Are the New York Rangers a better team than their place in the standing might suggest? Currently, they have 3 games in hand and sit 4 points behind the defending Stanley Cup Champion Carolina Hurricanes for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. When looking at this teams performance this year you have to wonder why they are in this position. There are absolutely no good reasons for the Rangers to be where they find themselves. What this season boils down is classic blueshirt underachievement. Their performance certainly doesn’t add up.
Let us start at the top. Even with all of the Garden Faithful questioning his leadership, team Captain Jaromir Jagr has put together a pretty good season on the ice. Especially considering the seriousness of the shoulder injury he suffered in last season’s playoff series against the Devils and the fact that he wasn’t able to give the injury proper recovery time and rehab. I doubt many fans would have been disappointed with his current numbers if you had told them in September that he would have 24 goals and 77 points with over a month left in the season. Which puts him on pace for 30 goals and 97 points for a season that was mostly played with him at less than 100 percent health. When taking a closer look at some of his other stats there are a few things that show the effect of last season’s injury. The first is a big decrease in shots on goals. He is currently on pace for 315 shots, which is 53 behind last year’s total. Consider the fact that his shot accuracy is down 5 percent from last year; the lowest it has ever been in his entire career. When you put that all together his production on the power play drops significantly. Thus far Jagr has only scored six power play goals. That is a drastic drop from the franchise record 24 he netted last season. I think its safe to say that his numbers have not been on par with what he has done over his career and what Rangers fans have come to expect after breaking the single season goal and point record and writing his name into the Blueshirt record books. All things considered, it was expected when the season started.
Petr Prucha’s production after a stellar rookie season is noticeable, but it’s largely due to his lack of time on the PP where he scored half of his goals last season. Even so, he has remained a tenacious player, with potential who is fearless even with his obvious lack of size. The free agent acquisition of Brendan Shanahan has contributed to Prucha’s reduced production. Shanahan has done very well this season. His 28 goals, 14 on the power play have replaced the goals that Prucha scored there last season.
One of the main reasons that the Rangers are still fighting for a playoffs spot is the recent contribution of Marcel Hossa. His acquisition may turn out to be one of the smartest pickup this management has made in the last two years. He is certainly playing with a confidence and a drive for the net that nobody expected, except for maybe Tom Renney and his coaching staff. Hossa’s production, at least of late, has given the team a different look from last season and has help them get some big points which are currently keeping them in the race.
The franchise goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist has had an inconsistent season especially compared to his Calder Trophy nominated season. However, it is unsurprising for a young goaltender coming into his second NHL season after basically carrying a team on his shoulder the previous year to not live up to such high expectations. That said he has only improved as the season progresses.
Michael Nylander is on pace to actually improve his numbers from last season. While many fans are frustrated by his reluctance to shoot he is actually on pace to tie his career high in goals. Prior to his recent injury, Martin Straka has been nothing short of amazing this season. He has been so good in fact that the Rangers extended his contract instead of allowing him to become a free agent at the end of the season. Straka has already surpassed his goal total from last year and is on pace to improve his total production over last season. Taking nothing away from these two, Nylander’s and Straka’s increase in goal scoring can be attributed to Jagr’s tendency to pass more this season due to the lack of confidence in his shot.
The defense has certainly been a sore spot this season. Their play in their own end has without question been worse this season in comparison to last, but that is also partly attributed to Lundqvist’s performance as well. However, some will argue that the defense has been worse which has lead to his drop off from last season. Even with these facts, the Rangers have only allowed 186 goals against this season, which puts them in a tie with the Islanders for the 3rd fewest goals against in the Eastern Conference.
On the offensive side the blueline has been pretty much on par with last season. Rozsival has already increased his scoring from all of last season, although his +/- is 30 points lower. Rachunek has done more than Tyutin was able to do last season in just 61 games this year. While Tyutin’s production is slightly lower his play in the defensive zone has gotten better. He is a + 1 after being a -11 last season, but Rachunek has taken his -11 over.
While I would agree with most fans and say Malik has played poor this season and for the most part has been more frustrating to watch, deserving every bit of heckling he gets from MSG crowds He is putting up similar numbers to last season. So while there is a noticeable difference on the defensive side, which he is expected to excel at, the production from the blue line has not been worse than last season. It is yet to be known what the addition of Paul Mara will do for their offensive output, but if he can be as good with the Rangers as he was with the Coyotes last season he will help them.
When I look at the special team in comparison to the rest of the NHL the Rangers have not been bad. They are currently ranked 6th in the NHL on the power play and 3rd in the East. They are right in the middle of the pack in terms of penalty killing ranked 15th in the league and 6th in the East.
Taking all of this into account it’s difficult to understand why they have not been more successful. Perhaps they have not lived up to the hard working reputation they seemed to embody last season, which has contributed to their inability to win some of the close games as well as their ability to hold a lead. They have had a knack for allowing goals shortly after taking a lead. Even with those flaws they have been able to beat some of the best team in the league only to fall short against some of the worst. Most will agree that they have had a lot of unfortunate bounces this year which has to this point not balanced out for them. Anyone remember the high hard overtime shot by Martin Rucinsky that deflected off the glass, off the goaltender and into the net last season? Those are the kind of bounces that might have made a difference, but they just have not been there this season nor can they really be expected. The cliché is that you make your own luck and most of the best teams in the NHL earn and get their share of bounces. When you look at the Rangers team it hard to understand why they aren’t better then their record or place in the standing suggests.