At the halfway mark of their season, the New York Rangers are the team to beat in the National Hockey League.
They sit atop the Atlantic Division, the Eastern Conference and are a point ahead of the Western Conference-leading Vancouver Canucks...with four less games played.
The Blueshirts’ active offseason raised expectations for the season, but it’s safe to say that not many people (outside New York) had this team doing this well.
So how is NYR maintaining a pace that would give them their highest season point total since 1994? Here are the NHL’s top awards (along with some unofficial awards) applied solely to New York at the team’s midway point...
The 23-year-old Swedish native has played just a little more than half the season, but his impact was felt immediately.
Making his debut against the Capitals on November 25, Hagelin notched a point in each of his first four games (1 G, 3 A). He is second in the league among rookies in plus/minus (+9) with at least 14 fewer games played than the players that surround him.
His Mike Gartner-esque speed also gives him a visible advantage in the forecheck and on the penalty kill, as two of his seven goals have come while shorthanded. Already getting time on the top two lines, Hagelin looks like he’s here to stay and will be a valuable asset in the second half of the season and beyond.
Honorable Mention: John Mitchell
A 19-year-old Del Zotto created a lot of hype for himself after notching 37 points in his rookie season.
Maybe too much hype.
The former first-round pick struggled mightily during his sophomore circuit. So much so that he was sent back to the minors to find his game again. As a result, expectations were significantly lower coming into this season.
Now, halfway through his third year at the ripe old age of 21, Del Zotto is not only living up to the original hype. He's surpassing it.
With five goals and 18 assists, Del Zotto is on pace for a career year in both categories. Before this season, his career plus/minus was minus-25. This year it is plus-24, which is good for second in the league among defensemen (behind only Zdeno Chara).
The absence of Marc Staal for most of the first half of the season made it pivotal for all Ranger blueliners to step up their game. No one stepped up further than Michael Del Zotto.
Honorable Mention: Artem Anisimov
Last season, Dubinsky lead New York in goals with 24.
This season, it took the 25-year-old Alaskan native 32 games to score twice. Perhaps he had trouble adjusting to the pressure that comes with a four-year, $16.8 million contract, but Dubinsky's struggles eventually dropped him out of the top six forwards on the team.
He stuck with his game, though, and excelled in just about every other aspect other than scoring.
Now, the offensive side of Duby's game seems to be re-emerging, and statistically he is still an important asset on the ice, even if he isn't scoring, as he has the third-best plus/minus on the team (+11) and the second-best among forwards.
Honorable Mention: Mike Rupp
John Tortorella has made it perfectly clear...Henrik Lundqvist will not be overused this season.
Coach Tortorella wants his star goaltender fresh for the playoffs. The last few championship goalies all have one thing in common; they had a lot of rest during the season. None of them started more than 62 games, and it seems that's right where Tortorella wants Lundqvist's total, as he has sat him 10 games already.
So how have the Rangers been able to maintain such success with their starting goalie sitting every four games?
While Lundqvist has put up very impressive numbers all season, Biron has stuck with him every step of the way. In 10 starts, the 34-year-old is 8-2 with a 2.06 goals against average, turning Lundqvist and himself into arguably the best netminding tandem in the NHL.
With the way he is playing, there are probably a few teams that wouldn't mind having Biron starting for them, but that won't be the case. He will continue to back up Lundqvist, and will also continue to play an integral role in leading New York into the playoffs and beyond.
“As a captain, I think it’s important that the players really know who you are and what you stand for…”
This is a take on being captain of a professional sports team from arguably the best captain in Rangers history, Mark Messier.
Who is Ryan Callahan?
He’s a 26-year-old New York native taken 127th overall by Rangers in the 2004 entry draft. Seven years later, before the start of the current season, he was named team captain.
What does Ryan Callahan stand for?
Last year, his season ended after he slid in front of a Zdeno Chara slap shot and broke his hand. The Rangers would win that game and make the playoffs shortly there-after as a result. This season, nothing has changed. He is fourth in the NHL in blocked shots among forwards, fourth in the league in hits and is tied for the team lead in takeaways among forwards. These aspects make Callahan one of the most effective forwards on the Rangers without the puck (the Frank J. Selke is awarded to the best defensive forward).
This isn't to say Callahan has been lacking offensively. With 15 goals and 16 assists, he is on pace for career years in both categories.
Callahan's all-around great play thus far makes him the easy winner of both of these awards.
When news broke that Marc Staal would be out indefinitely due to lagging symptoms from a concussion he sustained at the hands of his brother Eric last season, it was panic time in New York. Staal had become the cornerstone of a young but formidable Rangers blue line, and it was unclear whether or not the defense would be able to hold together without him.
At Christmas, New York was one of the best defensive teams in the league, and Staal hadn't played a single game.
Every defenseman had stepped up in his absence, but it was Dan Girardi who filled the skates of Staal and took the team's defense to the next level.
No player in the National Hockey League has been on the ice more this season than Girardi, averaging a remarkable 27 minutes and 18 seconds per game. He's also fourth in the NHL in blocked shots (102) and fourth among defensemen in hits (115).
Add in his three goals and 12 assists and you get the Rangers' sole All-Star defenseman this season. No D-man has been more valuable to New York this season than Dan Girardi.
Honorable Mention: Michael Del Zotto
The "Brad Richards" acquisition of 2009, Gaborik put together a stellar 86-point season in his first year with the Blueshirts. Then he suffered somewhat of a sophomore slump last season, as injuries and a lack of support kept the Slovakia native under 50 points.
This season, the 29-year-old Gaborik appears to be playing at a superstar level once again, leading the Rangers in points (34) and being among the league leaders in goals (23).
On a team known more for goaltending and defense, Gaborik plays a key role in providing the balance needed for New York to compete at an elite level.
Honorable Mention: Brad Richards
King Henrik, indeed.
A solid argument can be made that, since his debut with the Rangers following the lockout, Henrik Lundqvist has been their perennial MVP (in fact, Lundqvist has won team MVP for the past five years straight).
So far this year, however, it appears that the 29-year-old Swede has raised his already elite game play to the next level (if that's even possible). As of today, Lundqvist leads all starting goalies in goals against average (1.85) and save percentage (.939); both would be career bests.
The Rangers haven't had the most potent offense this season, but when you only have to score two goals in a game to win, you don't need one. Before tonight's loss to Ottawa, the All-Star netminder had won seven straight starts and had given up only eight goals during that stretch.
Lundqvist has always been successful, but if he continues to play at this level, not only will he be a virtual lock for the Vezina Trophy, he may also be revving up for a run at the Conn Smythe.