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"Talking New York Rangers Hockey, since 2007"
New York, NY • United States • 23 Years Old • Male

Stepping Up

Posted 8:29 PM ET | Comments 3
It was a bad week for the Rangers, which is hard to say with a straight face. But for a team averaging 1.4 points per game, a 2-1-1 stretch is hardly a success story. However, there are positives to take from the week that are more important than anything you can take out of a 4-0-0 stretch. This was the 3rd time the Rangers went on a two game losing streak. The previous time, they followed it with a 5 game winning streak, and the time before that, a 7 game winning streak. This time, they came back with two convincing wins on back-to-back nights against good opponents. In the past, the Rangers were prone to long good stretches and long bad stretches. Now, we only see the former. This club is able to identify mistakes and adjust quickly, and the result has been easy to see. Oh, and the massive influx and improvement of offensive talent also helps.

It's counter-intuitive. Your top shutdown defenseman, one of the best in the league, misses the first 25 games of the season and your team doesn't miss a beat. At first it was a big deal, but the 15-6-4 record makes you forget. Then, your next best shutdown defenseman goes down. Again, it doesn't take long before you forget about him as well, thanks to the continued success. Your bottom four defenseman consists of a sophmore slumper (Del Zotto), a career -39 (Stralman), a waiver claim (Woywitka), and a six-team journeyman (Eminger). Yet, 27 games in, you have the best record in the East, the 4th best GAA in the league, and not one of your defensemen is a minus player. How is that possible?

The phrase "puck possession" used to give Rangers fans heartburn. In past years, and even early in the season, that style of play meant and endless offensive zone cycle leading to nothing but turnovers. It tired out defenses and kept the puck in the right end of the ice, but if the opponent managed a goal or two, the game was as good as done. Now, with the puck possession leading to scoring chances, it becomes the Rangers biggest strength. Playing from behind, it wears out defenses and leads to goals. Playing from ahead, it keeps the puck away from the defensive end, and gives opportunity to net insurance goals. It certainly takes a lot of pressure off a weak defensive corps. Amazing, that with the addition of goals to the equation, the effects of puck possession are infinitely more beneficial.

Michael Del Zotto has been on a roller coaster of a career. From the all-rookie team, to being banished in Hartford, to getting 22:30 of ice time per game and a team leading +15 rating in his third professional season. He is smarter with the puck. He plays a much tougher game, especially in front of the net. He creates offense in all situations, from all parts of the ice. He recorded an assist or two in all four games this way, including a +4 showing against Florida. Del Zotto is back to showing why he was drafted 20th overall in 2008, and never was he more needed than now, with the makeshift defense looking for someone to stabilize the back end. Bravo.

Nobody plays well they are relied upon to be the lone source of scoring for a hockey team. It is Jaromir Jagr in 08-09. It is Marian Gaborik in 10-11. The opposing defense focuses on that player, while his teammates predictably try to force him the puck. Soon enough, the star player starts pressing too hard and begins to fade. But then, along comes secondary scoring. Suddenly, the opposition is not equipped to handle the talent going over the boards every shift. But even two scoring lines is manageable, from an opponent's perspective. But then you throw Carl Hagelin into the mix. The fastest player on the ice, also a sound defensive player by the way, is going against bottom pair defenseman. They can't skate with him. They can't stay with him. And suddenly, this 6th round pick looks like a top line player. Maybe he isn't that talented, but in these situations he is the best player on the ice. With everyone weary of the threat he poses, time and space suddenly opens up for the Gaboriks and Richards of the team. Cue the scoring explosion.

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Results and Schedule
Mon Dec 5, 2011 TOR (4) - NYR (2)
Thu Dec 8, 2011 TBL (3) - NYR (2) SO
Sat Dec 10, 2011 NYR (4) - BUF (1)
Sun Dec 11, 2011 FLA (1) - NYR (6)

Tue Dec 13, 2011 Stars Rangers 7:00 PM
Thu Dec 15, 2011 Rangers Blues 8:00 PM
Sat Dec 17, 2011 Rangers Coyotes 8:00 PM

This week will be deceptively challenging for the Rangers. The Stars, Blues, and Coyotes are not traditionally thought of as the powerhouses of the post-lockout NHL, but they sure are playing good hockey this season. Dallas and Phoenix are tied for the Pacific Division lead with 33 points, although both have only won 5 of their last 10 games. The biggest test may come from the Blues, who are making a run in the Central Divison with a 3 game winning streak, and a 10-2-2 record in their last 14 contests. Meanwhile, the Rangers, who are 14-3-1 in their last 18 games, look to finally climb to the top of the Eastern Conference standings, despite holding games in hand over all of the top teams. Can the Rangers continue their winning ways, or will their personnel weaknesses finally be exposed?

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December 13, 2011 1:02 AM ET | Delete
Alex great write up. What amazes me is that the same people who think Dubi is done are the ones that said MDZ should be traded in the offseason. Look at how great MDZ is playing. That's why it's important not to give up on Dubi. With regards to MDZ I was telling everyone to be patient with him. Offensive D-men take time to develop. He still very young is learning. Guys like Letang, and Yandle didn't hit there stride until 24 years old.
December 13, 2011 8:03 AM ET | Delete
Except that Dubi is already almost 26 and on his 3rd contract. Big difference. I think most on the board agree though that if we could get the production from him that we got last year then the contract wouldn't be THAT bad.
December 13, 2011 6:05 PM ET | Delete
I am with cheater on this one. MDZ was much more likely to come around than Dubi. Dubi is a vet at this point, he should not be regressing so much.
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