NY Rangers: 5 Steps to the Eastern Conference Championship

Ryan Clutter@@RyanCluttContributor IIIJanuary 23, 2013

NY Rangers: 5 Steps to the Eastern Conference Championship

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    The New York Rangers are coming off of a 109 point season, best in the Eastern Conference. Their 51 wins along with the 109 points were both the second most in team history. 

    After a hard fought playoff series against the New Jersey Devils, they were eliminated on an overtime goal in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. 

    As the lockout ended and the NHL got under way, the Rangers lost their first two games. Frankly, they haven’t played well at all. They fell to the Boston Bruins 3-1 in the season opener on Saturday and lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins 6-3 in their home opener on Sunday.

    In a shortened season—48 games—things need to turn around quickly for the Rangers to duplicate the type of season they had a year ago. 

    With the talent the Rangers have throughout their roster, it shouldn’t be too difficult to get into a groove and back to being a dangerous team. Maybe they just need to shake off the rust.

    Here’s what the Rangers must do to have a successful season.

Take Advantage of the Power Play

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    The New York Rangers have been very inconsistent on the power play. Last season, the team scored just 44 goals in 280 power play opportunities, 15.7 percent.

    Captain Ryan Callahan scored a power play goal against Pittsburgh, but that came on a five-on-three advantage. That is their only power play goal through two games and nine opportunities.

    Offseason acquisition Rick Nash should provide some stability in the power play going forward. With the Columbus Blue Jackets, Nash scored 83 goals in nine seasons on the power play, adding 99 assists.

    Regarding the power play, center Brad Richards told Kieran Darcy of ESPNNewYork.com

    As well as we did last year, a little help on that power play throughout the year and in the playoffs probably would have helped us get a little further, if not to the ultimate goal. It’s gotta be a focus for us.

    With the forwards the Rangers have, there should be no reason to think the power play will be an on going issue. If it continues to be a problem, then the Rangers should look to switch up the lines to create more chances.

    I know it’s only been two games and they have been working on the power play in practice, but the Rangers can form a variety of different combinations and don’t have too much time to figure out who works best together.

Find Identity with Nash

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    When the New York Rangers traded for superstar Rick Nash, they became the front-runners for the Stanley Cup trophy. With a locked out season and no pre-season, Nash hasn’t had much time to work with his new team.

    In the trade, Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky, among others, were sent to Columbus. They had tremendous value to the Rangers and while Nash is a great player, his new team has to search for a new identity. 

    Nash has shown his abilities in the first two games, already racking up seven shots on goal. He has also shown he is plenty capable of handling the puck, weaving through defenders to create some of those chances. 

    He doesn’t need to change what he’s doing because he has performed extremely well so far, but after losing Anisimov and Dubinsky, the other key Rangers have to learn how to play with Nash.

    Per Charles Curtis of the Newark Star-Ledger, Nash remarked,

    I know playing against these guys last year, they had an identity. You'd never want to play against them. They're a hard working team and we have to get back to that.

    Marian Gaborik has shifted to the first line to play alongside Richards and Nash, which should help generate some scoring chances.

    If Nash knows this team has to find its identity, then the rest of the Rangers players have to work out their kinks and come out with some fire tonight against the Boston Bruins at Madison Square Garden.

Hail to the King

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    Despite getting pulled in the second period of a 6-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Henrik Lundqvist is still the “King.”

    Coach John Tortorella wasn’t taking any chances. It was the first time he pulled Lundqvist since the sixth game of last season, when he left due to an issue with his skates; not for poor performance.

    With the way the team was playing, and the open ice Pittsburgh was skating in, Lundqvist didn’t really stand a chance. Tortorella made the right decision in pulling him, but don’t expect him to be on the bench much this season.

    The success of the New York Rangers lies with their goalkeeper, who has been stellar in the past, earning him the nickname “King Henrik.” He showed why with a save against the Boston  Bruins in the first game of the season.

    As Tortorella stressed mental toughness to his team, Lundqvist admitted he needs to play better:

    As a team maybe we need to play better, but personally I could’ve played better. A lot of times it goes hand-in-hand. I feed from them; they feed from me. And if I can’t be there and make those extra saves when they need it, it’s going to be tough.

    This ties in with finding their identity. Once they get rolling, Lundqvist will get rolling. They need to get going soon, and Henrik plays a big role for this team. Expect him to get his act together and start being the “King” New York knows.

Utilize Chris Kreider

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    Chris Kreider burst onto the scene in the playoffs last season. He spent the regular season winning the NCAA hockey title with Boston College.

    Per Newsday, Kreider had the most playoff goals and points, five and seven respectively, before playing in the regular season.

    So far, he’s been on a line with Brian Boyle and Taylor Pyatt. That hasn’t worked well for the New York Rangers. Kreider is averaging just over 10 minutes of ice time per game and has totaled just one shot.

    After a hard hit to the jaw forced him to leave the Pittsburgh game, he was back skating at practice on Tuesday and should be ready to go Wednesday night.

    Still just 21 years old, Kreider is thrown into a Rangers team with many stars. That means he has to earn his ice time, and I think a change of lines will have an impact on Kreider’s success.

    According to the New York Post, Kreider practiced yesterday in the second line with Derek Stepan and Ryan Callahan. 

    John Tortorella is changing things up, and this move should provide some spark in the Ranger offense.

Be Patient, Don’t Panic

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    Though it’s a shortened season, the New York Rangers started 0-3 last season before earning the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

    An 0-2 start to this season puts them into an early hole. That’s not to say they can’t climb out.

    They just have to be patient and play the hockey they’re capable of. Everything should fall into place. The talent is there, they just need momentum. 

    A win at home Wednesday against a Boston Bruins team that got the best of them in the opener will be a huge step in the right direction.

    It may take a little more time for the players to figure out each other’s tendencies, but when that time comes, the Rangers will be tough to beat. 

    The best is yet to come for these New York Rangers.