round or two or three? Could we even be thinking Stanley Cup? Should we?

So many questions.

Here’s what went right, what we could expect to improve and what the Rangers need to do in the second half.

What worked

The Identity: We hear it all the time. The Rangers are this hard-working, shot-blocking team that comes right at you. This isn’t a myth. The Rangers are physical and tough, and opponents really don’t like playing against them. It’ll be a tough night because they will wear you down, go north-south and through you; and mostly because they don’t quit. They stay with it, play the style that works, from puck drop to final buzzer and beyond. It starts with the coach, John Tortorella, and his home-grown captain, Ryan Callahan.

Keeping the puck out: The Rangers’ success is based on their overall defensive play (2.02 goals-against average), which very much includes their possessing the puck in the offensive zone and wearing out opponents. It also includes stellar goaltending, which they’ve gotten from Henrik Lundqvist (two goals against or fewer in 21 of 31 starts) and Martin Biron; and a relentless penalty kill. And perhaps the biggest surprise of the season — the way the Rangers have survived and thrived, even, without Marc Staal for the first 36 games, and without Michael Sauer for the last 17 and counting, and at one point without four of the top seven defensemen in the system. Kudos especially to Dan Girardi (the NHL leader in average ice time per game and among the top shot blockers), Ryan McDonagh and Michael Del Zotto.

Situations: The Rangers have improved markedly at home this season (13-4-2). They have continued a trend of being one of the best third-period teams in the NHL. They haven’t lost (in regulation) either the first game (5-0-1) or the second game (5-0-1) when they’ve played back-to-back games. They have responded well after defeats, having lost as many as two in a row in regulation twice all season. And they’ve won five or more in a row four times.

Distractions: The Rangers have turned them all into positive experiences, and grown from them. You know the list — the European trip to start the season, and seven in a row on the road due to the renovation of the Garden; the Winter Classic and HBO’s invasive “24/7” cameras. The Rangers embraced all of them … and won the Classic to boot.

Timeliness: Brad Richards has six game-winning goals, including one with .01 of a second left in regulation against the Coyotes; Ryan McDonagh’s goal with 1.8 left in overtime won a game against the Flames; and Lundqvist’s save on the Flyers’ Daniel Briere on a penalty shot with 19.6 left in regulation preserved a victory in the Winter Classic. Lately, the Rangers have prevailed in OT — on Marian Gaborik’s winner, one of 23 goals for him in a bounce-back season — and in a shootout.

What could have been better

The offense: The power play continues to be a problem, despite the addition of Richards and the rebirth of Gaborik. The Bruins won the Cup with a lousy power play last season. It sure makes it tough to win without a good one. We didn’t expect the Rangers to be an offensive force; they just don’t have the high-end skill. But it could have been better.

Personnel: Richards was expected to be Gaborik’s center, and that didn’t work from the start. The Rangers had all those defensemen out, especially Staal and Sauer. Brandon Dubinsky had one goal through 31 games. Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust are way below their expected offensive outputs. Mike Rupp needed knee surgery. Every team has these issues. The Rangers had their share.

Going forward

Expectations: The bar has been raised. But should we realistically expect this team to win a Stanley Cup, or contend for one? In most years, a non-favorite emerges and makes a run to the final four, or the Cup finals. So, sure, the Rangers could make noise. Are we really thinking they will be that team? Either way, this team is building toward being a legitimate Cup threat in the next few years.

The offense: More goals — more skill, more speed — is an obvious answer. How to get them? Do the Rangers go out and trade some of their core young players and/or prospects and/or picks for a legit top-three scoring forward? If so, that guy has to fit the identity; he has to be willing to grind and pay the price — otherwise, he’d better score a ton. Or do the Rangers go the rental route and get a veteran or two who can help the young players in the playoffs? General manager Glen Sather’s trade record has been terrific in recent years, and he usually seems to do what nobody expects him to do, so we won’t even speculate on specifics.

The NHL trade deadline is Feb. 27. The Rangers will make for an interesting story that day, won’t they?

