The New York Rangers had a fairytale regular season in 2011, but it had an all too familiar end in the postseason: the Rangers were dumped by division rival New Jersey in six games during the Eastern Conference Finals. Reaching the Conference Finals was a great accomplishment for the Blueshirts, but the fans of New York expect championships, and nothing less.
Here are five things that need to happen if the Rangers want to hoist Lord Stanley’s cup.
1. Dubi Needs to be Dubi
Brandon Dubinsky had a career year in 2010-2011. He scored 24 goals, and led the Rangers with 54 points. His performance led to a hefty new contract before the 2011 season. Since signing his new contract, Dubinsky has failed to put up the numbers the Rangers expected him to. Dubi scored 10 goals and finished with 34 points in 77 games last season.
If Dubinsky can find his game, and find the back of the net twenty to thirty times next year, it would give the Rangers a big boost offensively.
2. Acquire Another Goal-Scorer
The Rangers offense was questioned all season, and criticized more during the Rangers playoff run, especially the power play. It may be their defense first style that keeps the goal totals low, but either way the Rangers need another scorer.
Last season the Rangers passed on trading for Rick Nash because the Blue Jackets were asking for too much. The Rangers have also shown interest in Bobby Ryan from Anaheim, and the Rangers, along with the Flyers are still interested in a trade.
The free agent market has some potential for the Rangers if they cannot figure out a deal that would bring Ryan to New York. Aside from Devils captain Zach Parise, who said “no way” to joining the Rangers, Alexander Semin is a free agent the Rangers could afford. Semin is a play maker who can create chances for himself and for others. He would add 20-25 goals, and could help a Rangers power play that struggled all season long including the playoffs.
3. Take Pressure Off of the Defense
The defense was the backbone of the Rangers last season. They have tremendous talents along the blue line like Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, RyancDonagh, and Michael Del Zotto. The Rangers defense first style put a lot of pressure on these players, anday have burned them out during the playoffs. Blocking shots, taking and giving body checks, and logging 25-28 min in ice time every game takes it’s toll on the players.
The Rangers need to maintain a more consistent forecheck, and make the other teams work harder in their own zone. The Rangers relied heavily on playing in their zone for long stretches at a time, and then quickly turning it the other way for a scoring chance. The best defense is a good offense, and a good forecheck along with better puck control can create scoring chances and draw more penalties. This will help take the pressure off of the defense and Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist.
4. Consistent Contributions from the Youngsters
The Rangers had a few young players surprise them last season, including Carl Hagelin, and Chris Kreider. If the Rangers plan on making another deep playoff run, they are going to need their young players to step up.
Derrick Stepan had a fine season last year, but had a playoffs to forget. Artem Anisimov was almost invisible during the playoffs, except for two games during their series with the Washington Capitals.
Carl Hagelin posted 38 points in 64 games during the regular season, but managed just three assists in 17 playoff games. Chris Kreider was the lone bright spot during the playoffs. The rookie, who was called up during the Ottawa series, tallied five goals during the playoffs, including two game winners.
It took a team effort last year to create offense and score goals, and next season will be no different. These young players got to taste playoff hockey, twenty plus games in fact. They must learn from their successes and failures from last season and strengthen their game in time for next season.
5. Stay Healthy
Staying healthy is the most imprtant thing for every team, but it’s also the most difficult to maintain.
The Rangers did a good job staying healthy last season, and that is a big reason why they went as far as they did.
The only real injuries the Rangers had to deal with was Marc Staal returning from his concussion sustained the year before, and defenseman Michael Sauer going down with a concussion just 20 games into the season.
Staal returned half way through the season and got better with every game, which helped the Rangers D going into the playoffs. Sauer has yet to return to the Rangers, and there is no timetable for his return.
Unfortunately for the Blueshirts, they will have to be without their top scorer from last season, Marian Gaborik, until November. Gaborik, who scored 41 goals in the regular season, was injured during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against Ottawa. Gaborik sustained a torn labrum after being knocked into the boards shoulder first.
The Rangers are very close to being a championship team, and if they want to have a chance to win the Eastern Conference again and win a Stanley Cup, it’s going to take adding one more piece to their puzzle, and then making all those pieces work together.