The Rangers, on paper, are a pretty solid team. They have elite talent on the top line, they have great forward depth to back it up, they have an elite goaltender, and a shut down defenseman. They have a great penalty kill, a solid clubhouse with some leaders, and a team seemingly willing to do whatever it takes to win. Hockey, however, is not played on paper. A lot of things need to go right for the Rangers to go far this year, but there are five things that are crucial to the overall success of the Bluehirts this year.
Stay Healthy: This one goes without saying, but health is already something that is hurting the Rangers. Marc Staal, the best defenseman on the team, is out indefinitely with post concussion symptoms. Mike Sauer just sprained his shoulder. Those two injuries alone decimate the Rangers defensive unit, and there isn’t much in terms of top four defensemen ready to fill in if one is out long term. Ryan Callahan is good for one injury a year with his style of play. Marian Gaborik’s groin is always a concern, as is Brad Richards’ head. Staying healthy is the biggest concern for the Rangers.
The Powerplay: The powerplay last year was atrocious. They didn’t move, they didn’t shoot, they didn’t crash the net, they didn’t have someone to move the puck around, and they didn’t finish. This year, everything changes with Richards in the fold. There is a lot of pressure on Richards to get the powerplay moving. The Rangers will only go as far as their powerplay will take them.
Scoring Depth: We all know what Richards and Gaborik are capable of. Aside from them, the Rangers have a lot of question marks regarding their depth. Can The Pack line of Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, and Artem Anisimov repeat their success? What can Wojtek Wolski contribute on the top line? Can Derek Stepan avoid a sophomore slump? Can Brian Boyle prove last year wasn’t a fluke? What do they have in Mats Zuccarello? That’s a lot of questions.
Martin Biron: Biron needs to play at least 20 games this year, and he needs to be solid in net. A fresh Henrik Lundqvist is crucial to a playoff run, and playing 70 games a year has left him tired come April. A healthy and effective Biron keeps The King fresh.
The Bottom Defense Pairing: The top four defensemen, when healthy, is one of the best young top four in the league. It’s that bottom pairing that is a question mark. Between Steve Eminger, Michael Del Zotto, Tim Erixon, and Brendan Bell, there is plenty of competition, but only Eminger seems able to take on full time bottom pairing duties. He was effective last year, and hopefully it continues this year. As for the other three, it’s a crap shoot. One rookie, one 21 year old with holes, or a guy who hasn’t played in the NHL in two years. If you throw enough at the wall, something is bound to stick.