New York Rangers: 6 Reasons This Team Is Stanley Cup Worthy
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
It is no doubt that the New York Rangers had extremely high expectations put on them by many coming into this shortened 2013 NHL season. It also is fair to say that after 18 games, these struggling Rangers have not lived up to those expectations.
Across the board, most experts picked the Rangers as favorites to win it all, and on paper, those picks look solid. It is difficult to take what a team may look like on paper and say that they will definitely play as well as projected. Keeping in mind that with a shortened season due to a lockout and without a training camp, no teams, unless you are the Chicago Blackhawks, are playing to their full potential.
Forget the fact for a moment that the Rangers power play is on a 7-for-64 stretch that is outright disgusting. Ignore the issue of the injuries to key players such as Rick Nash, Michael Del Zotto, Ryan McDonagh and others.
The Rangers, who have begun this season looking uneven to say the least, have taken more time than most to gel, and now sit at 8-8-2: not exactly world beaters to the rest of the league. It is evident that they have lost some toughness and they are having a hard time winning battles deep in the zone and in the crease.
Do not forget, however, that the Rangers have an extreme amount of talent that will not go away this season. The meshing of players will come, and hopefully for John Tortorella's sake it is sooner rather than later.
Here are six reasons the New York Rangers are Stanley Cup worthy in 2013.
Top Prospects Will Be Key Contributors
First Kreider, Now J.T. Miller
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
One of the best attributes of this Rangers team is the excellent mix of veterans and young talent that has turned some heads. Last season, Carl Hagelin, Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh and Michael Del Zotto all proved that they were up to the challenge of competing at coach John Tortorella's level.
This year, Chris Kreider will look to back up his epic playoff run with the Rangers that saw him score five goals in 18 games and impress the league with his speed and quick shot. Kreider will be joined by by J.T. Miller, who has seen good playing time and has shown that he is a decent two-way player that can maneuver well against the boards.
According to hockeysfuture.com, the Rangers have the 17th ranked prospect talent in the NHL. This is deceiving, however, because most of the Rangers talent has already joined the team, and their time is now to win it all.
As long as these players are able to adjust to life in the NHL and continue to contribute and follow the veterans, they will be key in proving that the Rangers are cup worthy this season.
The Rangers Have One of the Best Top Lines in the NHL
Rick Nash-Brad Richards-Marian Gaborik
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Brad Richards has been slumping of late with only two goals and listless play.
Rick Nash has a mysterious injury that no one will confirm and has missed the past four games.
Marian Gaborik has seven goals and four assists, but has been benched for entire periods, and most of his points came at the beginning of the season.
This is the best line in hockey, you say? Let me explain this.
The Rangers lack of a training camp has undoubtedly hurt the chemistry of players, as well as the style of play that coach John Tortorella preaches. Richards is a quiet leader that is embarking on his best month historically in his career (March) in which he has 146 points in 144 games.
Rick Nash is a natural scorer who, when he comes back, will enhance the Rangers scoring opportunities and create more opportunities around the crease.
And Marian Gaborik needs the security of the other two in order to utilize his speed and create shots from the point.
Together, this threesome has the ability to become one of the fiercest scoring lines in the NHL.
As we work through the next couple weeks, look for Nash, Richards and Gaborik to come out of their doldrums and put the Rangers on their back. As they do, we will then understand just why the Rangers are worthy of a Stanley Cup title.
The Rangers Were Built the Right Way
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
No matter what is written on paper to convince anyone that the Rangers are worthy of a Stanley Cup title this year, just know this: the Rangers are built the right way.
From their excellent cultivation of young players that contribute daily, to their acquiring of veterans to fill in the voids, Glen Sather has formed a team that is ready to win, and win often.
Over the past couple years, we have seen the transformation in the Garden from a playoff hopeful to perennial contender. When you have talent at the level of Ryan Callahan, Marian Gaborik, Rick Nash, Michael Del Zotto, Dan Girardi, right on down the line, you have to marvel at how it all happened.
Through trades, draft picks, and pure grooming by Ken Gernander, head coach of their AHL Connecticut Whale affiliate, the Rangers have a system in place to advance their young players. Gernander represents the same style as Tortorella has, which makes the elevation to the NHL less harrowing for the young players.
This system will be a main reason the Rangers win a cup. As they settle into a rhythm, not many teams will be able to handle them in a seven-game series.
Defense Wins Championships
Paul Bereswill/Getty Images
Defensively, the Rangers are 11th in the league in goals against and 12th in penalty killing. They play tough along the boards, and stand up for their own when they feel the need.
The defensive unit may not seem to be the stalwart as they were last season, but it is difficult to copy the league's third best defense in 2012. It is no doubt that the Rangers boast some of the most versatile defensemen in the NHL in Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Michael Del Zotto, Anton Stralman and Ryan McDonagh.
These players are all two-way defensemen that can get down and block shots, close the lanes and create opportunities at both ends of the ice. This gives John Tortorella options as he can have any of his three defensive parings on the ice in any situation.
While it may not be evident that the toughness is there because the players aren't fighting as much as a year ago, Del Zotto may have a different opinion:
“If we’re not fighting as much, we can still accomplish what we would with fighting by blocking shots, hitting, being physical in the corners,” defenseman Michael Del Zotto told the NY Daily News.
The defensive structure is there, and it may be taking this young unit a bit longer to grasp it, but when they click, there may not a better unit in the league.
John Tortorella Is the Right Man for the Job
When Torts Speaks, Everyone Listens
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Not everyone enjoys John Tortorella's two and a half minute press conference at the end of a game. His dry wit and quick tongue gets tiring after a while.
But that is not why he is the New york Rangers head coach. Tortorella is a motivator and very demanding. He will cajole, bench and prod at his players to get what he knows they are capable of giving.
Tortorella will also know when it is best to leave them alone and allow them to create the plays and work the zone. His coaching abilities may not be favored by some in the NHL, but Tortorella does not necessarily care such as when he called his critics "idiots" for questioning his strategy.
Just know that Tortorella will always preach a defense-first philosophy that his players can grow within. So far, he has taken the Rangers to the edge of a finals appearance in 2012, and even though this team is struggling now, he will undoubtedly regroup them and have his young team headed there again.
John Tortorella is without a doubt the right coach to lead this Rangers team to a Stanley Cup title.
The King Has Something to Prove
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Here we come to the No. 1 reason the New York Rangers are worthy of a Stanley Cup in 2013.
It is hard to convince ourselves that the reigning Vezina Trophy winner has something to prove, but that is just what Henrik Lundqvist has to do. There should be no doubt that Lundqvist is one of the top three goalies in the NHL, yet he has received criticism for his supposedly less than stellar play in last year's playoffs.
But with the talent that the Rangers have up and down the ice, Lundqvist completes them.
This season, Lundqvist has a 2.28 goals against average which is on par with each year he has played. He may not look as if he is standing on his head, doing twirls and making matrix-looking blocks, but he is a darn fine goalie.
There is only so much Lundqvist can do when the screens break down and assignments are missed in front of him. But heed this warning:
The 2013 NHL playoffs will belong to Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers much like the 2012 playoffs belonged to the Los Angeles Kings. This is the same type of gritty team that has the talent, but may need a bit more time for it to come together.
When it does, anybody in their way will pay the price.