So in Part I yesterday, I chronicled the Rangers rockin’ first half. But in order to see more stick salutes, its time for them to do the real heavy lifting. Teams will be desperate for playoff position. Points will be harder to come by. And now, they have become the hunted, used by other squads as a “measuring stick” for their success. What do the Rangers—players and management, have to do (or not do) from here—in order to make this spring truly memorable? Read on.
1. Win lots of the monster match-ups—There will be lots of key games to keep the Rangers battle tested. Opportunities to show they belong atop the standings. These include five more matches against the Devils, three more against the Flyers, Bruins and Penguins, two against the Blackhawks and Capitals, and one against the Red Wings. Want to be the best? You’ve gotta win the tough ones.
2. A top-four seed will help them succeed—Captain Callahan spoke about it early on; the Rangers need to gain a top-four spot in the conference. It will be a big step up from last year and gaining home-ice advantage would be a major confidence builder.
3. Glen’s gotta know the deal—For the first time in his much-maligned tenure with the Rangers, general manager Glen Sather will not be buying with the intent of just making it into the playoffs. Any move he orchestrates from now until the Feb. 27 deadline will be made to position this team for a deep run. The Rangers could really use a scoring forward and with Michael Sauer suffering a setback in his attempted comeback from a concussion, they could use help on the back line, too. You can never have enough D-men—and that holds doubly true in the playoffs. But, let the buyer beware!
4. Marc cannot be Staaled—After missing 36 games this season with post-concussion symptoms, Marc Staal is going through his training camp right now. He is beginning to round into form and will need the rest of the regular season to do the fine tuning. However, should he go down again—particularly after the trade deadline—the Rangers would be in a tough spot.
5. Keep cookin’ at home—As I stated yesterday in Part I, The Garden has been great for this year’s team. They need to keep getting the wins at home—keep the crowd on their side. MSG needs to become a cauldron again.
6. Be prepared for March 17—I’m not talking about St. Patty’s Day. The 17 refers to the number of games the Rangers will play in March. Four back-to-backs will be included here. Remember, the Rangers have been great in these situations all season long.
7. Take care of the balance sheet—More balanced scoring is needed. The Rangers must get more contributions from Brandon Dubinsky, Brad Richards, Derek Stepan, Artem Anisimov and Brian Boyle. Wouldn’t hurt if foot soldiers Brandon Prust, Ruslan Fedotenko, John Mitchell and Mike Rupp knocked in a few, too.
8. Fix the powerless play—I know the Bruins hoisted the Cup last year with a putrid power play. But special teams have been integral to many long playoff runs throughout the years. If they were only half as good on the man advantage as they are on the penalty kill, the Rangers would become a much more dangerous opponent.
9. Keep doin’ it “The Right Way” —The Rangers must continue to play with the requisite amounts of commitment, determination and enthusiasm that have become their trademarks. We’ve seen what can happen when their level drops even a bit. The coach will keep putting the petal to the metal with these guys and here’s why: other teams don’t like playing against the Rangers, because of the punishment they can dish out and the way they can drain the life out of ‘em with their relentless puck pursuit in all three zones. Gotta keep it up, boys.
10. Fast-forward to 2012 B.C.—B.C. as in Boston College—where the Rangers top prospect, Chris Kreider currently plays. If the 6-foot-3, 225-pound junior turns pro and can provide the Rangers with the size, speed and skill that they need up front—he could become a key player down the road.