The season isn’t even a month old and we’re not yet 1/8 of the way through this marathon, but screw it, I’m ready to call the Rangers contenders once again. In a season when nearly every pundit expected the Blueshirts to fall back to the fringe of the playoff picture due to their leaky defense, New York has instead emerged as a lethal transition team that has speed and skill throughout its lineup, its most dangerous power play in recent memory, and as usual, all-world goaltending.
Indeed, the hype train is leaving the station. NBC analysts Eddie Olczyk and Pierre McGuire agreed that the Blueshirts have re-established themselves among the game’s elite teams and there’s even early buzz that Jeff Gorton could be a candidate for GM of the Year.
So are we getting ahead of ourselves?
Well, of course we are – it’s November 2nd. It’s impossible to predict what injuries may befall the Blueshirts, what unforeseen circumstances will arise, and what transactions will occur over the next six months. It’s really a fool’s errand to handicap the list of contenders until after the trade deadline. But with the way things are unfolding, New York has as good a chance to remain in that mix as anyone.
Already the Rangers have notched signature wins against teams that will likely be in that group, including a convincing 7-4 victory over the defending Western Conference champion Sharks, a 4-2 road win over the consensus best-team-in-the East Capitals, a 6-1 drubbing of the Lightning, and last night’s redemption blowout of the Blues.
This team has already gelled and to be able to pinpoint its identity this early is a major shift from years past when it took months for Alain Vigneault to assemble his best lineup and for the team to establish its style of play.
A lot may hinge on New York’s efforts to add an impact defenseman, but the Rangers have the cap space and depth to weather a swap that includes a big-time forward. That D-man could be the missing piece, but even with the roster as currently assembled the Blueshirts appear capable of competing with the league’s best.
In fact, Gorton’s greatest trick this summer may have been his masterful job fortifying the lineup with two-way players and penalty killers that have added to existing strengths while helping to cover up the deficiencies along the blueline.
This rollercoaster ride is just getting started, but New York’s league-leading +18 goal differential is no fluke – this team is for real.