I said it at the beginning of the season, and I'm repeating it again now: the Rangers are just not as good as they look.
"But Jersey," sayeth ye Rangers fans, "they're leading the division! Your Devils are nine points behind them! How dare you call the Rangers overrated?"
Ah, but take a closer look, silly heads. The Rangers have played 35 games this year. Once again, the Rangers have an exorbitantly front-loaded schedule and are a few games ahead of most teams in the league. Only four other teams have played as many as 32 so far, with the Blackhawks, Senators, and my Devils with the most games left, having played a mere 29.
The Rangers are tied with the Bruins, who have played five fewer games. They're seven points behind the league-leading Sharks, who have played four fewer. The Red wings have played five fewer games and are just two points behind New York.
So let's not get all wrapped up in the Rangers' lofty point total, which is mostly due to a hot start, anyway. I do recall the early days of the season, in which the Rangers had come off a prolific-yet-moronic off-season, and were playing at an extremely high level.
Sportswriters suddenly jumped on the bandwagon, claiming the Rangers were the team to beat in the Atlantic Division, perhaps in the entire Eastern Conference.
But I cared not. The Rangers, I knew, were overrated. Their offseason was awful, and bringing in overpaid former stars cannot soften the losses of consistent scoring leader Jaromir Jagr and energy source Sean Avery. There was no way the hot start would hold up.
Well, has it? Sure, they still lead the division, and are tied for the conference lead. Then again, they have played a lot more games than anybody else. The Flyers, being second place in the division, have played only 30 games (five fewer), and are just six points behind. Win three of those five games—not an unreasonable request by any measure—and the Flyers are in the same position.
The third-place Devils are nine points back, but have six games in hand. Claim nine out of the twelve available points, and the Devils are right up there. But you know what really stands out?
The Devils were ravaged by injuries early in the year, and are only now returning to full strength. Their top goalie—the best in the league, and the best of all time—has been out most of the season (and will be out a couple more months), yet they're right there in the division race.
And there's no way the Rangers are the cream of the East. Boston has the same amount of points in five fewer games, and the Capitals are just five points behind with three games in hand. There are so many teams within striking distance of the Rangers, and there's no way they can still be called the team to beat in the conference.
I don't think I'm saying anything new here. Any hockey follower should be able to deduce this themselves. The Rangers have fallen back to earth, and for all those who prematurely claimed "the Rangers are clearly the class of the division," I suggest you look over your shoulder.