With the New York Rangers 2011 season kicking off tonight, I want to highlight the top-10 things to watch for this season. Please note that these are not in any particular order.
Enjoy, and give us your keys to the season in the comments!
1) Avoiding The Injury Bug: The Rangers have already been bitten, and they haven't even played a minute of the regular season yet. With Marc Staal out for an undetermined amount of time, the Rangers truly can't afford any more injuries on the defensive side of the puck. While the team has significant depth up front (including players in Connecticut) the team will want to avoid injuries there as well, especially with the defense being as young as it is. Not that this key is different from any other team in the NHL, but the Rangers already have a major injury, they don't need another.
2) Marty Being Marty: Martin Biron is expected to play a major role this season, which was the same expectations we had last year. Biron played in 17 games last year, starting in 15 of them. He's expected to see anywhere from 15-20 starts this year to keep Henrik Lundqvist fresh throughout the season and hopefully for a deep playoff run. Last year Biron had a 2.13 GAA and a .923 save percentage, having that type of a year again would do wonders for the Rangers.
Join me after the jump for the rest!
3) The Kids Are Alright: Although Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh, Mike Sauer, Michael Del Zotto, Mats Zuccarello and Artem Anisimov aren't exactly rookies, they're still young players on this team who are expected to have a big impact. Anisimov should be expected to highlight the group, since he's the most veteran of the six, but Stepan, Del Zotto and McDonagh are looking to make jumps as well. The Rangers are going to be leaning heavily on youth this year, and we'll get a good look at some of their true colors in the trenches this season.
4) The Wolski Effect: Wojtek Wolski has a prominent role, even if he isn't slated to be on Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik's line opening night. If Wolski, who is presumably off the top line due to lingering groin soreness, can play his way onto the first line for the season, the Rangers would have three balanced lines that can score goals. If Wolski repeats his performance last year, then Brandon Dubinsky might be a permanent replacement for him on the top line, throwing the other lines chemistry out of whack.
5) From Gabs To Riches?: See what I did there? Anyway, Gaborik is coming off one of the worst seasons of his career, and is looking to bounce back. Many attribute his poor outing last year to the lack of a No. 1 center. Well that problem is fixed now. Richards, one of the elite playmaking centers in the world, and Gaborik need to find chemistry and click this year. While both Gaborik and Richards can be lethal players on their own, together they should be relatively unstoppable ... so long as John Tortorella doesn't go power-vs-power with them.
6) En-Richards The Power Play: See what I did there again? I'm on a roll. Last year the Rangers' power play was inconsistent at best. Some games it was deadly, some games it actually hurt the Rangers. If the Rangers believe they are an elite team this year, and you would hope they do feel that way, then the power play has to be solid. Richards has played the point on the power play thus far in preseason and has done well. His vision has found open players, and his shots from the point are a welcomed sight. Del Zotto should help here as well, but overall, the Rangers need to find a unit that makes other teams wary of taking penalties.
7) All Hail The King: Lundqvist was his normal rock-solid self last year. The Rangers need the effort from him again this season. Not that Lundqvist isn't capable of it, of course he is, but the defense in front of him figured to be very young and inexperienced until Staal returns, and then even when he gets into the lineup. Lundqvist is going to have to be sharp almost every game, since mistakes on the back end should be expected. So in other news, today is Friday.
8) Stay The Course: The New York Rangers have an identity this year. They're a team that will outwork you, grind in the corners and hustle all over the ice. The team has significant talent all over the roster, and has every role filled out. They have their scorers, their grinders, their fighters, their steady veterans and their elite players. Now they need to bundle it all together for an entire season.
9) Don't Be Afraid To Use The Kids: Injuries happen, that's a part of hockey, and when injuries do strike, replacements are needed. The Rangers pipelines are full of gold, and the team should have no hesitation in utilizing some of their bigger prospects every now and again with the big club. Guys like Ryan Bourque, Carl Hagelin and Tim Erixon should all get looks at some point this year. Plus, it will give the brass a better idea where the players stand.
10) Have Fun: This should be an awesome year for everyone. The Rangers have finally put all the pieces in place to win now, have addressed many team issues and should contend for the division. The players just need to stay lose, have a good time, but also do their jobs. A team that's having fun has better chemistry on the ice, an chemistry is important for success.
I'm ready for hockey, are you?