************************

Getty Images photo, above.

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116 Comments

  1. I am one of the unlucky Time Warner Cable folks that no longer get MSG. I will not be around tonight to watch the Rangers game live streaming on one of those web sites. Does anyone know of a site where I can watch the game after it is played?

  2. “But should we realistically expect this team to win a Stanley Cup, or contend for one?”

    Yes, for several reasons.

    The biggest being Henrik Lundqvist is having the season of his life.

    Enjoyable piece Carp.

  3. billybleedsblue on

    Carp, I was just gonna post nice job on the article today.

    Please, if I may, when the team’s doing well, does it make it any easier to cover them? Is it more fun?

    Is there a part of what you do that is enjoyable right now but would be the complete opposite if the team was in the cellar?

    Just curious! Thanks!

  4. I speculate that Sather will trade for Selanne and Ryan for Dubinsky, Zucarelllo, Eminger, Wolski, Christensen, a #1 and a #2

  5. Well, billy, I almost hate to admit it, but it is easier to cover a team when it’s doing well for these reasons: The is more interest among the fans, the team is treated better by the media, meaning the stories are more likely to be front-page, and their highlights are more likely to be on the highlight shows and the networks (speaking about all sports) are more likely to cover their games. And it’s much easier to interview players and coaches after wins than after losses.

    On the other hand, with a bad team — and I covered a few of those, especially from ’97 until I left the beat in ’02-03 — there are a lot of story lines: Players misbehaving or sniping at each other, who’s getting traded, who’s getting fired, who will replace them?

    I’ve often said, I’d rather cover a really good team OR a really bad team than a mediocre team.

  6. I must add, that in the blog world, the traffic has been great with the team doing so well, but the traffic is a little more entertaining, if that’s the right word, when the team is tanking.

  7. Nice read, Carpy!

    For those that didn’t hear…Mats Zuccarello returned from injury last night….Had an assist on a Voros goal for the Whale’s only tally in a loss. Zuccarello re-injured the ankle that’s kept him out of the lineup since Dec 9.

    Hope ^the big guy^ is OK!

  8. ThisYearsModel on

    I was hoping that Sather would acquire Jesus Montero to help with the power play. Well, he sat on his hands and blew it, as the mariners beat him to the punch.

  9. billybleedsblue on

    Thanks for the insight Carp! I’m guessing if the Blueshirts were bottom o’ the barrel that your article today would have been shorter (with no photos perhaps) and buried behind NBA box scores?

    It’s gotta be more fun when most of the time most everybody involved is on the up, but that’s totally interesting to me that there’s a similar excitement from the really bad times.

  10. CARP,
    What are you talking about … this team IS tanking.

    After tonight, it’ll be two losses in a row (three when we go to sleep on Sunday).

    After that, who knows how low we’ll go. My guess is we’ll be fighting for 8th come April.

    These clowns will tank, no doubt.

  11. Wolski – Stepan – Gaborik ?

    Hags – Richie – Cally ?

    Artie Boyle Mitchell ?

    Mitchell Rupp Prust ?

    Just guessing what the lines may be…

  12. Grear read Carp!

    I was Carped AND was BANJing, lol…Since my BANJing piece is similar to your expectations, I’m not reposting it.

    Umm…, I think the blog has had sufficient entertainment after each loss this year too.

  13. the game is on NHL NET>I’m out of the market so I will get it.What I don’t get is MSG+ or MSG2.
    Sather should be exec.of the year with the war he’s brought around the Rangers. And if they keep it up Torts should be manager of the year.Also If I had a choice to get some one,Bobby Ryan.

  14. Good afternoon all! Shoot!…4ever, I had a beer with him!!! Totally awesome!

    off to read the review….

  15. carp,

    your usual reasonable and thoughtful recap and analysis.

    only issue to me presently is how to get more skill upfront. who to add and at what cost.

    stay pat wait for kreider and others, do the rental thing, or do a blockbuster.

    i am against the blockbuster.. i am for waiting for the young guys or doing the rental at the right price of course.

    kreider can add alot when or if he comes up with about 15 games left in the regular season..he wuld not be the first late season signing to help a team and I am dreaming that happens for the Rangers.

