NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 23: The New York Rangers celebrate after an overtime preseason win against the New Jersey Devils at Madison Square Garden on September 23 2010 in New York City. The Rangers defeated the Devils 4-3. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Thirty games into the season, the Rangers have yet to see Vinny Prospal suit up, Chris Drury has been out since the second game of the year, and Marian Gaborik has missed a month's worth of games. Their first line center spot has been a two man job played by 20 year old rookie Derek Stepan and journeyman Erik Christensen. Yet despite their injuries and their inefficiencies, the Rangers are sixth in the Eastern Conference.
The Rangers have been road warriors this season with an NHL best 11-4 record away from The Garden. John Tortorella has also ingrained "the name on the front of the jersey is more important than the one on the back" mentality into the team. The Rangers lack top six talent but they fight for each other and play an effective blue collar style. Good playoff teams are 'teams' in the truest sense of the word. It isn't always the most talented team that makes a run at the Stanley Cup as every year there is almost always a surprise team.
Can the Rangers be this years surprise?
The answer is maybe. I'm sure that isn't the ideal answer. But the fact of the matter is the Rangers need to vastly improve their play on home ice and also must improve on the power play to make a real run at the playoffs.
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As great as the Rangers have been on the road they have been equally terrible on home ice. It's great to have an affinity for playing on the road, but in the playoffs the dynamic of the game changes and it becomes increasingly difficult to win away from home ice. There is no excuse for not being able to perform at MSG in front of some of the best fans in the world. It is a mental block that the Rangers must overcome.
The Rangers power play always seems to fail them when they need a tally the most. Late in the third period of a tie game or with the chance to put a team away, the man advantage has been more of a chore than an opportunity for the Rangers this season. An average power play just doesn't cut it as good playoff teams must have a deadly power play. The Rangers struggles haven't been due to a lack of talent. Even though another top six player surely wouldn't hurt, they can still be effective with Marian Gaborik and a supporting cast of Brandon Dubinsky, Derek Stepan, Michal Rozsival, and Michael Del Zotto.
In the coming weeks the Rangers will be given a boost when Chris Drury and Vinny Prospal make their long awaited returns to the lineup. They will give the Rangers much needed depth and more options for the power play and top six combinations. With their 'new' additions, an improved power play, and better play on home ice, the Rangers can be a very serious playoff team. Henrik Lundqvist is a Stanley Cup worthy goaltender and if the Rangers can improve their inefficiencies in front of him, they are going to be this years surprise.