Assessing the Rangers at the halfway pointMarch 11, 2013, by
The Rangers have played 24 games so far, the exact halfway point of the season. As of now, our Blueshirts sit in
second third place in the Atlantic Division and have the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference with a record of 13-9-2 and 28 points. The Rangers also have games in hand on every Eastern Conference team except the Bruins, Canes, and Caps. It’s not exactly a terrible position to be in.
Getting to this point has been a bumpy ride. After starting the season 1-3-0 and 3-3-0, the Rangers essentially played .500 hockey until the end of February. The Rick Nash injury threw a wrench into their mid-February winning streak where they went 5-1-1. Their 0-3-1 record without Nash during that stretch eliminated any momentum and kept the Rangers at .500 (5-4-2 until their most recent stretch).
They got Nash back for the last game of February, and right around then is when we saw the Rangers starting to climb in the standings. The Rangers have won five of six since getting Nash back, and have started to build a positive goal differential. With Buffalo and Winnipeg (two non-playoff teams) up next, the Rangers could feasibly add two more wins to that streak before Saturday’s showdown in Pittsburgh.
But one player a team does not make, and while Nash is a key cog for the Rangers, the team itself has been on the rise. On the season, the Rangers have averaged 2.54 goals per game (19th in the league), but they have averaged 3.14 GPG over the last seven games. On defense, the Rangers have allowed 2.33 goals against per game (6th), but that number is down to 2.00 over the past seven games. More goals plus better defense equals wins and an upwardly trending team.
Special teams were a bit of a disaster in the early going, but the Rangers have moved positively in that direction as well. Prior to their streak, the Rangers were sitting at dead-last in the NHL with an 8% powerplay. Currently they are at 15.8% (22nd), and have doubled their efficiency over the past seven games. Their 27% efficiency rate over this streak would be good for second in the NHL.
The problematic aspect of the Rangers success is where the success is coming from. Until Brian Boyle’s goal last night, the last time a player from the bottom-six scored a goal was on February 11 (Arron Asham). The top-six forwards are all numbers 1-6 for the team’s leading scoring, with Ryan Callahan coming in at #6 with 8 goals and 11 points. The next forward on the list: Taylor Pyatt with four goals and six points. That is not a recipe for success, and depth has been an issue for the Rangers all year.
The good news is that their top four defensemen are all on pace for 20 point seasons (40 point seasons over 82 games). This does include Marc Staal, although his injury will keep him from hitting that number. So while the Rangers bottom six forwards may not be getting the job done offensively, the defensemen are picking up the offensive slack.
The Rangers had a lot of moving parts in the offseason, and when you couple that with a shortened training camp, it isn’t surprising that they started off slow and struggled to recover. Throw in injuries, and you have a trifecta of reasons why the Rangers struggled out of the gate, and struggled to stay at .500 until March.
But now the Rangers are almost all healthy (injuries to Staal and Asham are still indefinite in length), they have their game-shape legs underneath them, and the new guys are finally adjusted to their new roles and the new systems they are playing in. The March schedule is when we should see the Rangers really start to tack on some points. They have a total of ten games remaining this month, and the breakdown is favorable:
- Five games against non-playoff teams
- One game against playoff bound teams in the Southeast
- Four games against playoff teams
This is the time for the Rangers to go streaking. With the way they’ve been playing lately, they could start to pull away from the non-playoff teams and start putting pressure on the Penguins for the division lead.