  16. I’m beginning to think Holmgren thinks concussions are contagious

    tpanotchCSN Tim Panaccio

    JVR out with concussion

  17. oh yeah, ilb….grrrrrrrrrrrr! do not even complain about being on the beach!!!!

    and billybleeds, I stupidly omitted you from my beerability list, too. Sigh, I’m having an off couple of days :)

  18. NYR- honestly mean no disrespect but Wolski on the top line? no way. not unless he plays his way there which he wont.

    Artie has to fight thru it like Dubinsky has. The offense looked a lot better when he was netting goals. they need his production

  19. Boom Boom Bathgate / "Sloppy Firsts" on

    Where the offense is concerned, I estimate this team needs to add two top-notch goal scorers to deserve to be favored in Cup play. It’s not hard to find 1 1/2 of them. First, the addition of Kreider. Second, adding Hagelin to the power play is worth another half a sniper, since he is already making a contribution on his regular shift.

    So, where to find 1/2 a scorer, that is someone who can both grind and add at least a moderate scoring touch? Newbury probably falls a bit short, borderline NHL’er at best. JAM is small, and strictly a scorer. Looks like a minor trade is needed to fill the bill. That might be sending JAM and someone else from the system, or sending JAM and an expendable D from NY, of the Stralman, Bickel, Eminger category, assuming Eminger comes around from rehab.

    This team is that close, I do believe. But the offensive upgrade must be made, or we will be whining and nit-picking all summer.

  20. imseanavery Sean Avery
    Amazing how if I do speak it gets me in trouble…more amazing how not speaking gets me in more trouble!

  21. Staal Wart and the Overachievers on

    ilb
    I’d rather be skiing too!!!
    I’m going to vail in 6 weeks if ur interested ;)

  22. Boom Boom Bathgate / "Sloppy Firsts" on

    So right, Carp, in that this season those snippy little people who are always on Sather’s case are in hibernation for the winter. I was never snippy, just a tad caustic and jaundiced. Hey, truth be told, I do like Slats better than that snake in the grass running the show into the ground in Philadelphia.

  23. Good read Carp and I think you took exactly the right approach by asking the question “How good can this team be?”.

    There is room for improvement, especially on the offensive side. Yes, the team has a terrific record. But they rarely dominate teams to the point where the game is essentially over half way through regulation time. This is what make Boston so scary. They score plenty, have an excellent defensive corps and have a goaltender who is arguably equal to LQ. Not to mention playoff experience. Many of our wins come late in the second or third periods after we’ve worn down the other team. Some would argue that this is exactly how playoff games are won. True, but as we are now, can we beat the best teams who have more offensive skill than we do? I’ll be satisfied if this team wins two rounds and competes admirably in the conference finals before calling it a season. That experience would serve us well and provide plenty of incentive for next season when some offensively gifted players may be competing and winning roster spots.

  24. Darren Dreger @DarrenDreger 9m Reply Retweet Favorite · Open
    Rangers say Avery did not spit on coach and did not refuse to play with AHL team. Discipline based on combination of other matters.

  25. Kreider isn’t a sure thing. Both in terms of leaving the school and, more importantly, starting to produce right away. May be too much to ask. Still doesn’t mean they can’t make a careful move and get someone for high picks/prospects.

  26. Boom Boom Bathgate / "Sloppy Firsts" on

    Oh, Carp, a trick question, really? You disappoint me. Maybe your next question will be whether I think Babe Ruth was a better RHB than Ted Williams? lol.

    Obviously, when it comes to Hags being treated like yesterday’s moldy pizza by the coach, as regards PP time, the one’s to look at would be LEFT WINGS, not Right Wings, like Gabby and Cally. So that means – surprise (!) I actually think Hags deserves PP time over Dubinsky, and Feds, who, ASTONISHINGLY, gets more PP time than Hags, from this “coach.” lol.

