Rangers an Average Team for First Quarter of Season

Alex Silverberg

After 25 games, the New York Rangers stand at 13-12 with 26 points and are only second to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Metropolitan Division. Despite their favorable position in a mediocre group, the Rangers are the definition of an average team and have a lot of things to improve upon if they want to make the rest of the demanding 82-game NHL 2013-2014 season a success.

Lack of Scoring, Again

Despite hiring an offensive-minded coach in Alain Vigneualt, the Rangers rank 27th in the league with 2.12 goals per game. Of the 25 games played, the team has been shutout five times. The Blueshirts were shutout a total of six times during last year’s strike-shortened season.

The lack of scoring could be attributed on the absence of superstar Rick Nash for most of the season, but the team simply lacks finishers. Chris Kreider is a potential 30-goal scorer, but is still developing, and the trio of centers in Derrick Brassard, Brad Richards and Derek Stepan are more playmakers than snipers. GM Glen Sather signed Benoit Pouliot as a reclamation project, and while he chips in a goal here or there, he can often be found making a grievous defensive mistake or taking a bad penalty. Both Mats Zuccarello and Carl Hagelin are resourceful players, but they are better served setting up plays for someone else to finish.

With these types of players rounding out the top six, the team relies on Rick Nash and Ryan Callahan to provide the scoring touch. Callahan, who himself was out eight games, has six goals to add to Nash’s two. Sather failed to address the lack of secondary scoring in the offseason and we may see the Rangers suffer (again) for his inaction.

New Coach, New System

It was expected that it would take some time for the Rangers to acclimate to Alain Vigneualt’s system. Certainly this is a different team than the one slaughtered on the opening West Coast trip, but some adjustments need to be made.

Even in the Rangers 5-2 win over the Florida Panthers last night, mistakes were abundant. Players mishandled the puck throughout the game, leading to turnovers that had to be expertly turned away by keeper Henrik Lundqvist. There was also a good amount of stick-checking in the game which allowed some of the speedier Florida player to exploit Rangers defensemen to find open space in the offensive zone.

Vigneault’s system is very heavy on puck possession and requires skilled players who are cool and confident with the puck. In the Rangers’ losses, and even in some of their more contested wins, players look like they are afraid of the puck, playing hot potato with it until the opposing team takes advantage.

Del Zaster

Michael Del Zotto was scratched last night and, with his agent by his side, saw the Rangers defeat the Panthers. It is clear that AV doesn’t feel comfortable with Del Zotto on the blueline, and no one can blame him. It was expected that Del Zotto would flourish under the new coach, but in 19 games, the 23-year-old has 1 goal, 3 assists and is a -6.

The Rangers are looking to trade Del Zotto and get back equal value, but they have had a hard time so far. His replacement, Justin Falk, provides a physical edge, but lacks the offensive talent of the 2008 first-round pick.

The Rangers want to add a tough, right-handed defenseman who can play big minutes, but so do all other 29 teams in the league.

Big, Bad Bruins

The Rangers more than held their own against the Boston Bruins on their November 19th meeting which saw New York losing 2-1, and tomorrow’s Thanksgiving Showdown will be a good test to see where the team is now that Rick Nash is in proper playing shape.

The Bruins are a championship team and it would be a big statement if the Blueshirts come out and dominate play. It would show that they could make some noise in the playoffs.

Of course, the Rangers have been wholly inconsistent this season, going 6-4 in their last 10 games. But this fan will take a convincing win tomorrow coupled with the 5-1 beatdown of the Penguins as proof that there is hope for this season yet.

Marc Staal Healthy for 2013-2014 Campaign

Alex Silverberg

At Team Canada’s three-day Olympic camp last week, New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal revealed that he is healthy and ready to start the season. The 26-year-old all star suffered a small retinal tear in his right eye and a broken orbital bone after taking a puck to the face in a March 5 game against the Philadelphia Flyers.

"It's good. Really good. I had a really good summer of training and I feel really good," Staal said. "When I'm on the ice, I don't really notice it at all. I'm excited and anxious just to start the season up and get it going."

The shutdown defenseman also addressed issues surrounding his brief return to the lineup during last season’s playoffs.

"It was more of just adapting to the depth perception and things like that when I was coming back,” Staal explained. "It just wasn't clicking when I was trying to come back in the playoffs there. But with the time off and the training now, everything's back to normal and I'm feeling really good."

With Staal healthy, the Rangers have a formidable defensive corps of Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto, Anton Stralman with John Moore, Justin Falk and Aaron Johnson battling it out for the sixth and final spot.

Derek Stepan Remains Unsigned as Training Camp Nears

Alex Silverberg

Center Derek Stepan remains a restricted free agent for the New York Rangers with a little more than a month to go before training camp opens on September 16.

Stepan, arguably the Rangers’ No. 1 center, is a premier young talent that must be signed. If left in RFA status until training camp, the organization runs the risk of him being enticed by a large offer sheet from a competing team.

Following the Rangers’ signing of forward Mats Zuccarello to a $1.15 million dollar pact, the Blueshirts have approximately $2.18 million of cap space left for the upcoming year. Should the Rangers choose to send role players Arron Asham and Darrel Powe down to their AHL affiliate, the team will then have $4.03 million of available cap space.

Stepan, following a 44-point campaign, could easily command at least $3 million on the open market, but the Rangers will likely sign him to a bridge contract as they previously have with Ryan Callahan and Michael Del Zotto. This type of deal would allow Stepan to remain with the club for two years with a low cap hit. It would also give both sides time to negotiate an appropriate long-term contract.

Stepan, along with Carl Hagelin, Chris Kreider, John Moore and J.T. Miller, represent the future of the New York Rangers. The organization should do all they can to make sure that this core remains intact for years to come.

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