As we approach the midway point of the 2009-10 season, it still remains difficult to tell what type of team the New York Rangers really are.
One game, New York will instill a false hope in its fans by playing competitively, but then the next game, they will skate with no effort and look as if they don’t belong in the NHL.
It's like flipping a coin to find out which team will show up.
Yet, for all of the negative analysis of a team that has been underachieving since mid-October, the Rangers are just five points out of fifth place in the Eastern Conference. Through 38 games, the Rangers stand at 18-16-4 for 40 points...not bad for a struggling, inconsistent group of players.
The bottom dwelling teams in the Eastern Conference—the Florida Panthers, Philadelphia Flyers, Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Islanders, and Toronto Maple Leafs (with the exception of the Carolina Hurricanes)—are all within a few points of each other. This will make the start of the second half of the season thrilling, at least for a short time before teams slowly fall further down the standings.
Rangers' fans can only hope their team won't be the first to fall.
In order to make any type of a push for a secure playoff spot, this inconsistent Rangers team needs to get their act together and play as a unit. Some of the many exhaustive themes of the first half of the season for the Rangers have been their lack of offense (scoring only two goals a game), their inability to finish and jump on second chances, an overall inconsistent play from both the defense and goaltender, and a general lack of effort.
The Rangers need leadership and need their captains to elevate their games.
Chris Drury has started to lead by example, getting a point in four of his last five games, but he needs to continue his offensive production and not disappear in the sea of blue jerseys again. The same can be said of Ryan Callahan, who has a point in six of his last eight games, and is starting to play like the Callahan of last season.
Looking ahead, the Rangers will end 2009 with a tough game against the Philadelphia Flyers (the Rangers narrowly escaped their last game against Philly with a 2-1 win thanks to Henrik Lundqvist's 36 saves) and what should be an easy game against Carolina.
The Rangers should bring in the New Year with a win against Carolina, ending a home-and-home series, but will have a number of tougher opponents in January including the Boston Bruins, New Jersey Devils, Pittsburgh Penguins, Colorado Avalanche, and the surprising Phoenix Coyotes.
The Rangers will still face plenty of struggling teams as well, but as discussed earlier, who knows which Rangers team will actually show up? If the Rangers can still get bullied by the Islanders, then anything is possible.