Five questions facing the Rangers this season:
1. Can/will Brad Richards rebound? He was not in shape because of the lockout last season. That’s not an issue this season. He lost the confidence of his coach (who nevertheless gave him enormous lengths of leash until the end). That’s not an issue this season. He is, though, facing the prospect of being bought out again next summer. He’s playing for his career, really.
2. Will the Rangers score enough goals? Coach Alain Vigneault’s system is supposed to allow them to have the puck more and be more creative with it. But outside of Rick Nash, they don’t have a legitimate 30-to 35-goal scorer on the roster. If Richards doesn’t bounce back, and if Derick Brassard plays the way he did in Columbus rather than the way he played after joining the Rangers last season, and if the power play struggles again, they’ll have a tough time contending.
3. Are they tough enough? This gets asked of this team a lot. Fact is, in their best season in decades — 2011-12 — they were the meanest, toughest, fighting-est team in the NHL’s Eastern Conference. Last season, they were buttery soft. And outside of adding Derek Dorsett, that part of the game has not been addressed.
4. What about Henrik Lundqvist? Yeah, that’s probably a crazy question, but he’s in a contract year. He has said he doesn’t want his contract situation to become a distraction, and he said Wednesday that he will not address it again. Like all goalies, he’s going to play with smaller pads this season. And, most of all, he’s going to play behind a team that doesn’t block nearly as many shots or emphasize defense as much as the Rangers did under former coach John Tortorella. It would be shocking, though, if Lundqvist isn’t his usual spectacular self.
5. What about the road trip? Starting the season with nine straight on the road — after playing six preseason games on the road while the final stage of Madison Square Garden’s renovation is completed — is certainly going to be a challenge. Still, the Rangers went through this the last time there was a season not delayed by a lockout, and they used that as a bonding experience. They embraced the challenge. They won their division, nearly won the Presidents’ Trophy and went to the Eastern Conference final. Can they do it again?
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