NEW YORK RANGERS:
Aggressive Development; These Are Not Your Father's Smurfs!
There's a big hit playing off-Broadway these days. But our guys don't sing and dance like in the production of Jersey Boys or somethin' like that. Although you wouldn't know it if you saw the photo spread in one of the N.Y. tabloids today featuring Ranger Players showing-off their better sense of style sporting designer suits. No; sorry.
Rather, our guys skate around with sticks in their hands looking to slap pucks silly. They wear red, white, and blue jerseys and helmets and gloves. Occasionally, they hit people too. They're a far cry from Philly's old Broad Street Bullies. They are the Rangers and to San Jose's dismay, they aren't the old Smurfs either.
They're a little nondescript. We like it. They're a good; tough; resolved; and well coached team. But what's making them such a big smash is...ready for this? Aggression; young focused aggressive hockey. It's not rocket science. It's simple testosterone. It's called drafting and rebuilding with patience. And now they are at the point in their development where they are learning to play smartly, but with mass Aggression. It's another step in their process. It's walking before you can run. Rebuilding is something many in the Media to this very day argue is impossible to do with NYC teams. Oh right... this is Hockey. So it doesn't count.
Two more wins down and the rest of the season to go. Buffalo and Florida both fell to the Rangers in back-to-back games this past weekend. For the Blueshirts, that makes them 14-4 in their last eighteen games dating back to October 31st.
Right now, the Rangers no longer appear to be the same team that tried to turtle-shell their way to victory in days and seasons past. Those teams tried desperately to hold on, or played with fear of making just one mistake for losing their precarious one goal leads as was the case over the previous two seasons. Even though we've been a very competitive team at even strength over that same time, that one bad period; a killer third period mistake; or an untimely last minute melt-down was uncomfortably often the case. For all their hard work, what stood out most glaringly was the Blueshirts inability to score more than just one or two goals per game; and three on an especially good night.
Not so fast right? This season, Brandon Dubinsky has only lit the lamp once. We all recognize that just will not do. Moving on...., we are a season removed from Brian Boyle's unexpected career year for goals scored. And the Power Play is far from being fixed. Additionally, MSG renovations, the NHL's branch of European tourism, and horrific scheduling all conspired to give Ranger fans a taste of the....same old; same old, to open up the season with. And then Ranger Fans were forced to recognize that we'd have to do it without Marc Staal for a still undetermined length of time.
And that's just what we got....some of the same old stuff from last year. In the first nine games of the season, the Rangers won three and lost six, while averaging a paltry 2.2 goals per game and failing to handle business in regulation time.
Instead of being just competitive at even strength, today the young Rangers are now growing into themselves, and are becoming somewhat the formidable bunch; together. In their last eighteen games, the Rangers have put together winning streaks of seven games and five games. They have scored sixty-three goals over those eighteen games for a 3.5 goal per game average. They scored four or more goals ten times over those eighteen games; - four goals 4x; five goals 4x; and six goals twice.
In these last two most recent games the Rangers scored ten goals with only two goals against. In back-to-back games, the Rangers defeated the Buffalo Sabres 4-1 on the road, and dismantled the Southern Division leader; Florida Panthers; by a 6-1 score. That was our first time seeing an always well coached, and always good Buffalo team. While Saturday's victory over the Panthers at MSG corrects a previous sad effort in Florida.
Offensively speaking, the biggest difference now is the Rangers have a new Center who is healthy, and productive on the ice - unlike the previous free-agent Center slash Captain whom the Rangers never realized any production from. The re-emergence of Marian Gaborik is a very welcome relief! And when the Rangers get multiple-goal games from guys like Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin...! - well then you know times are a-changing.
What also needs to be said (repeatedly) is there has never been a Rangers' Captain better suited to take on this role since Mark Messier played here, than the Rangers have in Ryan Callahan. Period. His seal will stamp the wax when this era of Tex's Rangers gets written into the scrolls of history.
But for right now, the Rangers have some very interesting games coming up against the likes of Dallas and St. Louis. Chicago and Detroit will be visiting the Garden this season as well. So far, the Rangers have had an answer for all comers. All except Toronto that is. I tell you, those identical 4-2 losses against the Maple Leafs deserve further investigation as to what went wrong. But when you take stock of the greater collection of teams the Rangers have faced and beaten already, then it stands to reason our young, smart, aggressive hockey players should be savoring any challenge right about now.
So far, the Rangers have defeated the likes of Vancouver; Anaheim; Calgary; and San Jose. They've left their mark on the likes of Washington; Pittsburgh; and Philadelphia. They've done a fair job trading wins with Montreal; Tampa Bay; and Florida. So yeah, these boys should be relishing the opportunity to play against some fresh meat.
As of this posting, there are only two teams with forty or more points. Very quietly, the Rangers have climbed up the Atlantic Division standings; from fourth, to third, and now into second place with thirty-eight points; only one point behind Philly.
The Philadelphia Flyers have scored one hundred and one goals to the Rangers' eighty-three this season. In the one match-up between NY and PHI this year, the Rangers prevailed with a 2-0 shutout of the Flyers. And there-in lay the reason why our liege Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers are King.... Defense. The Rangers have given up the least amount of goals in the NHL this season; all except Boston by one goal. Boston has allowed fifty-nine goals as of Monday night. The Rangers follow with sixty.
So to the Rangers' next batch of Western Conference opponents, I say to them, - Bring it!
This is still not a Stanley Cup team. But right now, this team should be up for the challenge. And that's what regular seasons are all about; rising up to meet multiple challenges. In the Rangers' case, the young band of Blueshirts are doing the right things. When you do them consistently, special things can happen.
Let's Go Rangers!
(16-12; 33 Points ~ First Place, Pacific Division)
NEW YORK RANGERS
(17-10; 38 Points ~ Second Place, Atlantic Division)
33rd Street at Seventh Avenue