    How many here do you think would agree than Hags should be below Duby and Fedo-clinker on the PP depth chart, besides Woody Allen and his frisbee?

    I love rhetorical questions, just so long as they are asked to reinforce a point, not asked to trip up the recipient of the question.

  27. Hey, the rangers chances of getting to the stanely cup has improved. I saw Melrose on espn predict that the cup finalist will be the Bruins against the blackhawks. Melrose is never right in his predictions so the rangers have a chance.

  28. Agree, he should be out there ahead (way ahead) of Fedotenko. But RWs Callahan and Gaborik play on the PP together. Dubinsky (the recent version) should play ahead of Hagelin on PP IMO. And sometimes they just go for the huge body in front, which I don’t necessarily endorse if that big body doesn’t have hands to finish.

    I’m not against giving Hagelin a shot there, or anybody at this point, because it stinks. But I am rather sure and confident that not putting him on the PP has zero to do with the coach not liking the kid. That’s a silly notion.

  29. Good afternoon, Carp!

    Time to go build some snow monsters. Looking forward to the game tonight!!!

  30. Stranger Nation on

    Can someone respond with the last games’ 1st and 2nd PP units? I believe the answer will be somewhat revealing…

  31. Stranger Nation on

    Right now, I agree with Melrose. Not really a stretch to ID the last 2 cup winners as favorites. Fortuneately, what he says has no bearing on PO results.

  32. I even think Hagelin could get a look on PP instead of AA, and Dubinsky. Over Fedotenko, for sure. But I don’t get where is that notion that he will significantly improve their PP coming from? He can skate, for sure. But none of their other players have Brashear’s speed either. It’s not like they can’t skate. They just don’t!

  33. Boom Boom Bathgate / "Sloppy Firsts" on

    I mean, or imply, Torts not liking Hags on ability, in that PP slot, certainly not as an Avery- discord redux situation.

    I do have a contradiction dilemma as regards my lobbying for PP time for Hags. And that is the fact that I have been quietly going along with everyone here where it comes to what seems to be a consensus that the Rangers PP is defective. Actually, it is much better than most here give it credit for. On my PP goal percentage-share rating system (which of course brings the derisive, snippy little elves out of the closet for two minutes every time I refer to it, lol), the Rangers currently have a terrific 62% share over the last 6 1/2 weeks, since I started compiling this stat.

    This is not to suggest that the Rangers have no problems and cannot upgrade their PP, and of course, starting with Hagelin I say it can be done. But my findings in this category also suggest that OTHER teams have even more severe special teams problems. I say “special teams” because I include PK/short-handed goals in the mix so that I am never really referring exclusively to the Power Play, which definitely is not as potent as the Rangers PK is effective.

    We complain about the Rangers PP, but Cup contenders San Jose and Detroit are particularly vulnerable in this category, SJ with a lousy 35 per cent share, Detroit with a 38 per cent share.
    These two teams are going to have one hell of a time getting close to champagne unless they upgrade, and soon.

    So that the Rangers are strong everywhere, I am just greedy and want to see them improve everywhere, because I really think they can.

  34. Afternoon gang.

    Great write up Carp. Some really good questions that you asked too. Should be interesting to see what happens on deadline day and the rest of the season.

    I read somewhere that the locker room was deathly silent after the other night. I like that. Shows that even one loss during the middle of a terrific season pisses this team off and I expect them to come out hard tonight, even without Dubinsky. And that is all due to Torts and Callahan (best captain since Messier??).

    Oh and..

    Got some disturbing news early this morning. The crap job that MODOT did on Thursday morning with a little ice and half an inch of snow, is going to cost me $1700 in car repairs. Byfuglien assclowns! I should sue them to get my money back.

  35. MODOT=asshats.

    Mickey, they were really ticked off after that loss … even if they weren’t terribly out played. They will not accept mediocrity. I think that’s a great sign.

