The 2010 portion of the Rangers season is now completed, with the Blueshirts sitting right in the thick of the Eastern Conference standings. Pretty comforting stuff considering that this has traditionally been the portion of the season the Rangers find themselves struggling for an identity. We’ve seen it all too frequently: a strong start, a mid-season collapse, and then a strong finish while trying to secure a playoff spot. While there are many positives and negatives to take from the first 38 games, there are a few things in particular that make you feel good about this year’s edition. The common thread in these elements? Conditioning and depth!
1) The Rangers have 13 road wins, most in the NHL – Navigating an 82 game season is a tumultuous task, especially when you consider cross-country flights and late-night bus and train rides. To keep focus and have enough gas to win these games regularly says a lot about this team. More importantly, 5 of these games have been 1-goal games and another 3 have been 2-goal games. A lot of that points to Lundqvist, who gives them plenty of goaltending early and late to silence the crowd and keep them ahead to finish the game off.
2) The Rangers have 8 shorthanded goals, tops in the NHL – Typically an elite unit, the Rangers penalty-kill ranks only 12th at this point in the season (still respectable, however). But while they have maybe slipped a little by their standards, they have excelled in finding ways to score while a man down. Four different Rangers have scored SH goals this year, which points to the team’s depth in this area. Brandon Prust is tied for the league lead with 3. If you would’ve told me that Brandon Prust was going to lead the league in anything except for PIM and fights, I would’ve asked for some of what you were smoking. Shorthanded goals are always momentum changers in either direction (see Carter, Jeff), and having them at your disposal can go a long way
3) The Rangers are 16-0-0 while leading after 2 periods, and 9-0-0 on the back-end of back-to-back games – These two things more than anything point to the Rangers fitness and depth. Being able to roll 4 lines and get scoring from everywhere allows the Rangers to stay ahead and come back fresh day-in and day-out. It also points to Lundqvist (as always) and the fact that they have a capable backup in Martin Biron. This also doesn’t reflect the number of times the team has come back in the third period when down, another testament to their depth and conditioning.
So you have a team that is good on the road, can score when down, can hold on to a lead, and can play day after day. In my opinion, the fact that the Rangers get production and contributions from all 18 skaters each night is what keeps them fresh. The key injuries that they’ve had this year (Gaborik, Prospal, Callahan, Drury) would typically bury other teams (see Parise, Zach). Tortorella has also been quoted saying that no team in the league has more days off than the Rangers, allowing them to keep their legs while other teams may be winded in the third period. I find this statement pretty ironic though, considering that it always seems the NHL jams the Rangers schedule up (9 games in 13 days anyone?). Regardless, its nice to see the coaching staff managing the rigors of the season nicely.