Perhaps the most encouraging part of watching the Rangers during their recent upturn in form is seeing several core players begin to find some much needed form. Any club will only go as far as their best players take them and it’s no coincidence that now that the spine of the Rangers are collectively finding their games, the team has found some level of consistency and are beginning to show evidence of creating an identity.
Rick Nash has started to find his offensive game and it’s no coincidence that he has started to score a few goals and be harder to deal with as he has (finally) started to go the dangerous parts of the ice. Nash’s game winner against the Stars came as he was falling, looking to crash the night. With his size and ability Nash has to be around the puck more, not stay on the perimeter and he simply has to go to the net. It’s not easy to move a man of his size. Simple hockey theory.
As Dave discussed this week, Dan Girardi’s improved form has given the Rangers more consistency on the back end, helped reduce the errors in front of Lundqvist and generally made the Rangers harder to play against. Girardi is not one of the Rangers more talented players but whsomeone plays as many minutes as Girardi does and matches up against the opponent’s best forwards, if he’s on his game it will usually bode well.
While Henrik Lundqvist is not particularly close to his elite best (yet), he’s another key player on his way back. The Vezina winner has stabilised his form by reducing mistakes, playing deeper in the net and has been much better at controlling rebounds. The Rangers need Lundqvist’s form to keep trending in the right direction if they’re to make a meaningful impact in the postseason but the recent results are encouraging.
While Mats Zuccarello has been an essential Ranger all year – and subsequently a pleasant surprise – if he is the best Ranger all season it stands to reason the Rangers won’t go anywhere. With the improved form of Nash, Girardi and Lundqvist as well as the increasing effectiveness of Ryan Callahan and Marc Staal all of a sudden the apparent depth many thought the Rangers had pre-season starts to make the difference.
With this season’s arrival of a potent powerplay (how long have fans waited for one of those?) all of a sudden the Rangers have the look of a potentially dangerous team. It’s funny how a winning streak can change perceptions but the Rangers are in a mediocre division and if their key players can return to their productive selves there’s still a chance of a successful season.
Prolonged success has to start with the spine of the team and for the Rangers those players are slowly getting back to being just that – the keys to success. With impressive wins against the Leafs, Hawks and impressive comebacks against the Blue Jackets and Stars the Rangers finally have something to build on in what has been a disjointed, inconsistent season. Until now.