  36. The funny thing is that I was relieved that I didn’t hit another car, only a sidewalk twice. But in hindsight, the other car would have been better since I would have gotten at least SOME money back from the insurance company. Grrrrr!

    And asshats is right! At least the head of MODOT came out to acknowledge and apologize for doing a piss-poor job: http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/metro/modot-reviews-snowfall-response/article_202bc74a-13c5-5a20-95eb-a14d15e4cd12.html

    Even better, Carp. And I totally agree with you; it’s a great sign for them.

  37. Boom Boom Bathgate / "Sloppy Firsts" on

    MickeyM –

    What do you think of the Beatles song: “Baby You Can Drive My Car?”

  38. ThisYearsModel on

    Is this a CT Whale blog now? Who cares about them? I am interested in the Whale when someone from the Whale gets called up. As for the Rangers………..the game is in TO, so expect to kill some penalties tonight. Hope that Biron is on his game and the boys are charged up. Would be nice to see Mitchell get a goal in his return to TO.

  39. Boom Boom, I love the Beatles, ergo I like the song. But after this whole incident (and I put $1500 into the car LAST month for new brakes), I’m beginning to consider taking public transportation from now on! LOL

  40. How did you hit a sidewalk with your car, Mickey? Did the car drop out of the air onto it!? ;-D

  41. Ya know, I didnt say Avery spit but I did post the tweet from…. I think it’s the PuckDaddy guy… anyway, I hate that kind of unsubstantiated crap and should never have brought it here. Most definitely my bad.

    Game misconduct.

    Since I saw a bunch of Beatles comments I’ll repeat something I asked a music industry guy not long ago…… could there be a more underrated singer than John Lennon?

    You never hear anyone say he was even a good vocalist, yet he has a catalogue of hits virtually no one can match.

  42. This year

    You don’t care about the Whale? The repository of your future Rangers ?
    Perish the thought.

    Years ago the Rambler fans in New Haven were always hot to see the Rangers, and Ranger fans used to come up to NH to see their Ramblers perform, and there were a lot of them shuttling back and forth,….ahhh, just like now.

  43. HowlingsToday Mitchell R. Beck
    I expect both Avery & Zuccarello to be back in the lineup for the #CTWhale tonight. No official word yet from the Whale if they will or not!
    7 minutes ago

    NICEE!!!!

  44. “the game is in TO, so expect to kill some penalties tonight.”

    Soooo true. Just got off the phone with a friend and we set the penalty differential (what should be called & isn’t + ridiculous calls against NYR) for this weekend at 15.
    But I’m taking the over.

    40 years I’m watching those teams get spotted in their bullspit Saturday night games.

  45. Loved’em all, tomg. Listened to George this morning in fact.

    Good for the soul.

    But Lennon was really from another world.

  46. Jimbo, My complex is on top of a small hill and the road was untreated so I slid, crossed to road and his the curb on the other side. Totally sucked.

  47. Boom Boom Bathgate / "Sloppy Firsts" on

    Stranger Nation:

    Not much to fear re Chicago, out of the west. Vancouver will smoke them.

  48. My favorite (I think eddie asked this yesterday) was Lennon … but as the years went by I came to appreciate Harrison much more. He probably was the best musician in the band and had a bunch of his own hits and a great singing voice. Concert for Bangladesh is one of the all-time great live albums … and if you watch the video you will crack up when Billy Preston loses it during his solo.

  49. The Beatles will always be in fashion, that is how good they were. Heck, the music from the 40s through the early 70s will always appeal to people. not matter how far we get from those years, that is how good the musicanship and talent was. Today’s music is mostly utter crap.

  50. Stranger Nation on

    The west I could care less about unless our boys are playing in June.

    Regarding Hags on PP, the teams’ grinding style and grinder forwards do not have the hands required for PP finesse.

    Best forwards’ hands on team
    Gabby
    B Rich
    Artie
    Cally
    Step
    Dubi
    Hags

    Artie and dubi low PP production leaves few options so Hags is next
    Best option. Hags puck handling is underrated IMO.

