Three losses in four games and 12 goals against in the first two home contests certainly isn’t how the Rangers wanted to start the season, but it’s not altogether unexpected. With No. 1 center Derek Stepan and No. 4 D Dan Boyle on the shelf, and a slew of raw youngsters in the lineup, it’s no surprise that the Blueshirts have been a dumpster fire in their own end. There are certainly very real causes for concern, but there is plenty of time to right the ship – just take a look back at how last season started.
So since it’s all gloom and doom in Ranger-land this morning, let’s check out some of the things that are going right for New York, many of which have come as pleasant surprises:
– Rick Nash has six goals in four games. That’s a pretty decent start, by any measure. The #fancystats crowd insisted Nash would bounce back after a horribly unlucky postseason, but this offensive explosion has eclipsed anyone’s wildest dreams. This confidence boost will be huge for Nash after he was forced to take a long look in the mirror last spring, and it could be the start of a monster year.
– Lee Stempniak. Everything about him. Stempniak has been the team’s best player since opening night and he’s chipped in everywhere: scoring goals, setting up plays, taking the body, defensively, on special teams…you name it, Stempniak has done it. Every time he’s on the ice, Stempniak is making something happen through a nice mix of talent and hustle. He can’t possibly play this well all season, but Stempniak looks like he’s going to be an outstanding addition to the third line.
– The goal-less power play. I don’t care that the Rangers have zero goals on the man advantage, they’ve looked great on the power play. Especially without Stepan and Boyle, and Stempniak as the lone righty shot, it’s a miracle that the team has been able to move the puck effectively and generate chances without giving up a million shorthanded opportunities. Even though he’s played just one game, Ryan Malone looks like he could be a difference-maker in front of the net, Anthony Duclair clearly has the talent and vision to be a season-long contributor, and Nash, Stempniak and Martin St. Louis have all proven to be effective options at the point. There are a ton of reasons to believe this power play is going to be pretty solid once its two most important players return.
– The positive signs from Duclair, Kevin Hayes and Jesper Fast. Ironically, Duclair has done all his damage feeding his teammates, but his lightning-quick release has been on display repeatedly. Duclair isn’t great defensively, but his offensive ability more than makes up for it. Hayes took a while to get going in the preseason and as he rehabbed from a shoulder injury, but he’s looking very much like a long-term option as the third-line center. Hayes’ confidence seems to be building with every shift, and though he’s taking a split-second too long to make decisions and is hell-bent on making one too many moves, he’s seeing the ice very well and has been better than expected in his own end. And Fast – though he was removed from the lineup last night in favor of Malone – is already one of the team’s better defensive forwards and should be a mainstay on the checking line and penalty kill this year. None of these three is a finished product, but none of them seem overmatched by regular season action. They could all become key pieces in short order.
– St. Louis at center. Obviously it would be great if the Rangers weren’t in a position where they needed St. Louis to fill in as the top-line center, or play the position at all. But that’s not the point. St. Louis has almost never played in the middle during his 16-year NHL career, but he’s made leaps and bounds in just four games at a completely new position. And of equal importance – he’s setting a terrific example for his teammates that the team is bigger than the individual and whatever sacrifices or adjustments must be made for the good of the squad are well worth it. Ryan Callahan used to do the same thing, albeit in a very different way – it’s outstanding leadership.