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2010-2011 NEW YORK RANGERS SEASON PREVIEW – A Growth Year Could Have Immediate Payoffs For The Boys In Blue...If All Goes Right

October 8, 2010
By Tony Grater

With opening night just a day away, I present to you the Five Keys to the Rangers Season:

1.) Henrik Lundqvist playing like Henrik Lundqvist:

We all know when the King is on, he is a top 5 goalie in the league. There is no denying that. Lundqvist is the backbone of the Rangers, and gives them a chance to win every night. But when he is off, he can be brutal. Thankfully, the latter is not the case very often. But still, every season, Henke goes through that one bad stretch, and the rest of the team collapses around him. Blame it on the fact that he plays 72 games a year, or that most times the D does very little to bail him out, all you want. The bottom line is, for the Rangers to make the playoffs, Lundqvist MUST be at the top of his game. Hopefully, backup Martin Biron lightening some of his work load, will do that.

2.) Marian Gaborik staying healthy, and playing like Marian Gaborik:

Last year was only the 3rd time since the 2002-03 season that Gaborik didn't miss at least 15 games. And he proved last year that he is the star scorer the Rangers wanted, and needed. But he HAS to stay healthy, and score constantly in order for the Rangers to have a chance.

3.) Young, “core” players maturing and taking the next big step in the following ways:

a.) Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Marc Staal & Dan Girardi taking the leadership helm and improving their games - Dubi and Cally have been here long enough. They are the present and the future for the Rangers, and they have the potential. Therefore, they need to start scoring over 20+ goals a season. Both have also displayed good leadership potential, and in my opinion, one of them is the future Captain of this team. Their time to start shining is now.

I’m just gonna say it Ranger fans, and you’ll all just have to deal with it. Marc Staal will, most likely, never be that power play quarterback everyone predicted him to be. He just won’t. He is a stay at home defenseman, plain and simple. And that’s not an indictment on him, as he is very good at it, as is Girardi (even less likely to be an explosive point man.). But their strength is a shut down, shot blocking game, and if they continue to do that, and get better at it, you can get away with 30 points a year from Staal, and 20-25 points from Girardi.

b.) Michael Del Zotto & Artem Anisimov building on the positives in their rookie seasons, and not having sophomore slumps - Del Zotto is the one predicted to be that elusive PP QB. And last season, MDZ did show some flashes of that. A few games, in particular, he even had the look of the great Brian Leetch, with some tremendous, up ice rushes. If he can even get to half of what the legendary #2 was, I'll be a happy man. And for the Rangers to build upon a power play that jumped from 29th in the league in 2008-09, to a much more respectable 13th last season, they will need the 20th overall pick in the 2008 draft to start working towards that.

Anisimov will most likely be the one to regress this year. I just have this bad feeling. And his playing time will suffer because of it. I hope I am wrong with that too. If I am, he could improve from 12 goals to 18, and from 16 assists, to 22.

c.) Derek Stepan living up to his preseason hype, and having a strong rookie season - He has drawn rave reviews. And there is no denying he looks great so far, leading all preseason scorers on the Rangers, with 3 goals and 2 assists in 5 preseason games. We'll see what happens once those bright lights in Madison Square Garden start to shine on him for regular season games. Not sure what to predict as far as a rookie campaign goes, but IF he lives up to the hype and becomes a Calder candidate (as some people are predicting), he's gotta score at least 20 goals and notch 30 assists, correct?

d.) Matt Gilroy not being a turnover machine -
I really like Gilroy, and predict/hope he will improve and form a nice tandem with MDZ on the PP, but he was brutal at times in his own zone last season, and that's gotta change, otherwise he will not only find his way back into John Tortorella’s dog house, but he may never even get out of it.

4.) Michal Rosival & Chris Drury having bounce back years:

Do NOT laugh. This is all possible, plausible and needed. Before they had their proverbial bed crappings last season, Rosival was a 35 to 40 point defenseman, and the Captain was a (hold your breath Drury haters) clutch, money player, capable of 25 goals and 30 assists. At this point, Rosival is more likely to bounce back then Drury. But I am hoping for both of them to do so, as I think both men have something to prove.

5.) Alexander Frovlov providing secondary scoring:

Just please, for the love of humanity, and the sanity of our head coach, don't be Alexi Kovalev Part IV. Please Alexander. And by no Kovalev Part 4, I mean the two times Alexi was actually here, and the time his apparent, long lost son, Nikolai Zherdev was. Please, just get back to what you were in Los Angeles. Score 30-35 goals, get 40 assists, take some of the burden off the Gabber, and make us all happy. Is that too much to ask?

If all of these things happens, the Rangers could surprise everyone, and finish 6th in the conference. If all of this happens, and a little more, such as Vinny Prospal returning healthy, and putting up similar numbers to last year, and Sean Avery going back to being the affective pain in the rump to play against, they could go as high as 5th, and scare the daylights out of someone in the first round of the playoffs, but no higher then that, and no more then that. Not this year. I look at this 85th season of Rangers hockey, as one of growth, and one of a foundation being laid for, hopefully, a bright future within the next few years. Hey, I can dream…can’t I??

It’s better then the more likely scenario. That being that most of this will NOT happen, Henrik will play 75 games, Gaborik will miss about 25, Stepan will be back in Hartford come November, Rosival and Drury will still suck, Del Zotto and Gilroy will have a – 20 each, and Frolov will be seen doing figure 8’s with Alexi and Nikolai on the Rockefeller ice, in hopes of “improving” his game, all culminating with us battling for the 8th spot, and making us all want to BURN THE GARDEN DOWN, come February. But hey, that’s the chance you take with being a Ranger fan..right??

Drop the puck boys, it’s the 85th season, and for better or worse, I wanna see my Boys in Blue back on the ice!

Puck drops at 7 pm tomorrow Buffalo, enjoy the game folks, and as always…LET’S GO RANGERS!!!

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