A quarter of the way into the 2014-15 season. A few observations, twenty games in:
1. Anyone who predicted that Rick Nash would have 14 goals after 20 games is a liar.
After scoring 30 goals seven times in nine seasons with Columbus, Nash had only mustered 21 and 26 goals in his first two seasons as a Ranger. His 14 goals are tied for 2nd in the NHL, and his hot start to 2014-15 is the Rangers’ top story so far by far.
2. You have to feel pretty good about 9-7-4
In 2013-14, the Rangers started the season with a long road trip and were 10-10-0 after 20 games. In 2014-15, 9-7-4 [22 pts] is a good start, but they need to hope the Penguins [30 pts] and the Islanders(!)[30 pts] don’t pull too far away.
3. Henrik Lundqvist is still King
After giving up six goals in back-to-back games in the first week of the season back in October, Lundqvist has been rock-solid. His stats: 8-5-3 with four shutouts, a 2.51 GAA and a .914 save percentage. He must remain healthy for the Rangers to have a good season.
4. That being said, Cam Talbot is a solid #2
Talbot posted his first win of the season last week against the Flyers, a 2-0 shutout. That can only bolster his confidence and help him on the nights Alain Vigneault starts him.
5. Anthony Duclair is only going to continue to get better
The 19-year-old has made the most of his chances thus far, and Vigneault has been smart about not overusing him [Duclair is only averaging 12 minutes a game]. His assist the other night on Carl Hagelin’s goal against Montreal was spectacular.
6. You can never have enough speed
When you look at the Blueshirts’ roster, there are only a handful of players you can point to and say “He’s fast”. Duclair. Mats Zuccarello. Martin St. Louis. Their speed makes an impact, and the Rangers could use more team speed. If anyone doubts the importance of speed in a game, go back and look at the way St. Louis stole the puck from Alexei Emelin and scored in the 2nd period against the Canadiens Sunday night. A great individual effort. His speed created that goal.
7. Rest is best
The team has to feel somewhat well-rested one quarter of the way through the season; they’ve played 20 games in the first 47 days of the season. Twenty teams have played more games.
8. There’s no place like home
The early part of the Rangers schedule has been very home-game heavy, with 14 of the first 20 games being played at The Garden. The Blueshirts are 7-4-3 in those games, for 17 of the team’s 22 points.
9. The power play, while better, is still anemic
The Rangers have scored nine power play goals in 58 chances [15.5%], 22nd-best in the NHL. Nash, St. Louis, Derick Brassard and Chris Kreider have two apiece. They have to improve in this area.
10. The penalty killing, meanwhile, has been OK
The Blueshirts are in the middle of the pack in the league when it comes to killing penalties while shorthanded, allowing 12 goals [81.2%]
11. The offense must continue to improve
The Rangers have scored 57 goals in 20 games, a 2.85 average. Your goalies have to be pretty good if your offense isn’t scoring three goals a game.
12. The new acquisitions will be counted on to contribute more
The top six scorers on the team are returning players [Nash, St. Louis, Brassard, Kreider, Hagelin, Zuccarello]. Lee Stempniak [8 pts in 18 gms], Kevin Hayes [6 pts in 17 gms], and Dominic Moore [6 pts in 20 gms] need to pick it up; all will be relied on more and more as the season rolls on.
13. Ryan McDonagh cannot get healthy fast enough
The team captain has not played since suffering a separated shoulder November 1st vs Winnipeg. The team’s defense, impacted by injuries and a suspension, has not had its top six in the lineup in the same game once all season.
14. Welcome back, Derek Stepan
The Rangers’ top line center broke his leg in the preseason, and has only been back for eight games, but with seven points [2 G, 5 A], the team’s offense is already benefitting.
15. Never take your eyes off Martin St. Louis
That goes for both fans and opponents [see #6]. St. Louis has been superb, especially in the last ten games [7 G, 4 A].
16. So far, they’ve had puck luck
Case in point: Rick Nash deflected a Derick Brassard shot off his backside and in for a goal against Detroit November 5th
17. There have been a few long nights thus far
Five of the team’s last eleven games have gone into extra time, and seven of the first twenty.
18. The team’s performance in the shootout needs work
The Rangers are 1-4 in shootouts this season. The Islanders have the best mark in the NHL, at 5-0.
19. The next six or seven games will be a good yardstick
It’s a challenging seven-game stretch that starts at Tampa Bay [30 pts] Wednesday, followed by home-and-home matinees Friday and Saturday with division rival Philadelphia, and then a rematch at home vs Tampa Bay December 1st. It continues with a game at Detroit [27 pts], one at home against Pittsburgh [30 pts], and then a game at Vancouver [29 pts] to start a four-game road trip. Cross your fingers.
20. With 62 games to go, anything can happen.
And probably will. See you at The Garden.