Henrik Lundqvist and New York Rangers Have Strong First Half, Room to Improve

Rob DeLuciaContributor IDecember 15, 2008


When it was announced that the New York Rangers were going to start the 2008-2009 season in Prague, many fans were expecting to watch Jaromir Jagr and Martin Straka open up the season literally at home.

Yet, GM Glen Sather opted for a different approach, and let Jagr, Straka, Tyutin Malik, and Avery leave, while bringing in Marcus Naslund, Nikolai Zherdev, and Wade Redden.

So far, the new team is looking like it can finally get past the second round of the playoffs and really start making some noise in the post season.

Coming into the season, everyone knew that the heavy burden would be put on the shoulders of goalie Henrik Lundqvist to carry the Rangers.

Luckily for Ranger fans, he has stepped up to the challenge and he leads the NHL in wins, games played, and minutes played.

Though he has a few rough starts lately, including eight goals let up against the New Jersey Devils, Lundqvist is still among the elite goalies in the NHL and can be counted on to carry his team to the post season.

The main reason the Rangers have been able to pile on early wins is Lundqvist's play in the shootout. He has seven shootout wins already, while the Rangers as a team have won eight games via the shootout.

Additionally, Steve Valiquette has been a very stable back-up and has picked up three wins for the Rangers, including his lone shootout win in a 1-0 game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

While the goal-tending has been very solid, the offense is, once again, just about non-existent.

The Rangers rank in the bottom of the NHL in goals, and their power play is in the worst shape that it has been in the four seasons since the lockout. They have given up a league-worst 10 short-handed goals, and their power-play is only at around 14 percent.

Glen Sather's two offensive additions this off-season have also been the Rangers best.

Marcus Naslund leads the team in goals, while Nikolai Zherdev has been revitalized and leads the blue shirts in points, and has accounted for more then one-third of the goals the team has scored.

After quick starts, Brandon Dubinsky and Aaron Voros have had their offense nearly shut down, and can’t seem to find the back of the net. If the offense hopes to improve, both Chris Drury and Scott Gomez are going to need to step up their game, and Dubinsky is going to need to rediscover his.

The defensive units have been solid so far this season, and with the exception of one game, the same six guys have played every game. Marc Staal has easily been the best defensive player so far this season and is slowly beginning to find some offense.

Dan Girardi has been great, as well, and is piling up the points early on without negatively affecting his defensive game.

Two of the biggest disappointments, however, have been Micheal Roszival and Wade Redden. These two players were given lots of money in the off-season, and they have both seemingly forgotten how to play defense while not putting up the points they were expected to.

Even with their poor play, the Rangers have still retained a phenomenal penalty kill. The NHL'S first-ranked penalty killing team, they have killed off 90 percent with Blair Betts and Freddy Sjostrom becoming two of the NHL'S best defensive forwards.

The first half of the season has been solid so far, but there is still too much room for improvement.

The Rangers have taken too many wins via the shootout, and they are going to need to learn to win in regulation by the time the playoffs come around.

Roszival and Redden need to step up and play like the way they are capable of, and of course, this team needs to find the offense that has been missing for years.