As Amare Stoudemire said when he signed with the Knicks: "The Knicks are back!" So here is me saying, "The Joe Fortunato is back!" Finally settled in with the job, just moved and kicking and ready to fire off some stories.
So to honor my return, let's play a little game.
What does the Rangers 3-2 win over Buffalo, 2-1 win over Calgary, 2-1 shootout win over Nashville, 6-5 win against the Islanders, 2-0 win against the Islanders and 5-3 win against Ottawa all gave in common?
No, not that they're all wins; although that has something to do with it. The correct answer is that they're all games that the Rangers would have probably lost last year. Not for any one reason, it just would have happened.
Now there is no actual statistical measurement on this subject, but you see where I'm going. This team is winning the games that we're so accustomed to seeing them lose over the course of a season. This team is scoring the big goals, they're making the big plays when they have to and they just seem a lot more like a family than a hockey team.
Maybe it's the infusion of youth, maybe it's the home grown talent, maybe it's the fact that younger guys are used to playing with each other at lower levels (and international levels) and have gained chemistry that way. Maybe it's just the younger guys actually buying into the system, instead of having a bunch of older veterans who "think they know better" and tune out the coach.
Maybe it's none of these things. Join me after the jump for more.
OK, let's get one thing out of the way first. I never said that the team was perfect, just that they looked much better than they did last year. Is this a Stanley Cup contending team? Logic would dictate that the answer is no, but again, you never know.
Still, it appears quite evident that this team is only one or two players away from being serious contenders. That's a whole lot better than last year when the team was one or two players away from being "playoff contenders."
But the Rangers are winning games that I honestly don't think they would have last year. They are showing courage, determination and guts in places that they were missing last year. And, most importantly, they are doing it as a team. I don't want to hear the "We only wont he game because of Hank" stuff anymore. Jim put it best in a text he sent to me.
I can't stand seeing "they only won because of Hank." That's what they're paying him for isn't it? He's our goalie, I'm not going to apologize for it.
I couldn't have said it better myself. Still, aside from Henrik Lundqvist, here's some other reasons why the Rangers look so good.
The breakouts of Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan are the main reasons behind this new look for the Rangers. While both have been valuable players, they have never been dominant on the scoresheet. That's changed this year.
The other changes that have benefited this year's Rangers team is the play of Derek Stepan and Artem Ansisimov. Obviously anything that Stepan brings to the table is an upgrade over what he brought last year since, well, he wasn't on the team last year. What he has brought is "the best playmaker on the team" title given to him by John Tortorella, some of the best hockey smarts I have ever seen out of a prospect under the age of 25 and (most importantly) the ability to show off his decision making in the clutch. Sure, he doesn't bury every chance he gets, but he makes the right decision on those odd man rushes and multiple scoring opportunities; the points will come soon don't worry. Even so, the kid has 17 points (seven goals and 10 assists) in 32 games (more than .5 points a game) and that's more than enough.
Anisimov is another player who's seen his stock raised significantly this season. Last night against the Capitals Anisimov had a goal and an assist, which snapped a seven-game pointless streak and a streak of only one point in 13 games.
Anisimov has suddenly seen himself getting big minutes (well ... sometimes), making big plays and being part of the important moments on this team. That's a big leap from last year when he couldn't crack the top two lines with a sledgehammer. Now not only is be playing the big important minutes, but he's thriving under them. Both Anisimov and Stepan's play is proving that we have significant talent in the minors, which is something really nice to see as a fan.
Let's start with Girardi. When Glen Sather re-signed Girardi this past off-season, people were in an uproar. They thought that the price tag Girardi received was too high. I don't hear anyone complaining now. Girardi has been one of the better defenseman for the Rangers on both sides of the puck. His two goals and 14 assists for 16 points lead scoring by defenseman.
Staal, on the other hand, already has six goals (his career high is eight) and 13 points. He's shown the flashes of brilliance that Tortorella wanted to see out of him last year. Plus he's been the steady ever-reliable defenseman on the other side of the puck as well. What more can you ask out of him?
Which brings us to Sauer. When was the last time Sauer stuck out at the end of a game? Can't think of a game? Me neither. And that's the point. The kid's been invisible all year, which for a rookie defenseman, is a great thing. He goes out onto the ice, fights when he deems it necessary, leads the team in plus/minus with a +9 and then gets off the ice. Want to talk about doing all the little things right? Sauer does them, daily.
So there you have it. Thoughts? Comments? Things to throw at me? The floor is yours.