Grades for New York Rangers' Stars at the Olympic Break
The New York Rangers have come a long way since their nightmarish 3-7-0 start to the 2013-14 season. Now, with a 32-24-3 record at the Olympic break, New York is second in the Metropolitan division and looks poised to be a playoff team come April.
As good as the Rangers have been playing lately—7-3-0 in their last 10 games—their current state of positivity didn’t manifest overnight. Many of the Rangers' stars struggled early under the new regime of Alain Vigneault, but with their own personal improvements, the Rangers have gotten better.
Now that the NHL season has paused for the Olympic break, it’s the perfect time to review the overall performances of the Rangers' stars.
Here are their grades for the 2013-14 season up to this point.
Henrik Lundqvist may have struggled more than any other Ranger in the early stages of the season. Some suggested that it may have been a result of the NHL’s mandate to minimize the size of goaltenders’ equipment, while others believed his struggles could have been attributed to his trouble adjusting to the Rangers' new, less-defensive system.
Either way, Lundqvist was bad early.
Furthermore, rookie Cam Talbot was thriving.
Shortly after the “goaltending controversy,” Lundqvist began to improve. His record is now 22-18-3 and he boasts a .918 save percentage and a 2.44 goals-against average. While his numbers aren’t on par with what is expected of The King, his game is just about where it needs to be, and his stats will inevitably improve.
As was the case with Lundqvist, Rick Nash had an incredibly tough time early in the season.
After coming off a remarkably poor playoff campaign (one goal, four assists in 12 games), Nash had a lot to prove in 2013-14. Unfortunately, he suffered a concussion in the Rangers' third game of the season in San Jose and missed 17 games. It wasn’t until November 21 that Nash recorded his first goal of the season in a 3-2 win at Dallas.
The struggles continued for Nash, though. He went through a period of 12 games where he scored just two goals, but from January 6 to January 26—a span of 11 games—Nash found the net 11 times. The winger’s surge in play came roughly around the time he was named to Team Canada for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Not only has Nash been able to find the net more frequently since then, he simply looks more dangerous on the ice. It’s like watching a different player, and that’s great news for the Blueshirts.
Nash currently has 18 goals and nine assists in 42 games.
During the Rangers' early struggles, Brad Richards may have been the only player playing good hockey. It came as a pleasant surprise to the coaching staff and fanbase, seeing as Richards' poor play in the playoffs last season led to him being forced to watch the final two games of the team’s Eastern Conference Semifinal series with the Boston Bruins from the press box.
But Richards stormed out of the gate in October and registered eight points in as many games to start the season. He almost single-handedly won games October 7 in Los Angeles and in Washington October 16. Without him, the Rangers would have probably been 1-9-0 through their first 10.
Furthermore, Richards' strong play has been clutch, considering both Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard—the Rangers' two other top centers—have struggled to find consistency.
Richards has cooled off since that initial stretch, but the centerman still has 15 goals and 27 assists for 42 points which is good enough for second on the team in scoring behind Mats Zuccarello.
2013-14 has been a roller coaster ride for Rangers’ captain Ryan Callahan. After playing in the first five games of the season, Cally was injured for nearly a month, but upon his return, he never seemed to find his game.
After returning to the lineup November 4, Callahan scored just four goals over the subsequent 23 games.
Shortly thereafter, it was revealed by TSN's Darren Dreger (via SNYRangers) that Callahan was demanding between $6.5 and $7 million for seven years for his new contract.
It took Callahan over 30 games to return to one of the Rangers' power-play units, yet he still believes he should be paid as much as some of the game’s most prolific scorers.
Between these delusions he possesses and his 24 points and 42 games—not to mention his mostly ineffective performances all season—Callahan receives a low grade.
Ryan McDonagh’s rough patch early in the season cannot be ignored, but the 24-year-old has easily been the Rangers' best and most consistent player all season.
Through 59 games, McDonagh is just two points away from eclipsing his career high in points (32). Furthermore, McDonagh has elevated his game on the defensive side significantly.
He’s made a career out of shutting down the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk, but this season, he’s playing with even more confidence. Even when it seems as if he’s been beaten, McDonagh uses his world-class skating ability and drive to recover and make crucial plays.
Vigneault has also encouraged McDonagh to join the offense more and even uses the Minnesota native on the power play where he has shown great promise.