5 Keys for New York Rangers to Finish Strong in 2013-14 NHL Regular Season

Jeremy Fuchs@@jaf78Correspondent IIIApril 7, 2014

5 Keys for New York Rangers to Finish Strong in 2013-14 NHL Regular Season

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    The New York Rangers are just one point away from clinching a spot in the postseason. If they do clinch, we can consider the 2013-14 NHL regular season a success for the Blueshirts.

    But there's nothing exciting about finishing the season in a rut. If the Rangers want to make some noise in the postseason, then they will need to finish the regular season strong.

    What do the Rangers need to do to finish the 2013-14 regular season on a good note?

    Read on to find out. 

Finding a Replacement for Chris Kreider

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    Chris Kreider doesn't look like he will come back anytime soon after hand surgery. 

    It's a big blow for the Rangers, especially since they have not found a winger to take his place.

    Kreider, who has 17 goals and 20 points, possesses an impressive blend of size and speed. There's no one on the Rangers quite like him.

    The Rangers have tried pretty much everyone in his stead. They've tried Dan Carcillo, J.T. Miller, Marty St. Louis and Carl Hagelin.

    Hagelin has had the most success, but that's not saying much. No one has been able to replace Kreider's skill set on a line with Rick Nash and Derek Stepan.

    Who should be on that line? Ideally, it would be Benoit Pouliot, who comes the closest in terms of pure skill to Kreider.

    But moving Pouliot to that line would mean breaking up the Rangers' best line all season—Pouliot, Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello.

    So who's the next-best option behind Pouliot? The Rangers might want to try Brian Boyle. Boyle played Saturday night's game with Brad Richards and Marty St. Louis and wasn't bad. Boyle is probably the slowest Ranger, but he can park himself in front of the net and dig for pucks in the corner.

    This is probably the Rangers' biggest problem right now, and it will affect them greatly in the playoffs. Finding a replacement for Kreider is crucial for success. 

Getting Marty St. Louis Going

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    It's beginning to sound like a broken record, but it's so true.

    The Rangers need to get St. Louis going.

    He finally scored his first goal of his Rangers career, a short-handed tally against Vancouver.

    But that's it. In 17 games, St. Louis has one goal and three assists.

    What makes things worse is that Ryan Callahan has 11 points in 16 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    St. Louis hasn't been bad. He's gotten plenty of chances, and he's been robbed by plenty of goaltenders. His skill is still there.

    He's just been unlucky. And one suspects that when things really matter, he'll get things going. He's too good not to.

    But the Rangers would like him to start scoring now. Doing so would not only help the Rangers clinch a playoff spot, but it will give them confidence that he can produce in the postseason.

Rick Nash Getting Hot

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    Rick Nash remains the Rangers' best and most important offensive player.

    And while he has been a dominant force on the ice in many games, it hasn't been enough.

    Nash has three goals in his last nine games, two of them coming against the lowly Edmonton Oilers.

    The spark that we saw against Columbus was just that—a spark.

    Nash needs to be dominant. We know he can be. When he's using his body to get in the middle of the ice, there are few wingers better. But when he's loafing on the outside, he can be a non-factor.

    Nash is at his best when he starts behind the net, walks out to the circle, cuts in and uses his powerful wrister from the slot. 

    We only see that occasionally. In the postseason, when the games get a bit more physical and tighter, Nash is going to have a harder time of finding that space. That's what we saw in last year's postseason.

    So, Nash is going to have to find that part of his game before the postseason starts. If not, the Rangers are going to really struggle to score goals. 

Igniting the Power Play

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    The Rangers have the league's 13th-ranked power play, but you wouldn't know it from how they've played recently.

    Since the Olympic break, the Rangers have scored just seven times on the man advantage, despite having 60 chances. That's a conversion rate of 11 percent, a number reminiscent of the John Tortorella days.

    The Rangers' puck movement has been good, but they have had trouble winning faceoffs and getting into the zone after a clear. Once they can get set up, Ryan McDonagh, Brad Richards and Brassard do a good job of orchestrating things.

    But that means nothing if you can't get into the zone. 

    In the playoffs last season, the inability to even generate scoring chances on the power play was one of reason for the Rangers' demise.

    This year, they've had chances. But a big kill can really swing momentum, no matter how many chances you get. The Rangers will need to start producing on a level like they did earlier the season if they want any chance of advancing far in the playoffs. 

Resting Lundqvist

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    Since the Olympic break, Henrik Lundqvist has faced 515 shots. That's about 30 shots a game.

    Now, Lundqvist has been terrific, only letting in 40 goals in that time.

    But that's not the point. The point is that Lundqvist has faced a huge workload this season. Between the Olympics and the regular season, Lundqvist has played in 67 games.

    It would be great if the Rangers clinched in their next game so that Lundqvist could get a few days off before the postseason. That would allow him to enter the most grueling part of the season as fresh as he can.

    If the Rangers have to come down to the final game of the season to clinch, then it might negatively affect Lundqvist. Giving him a few days to clear his head and rest his body is paramount of postseason success.