New York Rangers: 5 Reasons They're Getting Hot at the Perfect Time

Rob Waters@NYRangersZoneCorrespondent IFebruary 23, 2012

New York Rangers: 5 Reasons They're Getting Hot at the Perfect Time

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    The New York Rangers have continued to impress and surpass expectations this season, currently sitting third in the NHL with a 38-15-5 record for 81 points.

    The Rangers have enjoyed a season-long dominance in the Eastern Conference and even sat atop the NHL standings for an extended period of time.

    Despite two recent disappointing losses to the Chicago Blackhawks on Feb. 16 and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Feb. 21, the Rangers are just about unstoppable.

    There are many adjustments that need to be made in order for the success to continue, but clearly there is a lot to be proud of for the Rangers' franchise this year.

    A lot of questions were raised for the Rangers as the NHL All-Star break concluded. Would they continue to be a force in the NHL, or would they begin to fall flat?

    There have been bumps in the road, but the winning mentality on Broadway continues.

    Let's take a look at five reasons the Rangers are getting hot at just the right time.

5. Henrik Lundqvist Remains at the Top of His Game

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    To say Henrik Lundqvist has had a great year is a gross understatement—it's been career defining.

    Lundqvist currently leads the NHL in save percentage (.940), shutouts (seven) and is second only to the St. Louis Blues' Brian Elliott in goals-against average (1.78). 

    Yet again, Lundqvist has proved to be a dominating force in the NHL, and is unquestionably the most valuable player for the New York Rangers. To even begin to speculate how the Rangers would fare without Lundqvist is something no Rangers fan wants to do.

    Rangers head coach John Tortorella feels Lundqvist is actually getting better with each season and has never played at this level.

    Despite the recent slump for the Boston Bruins, shutting them out for a 3-0 victory on Feb. 14 was no small feat. 

    Lundqvist is a three-time Vezina Trophy nominee but mysteriously has yet to win the award. This may prove to be the year for Henrik—who stands a good chance at claiming the Hart trophy as well. 

4. Ryan Callahan Is a Grinder and a Goal Scorer

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    What a difference a year makes. Last season, the Rangers' captain, Chris Drury, was virtually nonexistent after sustaining multiple injuries.

    This season, the Rangers 26th captain in franchise history, Ryan Callahan, has been a tough grinder and a critical goal scorer as well.

    And thanks to Callahan, the embarrassing power-play conversion void streak ended.

    Callahan most notably scored two power-play goals against the Philadelphia Flyers on Feb. 11.

    With 23 goals so far this season, Callahan has already matched his career best of the previous season. His 20 assists are five shy of his career best as well, and there is no reason to believe Callahan won't continue to rack up points as the season continues.

    Callahan also has six game-winning goals this season, another career best.

    It's quite refreshing to have a captain that fans and the team can buy into. 

3. Artem Anisimov Returns to His Goal Scoring Days

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    Artem Anisimov was demoted to the fourth line for an extended period of time by Rangers head coach John Tortorella.

    He really looked lost on the ice and didn't produce.

    Tortorella then rejoined Anisimov with fellow GAS linemates Marian Gaborik and Derek Stepan and the offensive talent reignited.

    Anisimov registered two goals in his last five games against the Columbus Blue Jackets and Boston Bruins.

    Stepan also recorded a game-winning goal against the Blue Jackets for a thrilling overtime victory.

    Gaborik has cooled off considerably since the NHL All-Star break, but it should only be a matter of time before he heats up again. 

2. Ryan McDonagh Continues to Impress

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    Who would have ever guessed that Ryan McDonagh, who the Rangers acquired in the summer of 2009 as part of the Scott Gomez trade to the Montreal Canadiens, would ever prove to be so successful.

    McDonagh has absolutely been a dominating defenseman for the Rangers, already with a career-best six goals and 16 assists so far this season.

    McDonagh frequently averages over 20 minutes of ice time per game, and has seen TOI exceeding 26 minutes—even with the return of Marc Staal. 

    Aside from Dan Girardi and Michael Del Zotto, there may not be a better young defenseman on the team. McDonagh is playing a veteran NHL defenseman's game in only his second professional season.

    There are many words to describe McDonagh, and "impressive" is only the beginning. 

    Gomez did more for the New York Rangers' franchise as a trade item than in his time as a Blueshirt.

1. The Rangers Have a Commanding Lead

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    Raise your hand if you thought the New York Rangers would ever have nearly a 10-point lead over the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Boston Bruins.

    If you did, you either were a naive Rangers fan or a high-risk gambler.

    But that is the reality, and the Rangers have a commanding lead over all teams in the Eastern Conference.

    With 81 points in 58 games played, the Rangers are separated from the Bruins by seven points as of Feb. 22.

    Eight points separate the Rangers from the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers, and seven points between the New Jersey Devils.

    The Rangers have enjoyed a consistent season atop the NHL rankings and sat at the top for an extended period of time. Currently third in the league, the Rangers have only the Vancouver Canucks and Detroit Red Wings to answer to.

    Perhaps Brandon Prust summed up the Rangers season the best so far:

    "Last year we were chasing teams and were always thinking that we wanted to beat this team or that because they are the best and we wanted to prove we could beat them and then have that swagger because we beat one of the top teams. Now we know that we have the target on our backs and teams are doing that to us. But now we are going into every game proving why we are the best. And to be honest, that's where you want to be."