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Why The Rangers Could Be Worse Next Year

Can we expect the same level of play from Mike Sauer and Ryan McDonagh?

Can we expect the same level of play from Mike Sauer and Ryan McDonagh?

After witnessing multiple encouraging signs last year and landing the summer’s best free agent, many are expecting the Rangers to take the next step towards Stanley Cup contention in 2011-2012.

There are lots of reasons to believe the team is on the upswing, but there is also the possibility that some of what we saw last year was a mirage and the Blueshirts might not live up to expectations.

Here are five reasons the Rangers could be worse next season:

We can’t expect that kind of performance from Henrik Lundqvist again.  The 29-year-old Swedish netminder turned in arguably his best season yet for the Blueshirts a year ago, but his statistics were buoyed by a league-high 11 shutouts.  The addition of backup goalie Marty Biron was supposed to limit Lundqvist’s workload, but Biron’s injury caused Lundqvist to make 31 starts to close out the year, the fifth consecutive season Lundqvist made at least 68 starts.  Lundqvist is among the NHL’s elite, but at some point he’s probably due for an off-year and the constant over-working could catch up with him. 

The young defense may have overachieved.  It’s hard to find flaws with Marc Staal’s defensive game, but it could be argued that the rest of his compadres played over their heads last season.  Dan Girardi led the league in blocked shots, but he’d never previously approached the consistently dominant level of play he turned in last year.  Mike Sauer stepped into the lineup in November and looked like a 10-year veteran and Ryan McDonagh was quickly assimilated into the team’s second defensive pair in January.  Both rookies didn’t struggle with the growing pains that many young players do and could endure sophomore slumps.  Steve Eminger could be the team’s seventh defenseman, but for a journeyman he too played well above expectations for much of last season.  It’s hard to know what to expect from Michael Del Zotto and Tim Erixon, but the defensive core seems to have more questions than answers. 

Abnormalities: Early-season clutch goals and a 12-6-0 record in the second game of back-to-backs.  The team’s constant refusal to give up in games resulted in a host of comebacks early in the season that granted the Rangers several more points than they may have deserved.  Hard workers tend to catch good breaks, but the Blueshirts haven’t been a great team when trailing in recent years and as enjoyable as the team’s never say die attitude was at the start of last season, it might not be fair to expect the same this year.  The Blueshirts will only play 14 back-to-backs this year, but it will be very difficult for them to match their inexplicable success in the second game of back-to-backs a year ago. New York was nearly impossible to beat on the back-end of a two-game in two-day set last season and that was again a tribute to the hard work of the Blueshirts and coaching by John Tortorella.  The team’s record in back-to-backs was so much better than the league norm that we should probably expect a return to the mean. 

Unprecedented shootout success.  Whether by design or not, the Rangers paired one of the best shootout goalies in the league with a veritable shootout all-star squad of forwards.  Henrik Lundqvist long ago established himself as one of the NHL’s best breakaway stoppers and the lineup of Erik Christensen, Wojtek Wolski and Mats Zuccarello gave the Rangers a virtual murderer’s row of dekers.  The problem?  None of those three are guaranteed to make the team this year and though Brad Richards might be a solid fill-in, it will be next to impossible for the Blueshirts to match their 9-3 shootout record of a year ago.  The nine extra points gained in the shootout were the difference between a playoff berth and elimination last year, so their importance can’t be overstated. 

Injuries.  The team’s constant collective effort to block shots resulted in a few costly casualties last year, but it could be much worse going forward.  Throwing oneself in front of a frozen piece of rubber flying at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour is a pretty good recipe for broken bones and if Coach John Tortorella insists on maintaining that philosophy the Rangers might lose more key players for even longer periods of time.  The team’s two best forwards, Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards, already have separate injury concerns of their own. 

A difficult early-season schedule.  Thanks to the continuing construction at Madison Square Garden the Blueshirts will play four exhibition games in Europe as well as their first two regular season games before heading west for another five road games until they return to New York for seven straight at home.  If the Rangers use the extended global road trip to team-build and develop chemistry, it could be beneficial, but that’s an awfully grueling schedule loaded with lots of flyer miles.  It could be tough for the Blueshirts to get off to a good start.

Depressed?  "Why The Rangers Could Be Better Next Yeat" is up next!

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Posted by Kevin Baumer | August 3, 2011 at 01:20 pm
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New York Rangers VS Boston Bruins
Wednesday, September 30, 2015

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