New York Rangers' 5 Biggest Areas for Improvement in 2nd Half of 2013-14 Season

Jeremy FuchsCorrespondent IIIDecember 31, 2013

New York Rangers' 5 Biggest Areas for Improvement in 2nd Half of 2013-14 Season

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    What can the New York Rangers do to improve in the second half of the 2013-14 season?

    At the halfway point, they are currently out of a playoff spot. Luckily for the Rangers, the Eastern Conference is pretty awful, so with a few tweaks, they can make a playoff run.

    What are the Rangers' five biggest areas of improvement headed into the second half of the season?

    Read on to find out. 

Offense

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    The Rangers average 2.3 goals per game, which is 27th in the league.

    Only one player—Chris Kreider—has double-digit goals.

    Rick Nash, the team's most talented offensive player, has just seven goals.

    Derek Stepan, last year's best offensive player, has potentially played himself off the U.S. Olympic roster with just 25 points.

    This is a team that struggles to score—and that's being kind. They've only scored more than four goals three times. They are anemic.

    So what to do? Getting Nash to play better would be a big help. While he shows many of the traits that make him such a dominant player, he does not show it on a nightly basis. The line of Kreider-Stepan-Nash has been dominant at times, but they just haven't scored enough.

    The Rangers could benefit from another scorer, whether it's via trade or a promotion from the minors.

    It helps that Benoit Pouliot is playing better, and the Rangers would be nowhere without Mats Zuccarello. But they need more from their big-time players, including Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan when he comes back from injury. 

    Quite simply, if the Rangers can't get their offense going, they won't make the playoffs. Time is ticking. 

Michael Del Zotto

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    There was a time when Michael Del Zotto was one of the most promising young defensemen in hockey.

    That time has passed.

    Del Zotto is going through all sorts of struggles right now and was benched once again for the contest against Florida. He's, to put it nicely, an adventure in his own zone. And his best skill, his offense, has not shown up for the last two seasons now.

    With trade rumors swirling, I still think the Rangers should try to reclaim some lost value before getting rid of him.

    This was a defenseman who, in the 2010-11 season, averaged 22 minutes and notched 41 points. He was a top-four defenseman on a team that went to the Eastern Conference Finals.

    So they shouldn't rush to get rid of him. Instead, they need him. Imagine a defense with Del Zotto at his best, with Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and Anton Stralman? That's one of the best in the league.

    The key is rehabbing Del Zotto, not shipping him off. If he can improve his game, the Rangers will be a much better team. 

Henrik Lundqvist

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    You do not pay Henrik Lundqvist nearly $60 million to ride the pine.

    Cam Talbot is a nice story, but fans are sadly mistaken if they think he's going to lead them to the promise land.

    No, this is Henrik Lundqvist's team, and they are going to go as far as he takes them.

    He took a nice step forward against Tampa Bay, where he withstood a third-period assault by one of the league's best offensive teams, and played arguably his best game of the season Tuesday against Florida. 

    That said, it's two games, and most of the season he has looked like a shell of himself.

    If Lundqvist can find his game, then the Rangers could actually make a playoff run. The Eastern Conference is pretty bad, outside of Pittsburgh and Boston

    And if Lundqvist can find his game, Team Sweden will be jumping for joy.

    If Lundqvist cannot find his game, it does not really matter what else happens. They will not make the playoffs without him.

Toughness

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    Derek Dorsett is a grinder, an agitator and has racked up a remarkable 103 penalty minutes. He's always willing to drop the gloves.

    Outside of Dorsett, there are not too many players that opposing teams fear.

    Did you see Brian Boyle fight Zdeno Chara? Not really close. 

    Did you see the one where Rick Nash fought Martin Hanzal? Yeah, that's not pretty.

    Look, fighting is part of the game. And it goes beyond that. Sometimes a heavy push or shove is all that's needed to establish a tone. Too often, the Rangers just don't respond.

    Remember when Marc Staal got concussed on a pretty nasty hit? No response. That's a problem. It's about setting a tone, and the Rangers do not do that.

    The Blueshirts will get run over by teams like Boston that finish checks and take the body. 

    Dorsett can't, and shouldn't, do it alone. Either the Rangers need to acquire some toughness or find it. Otherwise, they'll be pushovers all season long. 

Home Cooking

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    The Rangers have just eight wins at home.

    That's right, even after a franchise-record nine-game homestand, the Rangers still have just eight wins. They went 3-4-2 on that homestand.

    In comparison, the Rangers have 12 road wins, and that's including their disastrous 3-6 road trip to start the season.

    It's great that the Rangers have found success on the road. That's a good sign.

    But they need to get it going at home. Too often at home, the Rangers have been outworked, out-hustled and outplayed. That can't happen.

    If the Rangers want to make the playoffs, and if they want to make a deep run in the playoffs, they have to establish Madison Square Garden as a tough place to play. It's been that way in recent years. Not so anymore.

    They finished off their last homestand with two straight wins, so perhaps they can take that and build something.

    Because if they don't, it's going to be hard to succeed.