Rangers' midseason report card
Rob Carr/Getty ImagesThe Rangers have had plenty of reasons to celebrate so far this season.
Here are our first-half grades.
Rangers' first-half report card
Withstanding potential pitfalls such as the team’s taxing European road trip, the loss of its best defenseman and the pressure-heightening scrutiny of the HBO cameras leading up to the Winter Classic, Brad Richards and the Rangers have been a resilient bunch. They have put together four winning streaks of five games or more for the first time in franchise history through the first 40 games of the season and find themselves on top of the heap in the East.
Marian Gaborik leads the team with 34 points, Richards has delivered six game-winning goals and the team is getting surprising contributions from rookie Carl Hagelin and role player John Mitchell. But the team’s top two lines need to be more consistent and the Rangers need to have a steady four-line presence each night to compete with the top teams in the league. The Rangers currently rank 10th among 30 teams with 2.83 goals for per game.
Considering the significant losses their back end has sustained, the Rangers have been pretty remarkable. Without Marc Staal and Michael Sauer for the majority of the first half, the defense has been galvanized by the strong, steady play of newly named All-Star Dan Girardi. Thrust into the top defensive pairing with Girardi, second-year player Ryan McDonagh has blossomed. And Michael Del Zotto is enjoying a terrific bounce-back season with a 23-point campaign that leads all Rangers defensemen. The loss of Steve Eminger to shoulder injury for eight weeks was a deceptively costly one for the unit as well, but they have continued to weather the storm.
Of any glaring weakness, special teams may be the biggest for Ryan Callahan's Rangers. The power play has tallied only one goal in 20 attempts over the past eight games and the unit has failed to seize momentum in critical stretches throughout the season. The Rangers’ penalty kill has been pretty strong -- the unit is sixth in the league with an 86.2 percent success rate -- but overall special teams play needs to be improved.
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is steadily putting together the best season of an already impressive seven-year NHL career. The 29-year-old Swedish netminder, who will garner plenty of consideration for the Vezina Trophy, has been the team’s irrefutable MVP, posting a 19-8-4 record with three shutouts. The former seventh-round pick ranks third in the league with a 1.89 goals against average and .937 save percentage. Martin Biron, one of the best backups in the league, has been excellent as well. He has recorded eight wins in 10 starts this season, including one shutout.
For as skilled a squad as the Rangers have, it is a testament to John Tortorella that the team rarely gets out-worked. The fiery coach, who is a sure candidate for the Jack Adams Award, has cultivated a well-conditioned, hard-nosed, blue-collar culture and the Rangers have clearly bought in. The team’s stellar .718 winning percentage clinched him a spot as one of two coaches in this month’s NHL All-Star Game.
ABOUT THIS BLOG
After spending two seasons as the Islanders beat writer for Newsday, Katie Strang joined ESPN New York to cover the Rangers, Isles and Devils. She is a graduate of Michigan State University and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.