    Artie has size, can skate and good hands. Thought he would have better production with those tools.

  51. Stranger Nation on

    Never a big McCartney fan. John is to beatles as Jerry is to Dead. The other music is very good, but not epic.

  52. Car is ready so gotta go get it. Hopefully I will be back in time for the start of the game!

  53. OK, Mickey – I thought you had the “pop-out wings” engaged in the car, and that you were actually flying in it! ;-D

    Seriously, though – I’m glad that you didn’t get hurt.

  54. CARP:

    Love your analysis. Right on target!

    Who at the beginning of the season imagined we would be asking the type of questions you pose?

  55. Hey, Sally! Congrats!

    The game would be carried on the NHL Network here tonight if a local team was not playing, because they usually have the Toronto home games of Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights. But they will be blacking this game out here in the city, I’m sure, dammit!

    Tomorrow begins our 3rd week of being blacked-out by TWC/MSG – this really bites the big one! I’m disgusted!

  56. MickeyM,
    I thought I was the only one who thought the music back in the day was great and the music today is garbage. There is no talent today. With the digital technology there is today it could make us all sound good.

  57. tomg, not a Bieber fan?

    Jimbo, yeah it’s blacked out on NHLN here too. I’m canceling TWC next week and looking forward to it.

  58. Oh! Sorry, Sally – but you can watch the Toronto feed there?

    Who will you be switching to as your cable provider?

  59. disagree about today’s music, though. Love the old stuff. But there’s some really good music being produced today. And a lot of crap … or c-rap.

  60. Tomg – you’ve gotta be kidding! I don’t know anyone who thinks today’s music is better than the music of the past.

    Todays stuff sucks!

  61. Jimbo, it’s on CBLT, the Canadian Bacon Lettuce Tomato channel. And I almost never watch tv so I’m just getting rid of it.

  62. Eddie Eddie Eddie on

    HBO did a nice 2 part series on George Harrison a few months ago. Very good.

    Big game tonight, hope Hank plays tonight… Marty should get a second chance in More-e-ell.

  63. Would have been even nicer to go into the second half of the season with only *9* losses, though – then we could have bragged about “losses only in the single digits” for the first half – that Sens game the other night was a real disappointment..

  64. Eddie Eddie Eddie on

    Ricardo – your writing lately is completely unadismal. Lovely flow and excellent analysis.

  65. Ah, OK Sally – but then how will you get your Ranger fix once the blackout is lifted!?

  66. I’m too old, Eddie – young girls would scream when they see me, but not the same way they scream for Bieber!!

  67. Jimbo, the games are never on tv here anyways (Sabres territory). I don’t get to watch many, but they’re online for when I feel like tolerating watching a game on my laptop.

  68. Eddie Eddie Eddie on

    My case of choice is a function of which device I am on…. This is my iPod touch…. Funny enough, one of my devices has the middle Eddie lower case and the outside eddies upper case..

    A center and it’s wingers… The triple e line.

  69. Are we continuing with the normal RR use of the word Carcillo, or should the definition be amended to something like:

    _carcillo_ v. to blow out your own ACL in the act of committing the ninth suspendable or fineable offence of your largely pointless career.

  70. Eddie Eddie Eddie on

    Wait till bieber’s voice cracks. Once he is no longer Vienna choir boy material, he will prolly go back to being an Astro-physicist.

  71. “Tomg – you’ve gotta be kidding! I don’t know anyone who thinks today’s music is better than the music of the past.

    Todays stuff sucks!”

    What the hell are you talking about, that’s what I said. Today’s music is horrible!!!

  72. NYDNRangers Pat Leonard
    #NYR warmup lines: Hagelin-Richards-Callahan, Mitchell-Stepan-Gaborik, Prust-Boyle-Fedotenko, Anisimov-Rupp-Wolski

  73. Rangers have lost twice to the maple leafs this season both times 4-2. The rangers need to give the leafs some payback.

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