I am not writing this to start anything between fans of rival teams. I am not trying to be bias or suck up to anybody. As a fan of a rival team, I am just writing this as a fan of the sport and as a casual observer.
We all know that New York City is perhaps the hardest US city to play any sport in. You are expected to give nothing less than a 110% effort night in and night out. Failure to do so results in feeling the wrath of the brutal and merciless mob that is the New York fan base, and equally receiving no remorse from the New York media.
Over the past month or two, it seems that the majority of New York Ranger fans have entered panic mode over the performance of their team. I won't question why they feel this way, but I will try my best to explain what I have seen from the Rangers this year when I saw them play and from what I have read about them from bloggers and columnists.
First is the Rangers team itself. This year, they have not necessarily acquired a consistent scoring touch, and many have argued that this is showing in the standings. In their last ten games as of today, the Rangers have gone 3-5-2, not the best record, but they are still ten games above .500 and are seven points above 9th in the Eastern Conference. For the time being, there may be need for concern, but no need to panic. Despite having the seventh place Florida Panthers nipping at their toes, the Rangers are doing the same with the 5th place Montreal Canadiens and the 4th place Philadelphia Flyers. As of now, the Rangers team is fighting a two front war between ascending or descending in the standings of a very tight Eastern Conference playoff race, but are secure in the top eight for the time being. Of course, this can change for the better or worse as there is plenty of hockey to be played.
In the first half of the season, there was a time, when the Rangers had a cushion on top of their division, and were atop the conference and league. The Rangers started out the season undefeated, before losing a couple of games, but have maintained this above .500 record throughout the season. The reason why I bring their initial season performance is because this is virtually the same Rangers team that took the league by storm in October and November. If this team was so potent at winning then, why not give them a chance to turn things around now? Is it impossible? No. Improbable? Perhaps, perhaps not.
The Rangers offense has a nice mix of young and veteran players. On paper, the Ranger offense looks like a dominant force that teams should watch in the standings and dread to play. Apparently, that is not entirely the case this year, and from what I have seen and heard (correct me if I'm wrong), it's an issue of chemistry. As a result, the offense has been inconsistent, disorganized, and it is affecting the Ranger power play. Putting this aside, until now, the Rangers still have a record that is well above the .500 mark and are still very much in the playoff race. They aren't scoring, but are still finding ways to win, which is what should really matter.
Consider this. This summer, the Rangers entire team, mainly the offense, went through a series of changes with just as many new faces coming in as there were old faces leaving. Players such as Straka, Jagr, Shanahan, and Avery were replaced by players like Voros, Naslund, and a couple of rookies. It may take at least the remainder of this season for these players to develop any chemistry, and as a result, it does take a toll on scoring and the team's overall performance.
The Rangers defense is budding with rising stars such as Marc Staal and Dan Girardi. One can argue that the amount of ice time they are deserving of is cut by alleged X-factors such as Dimitri Kalinin and Wade Redden. The Rangers have a young defense with a respectable mix of veterans such as Kalinin, Redden, Michael Rosivalt, and Paul Mara. Many Ranger fans say that players such as Kalinin and Redden have been anything but successful turnouts. While their defensive game can be put into question, Redden has two goals and 17 assists for the year, while Kalinin, has a goal and ten points for the season. Perhaps Redden and Kalinin are just having really rough adjustment years? Assuming the defense remains the way it is now, I predict good things will come out of it, particularly from the young players and any first year veterans that return next season.
In net, the Rangers have one of the best goaltenders in the league, and have a very solid backup. Although both goaltender performances have been a little shaky as of late, they should not be entirely to blame, because there have been many situations where defensive breakdowns have occurred, and both goaltenders have been hung to dry. The performance of both goalies, however, have been a major asset to the Ranger's impressive success this year. Henrik Lundvquist and Steven Vallequite have single handedly won games for the Rangers by playing stellar hockey and keeping mistakes to a minimum.
This season seems to be a learning year for the New York Rangers. As much as fans may be against this, I say the Rangers keep the major assets of their team and tweak the roster at the deadline, land another top four defenseman over the summer, and bring up anymore prospects that seem ready for the NHL level. The Rangers seem to be learning about each other and how to play as a team this year. They may seem unstable as of now, but nothing says they cannot pick it up and surge through the standings, which they are very capable of doing.