Heading into this season, the Rangers are one of the favorites to not only take the division and conference crowns, but to possibly bring the Stanley Cup back to New York. Playing in such a condensed season, the Rangers are not only going to have to be good, they are going to have to be lucky as well. There are a multitude of things that could easily derail this powerhouse.
You could say this about the other 29 teams in the league, too, but there’s no denying that a significant injury to Henrik Lundqvist (knock on wood) or several other crucial Blueshirts could ruin the season in a hurry. Considering not everyone is in peak shape, it’s certainly possible that we could see a few major injuries in the first weeks of the season that change the landscape of the playoff race.
Lack of depth on D
The Rangers made it to the Eastern Conference Finals last year mainly riding four defensemen, but the group behind them including Anton Stralman, Stu Bickel, Steve Eminger and Matt Gilroy, leaves a lot to be desired. Coach John Tortorella was unwilling to trust any of them in key situations last season, but incredible individual efforts by the top four blueliners masked the issue. This problem might not rear its head until months down the line, but New York would be wise to add a capable blueliner in season; going into the playoffs with only four reliable defensemen again would be a major mistake.
The first month
The inter-conference schedule will make for incredibly tight playoff races and the Blueshirts will face an extremely tough test right out of the gate with two games each against the Bruins, Penguins and Flyers in January. Those teams are expected to battle with New York for the conference’s top seed; a slow start by the Rangers could quickly hurt the team’s chances at achieving home ice advantage. Luckily, four of those six games will be at Madison Square Garden.
As we’ve noted, the playoff races figure to be extremely tight in the lockout-shortened season. The extra points attainable in shootouts and overtime could be the difference between making the playoffs and sitting at home; winning the conference and hitting the road in Round One. The Rangers had thrived in the shootout until last season, but it would be helpful for the Blueshirts to improve on their 4-5-shootout record of a year ago. Of course, winning before the game ever reaches the shootout would be preferred, as that tiebreaker could determine playoff seeding.
The “Black & Blueshirts” style of play we all fell in love with last season may not be as conducive to success in 2013. Though several Rangers played in Europe and elsewhere during the lockout, it’s unlikely that many of them are in the top physical condition Tortorella usually demands entering a season. The upgraded offense is expected to lessen the need for the incredibly taxing style of play the Rangers employed last season to an extent, but that style is still important to the team’s identity and path to success. The condensed schedule will make it tricky, but the Rangers will once again need to be one of the league’s best-conditioned teams.