No more are the New York Rangers the punching bag of the NHL and perhaps this is their year. Since the lockout of 2004-2005, the Rangers have made the playoffs every year except for one. However, they have never made it past the second round, losing once to Buffalo in 2007 and Pittsburgh in 2008.
This year looks to be a little different. With a retooled team, new captain and a lineup filled with talent, the NY Rangers could be holding Lord Stanley's Cup come June 2012.
With the early-season news that star d-man Marc Staal would miss the beginning of the season due to concussion problems, everyone, including yours truly, thought that the Rangers' tough D would take a big hit.
Actually, it has taken a pretty big hit, but (should be All-Star) Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Michael Del Zotto, Michael Sauer, Steve Eminger and newbie Jeff Woywitka have all stepped up and contributed to the team's early success.
The Rangers are the best defensive team in the league, allowing a league-low 2.05 goals against per game (41 goals total) and are always getting down and blocking shots.
The fewer shots that get to Lundqvist, the better and fresher he is and the better the Rangers are.
As surprising as it may sound, the Rangers are finally scoring goals! 16 players on the roster have played in at least 14 games and 15 of those 16 have registered at least one goal (the exception is defenseman Michael Sauer).
Marian Gaborik is finally starting to look like his old self again as he leads the team with 10 goals while Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan are close behind with eight. The Rangers are averaging 2.75 goals per game and only getting better.
They have scored three or more goals in 10 of their 20 games so far and with the Gaborik-Stepan-Anisimov and Callahan-Richards-Dubinsky lines clicking, expect goals to come often and in bunches.
The Rangers have played eight of their 20 games so far at home this year. They have accumulated a 6-1-1 record on Garden ice in front of the "Garden Faithful."
This start is their best since 1992 on home ice and they should be successful with the 41 games they play at home.
They also are 6-4-2 on the road so if they make the playoffs, they're going to be dangerous whether they get home-ice advantage or not.
In the past couple of years, the Rangers haven't been known for their great power play (24th in the league).
Their penalty kill, however, is where the excel. The Rangers have the 10th-rated penalty kill, killing off 85.2 percent of their penalties. They block shots, clear the zone, pressure the puck, take the body and have a spectacular netminder to back them all up.
This penalty kill is dangerous and one of the strong points of this team. If the power play gets going, expect great things from this team.
Of course, goaltending has to be one of the major reasons this Rangers team is going to be successful. Henrik Lundqvist is one of, if not the best goalie in the league. He's posting a 9-4-3 record with a 2.05 GAA, .935 SV % and two shutouts. He is once again a stud between the pipes and the backbone of this team.
The Rangers also have a very capable backup in Martin Biron. Biron has a 3-1-0 record with a 1.68 GAA, .937 SV % and one shutout. Not too shabby for a 34-year-old backup goalie.
Lundqvist and Biron are a great 1-2 combination and if, or when, the Rangers are successful, they are going to be a huge reason why.