The New York Rangers have gotten off to a slow start this year, but the team has shown significant improvement over the past two games. Yes, I'm including the blown three-goal lead against the Ottawa Senators into the "improvement" category.
Here's the thing, like the cause of the Rangers' struggles, it's not just one player or one instance of good hockey, it's a wealth of them.
Let's start with Michael Del Zotto, since he seems to be the whipping boy for many Rangers' fans despite the fact that he's been playing good hockey since the start of this season. Simply put, the kid has his swag back. He's dangerous in the offense zone and his movement without the puck is allowing him to get into the dangerous parts of the ice where he can do damage. He's looking better than his rookie year, which is exactly the type of improvement the Rangers were looking for.
Del Zotto has a goal and three assists for four points in 10 games so far, but three of those points have come in the last four games; where Del Zotto has truly started growing his confidence.
Join me after the jump for more.
It's not just Del Zotto.
Speaking of defenseman, what can you say about Ryan McDonagh? The kid is a monster in the defensive zone, and is showing the offensive flair that Wisconsin saw when the Badgers had him play the point on their power play. Through 10 games this year McDonagh has three goals and two assists for five points. In 40 games last season he only had one goal and eight assists for nine points.
And just because McDonagh is lighting the lamp more doesn't mean his defense has suffered. McDonagh is still on the top defensive pairing, averaging 25 minutes a night and playing rock-solid defense. What more can you ask from him?
Remember that slow start Ryan Callahan got off to at the start of the season? Neither do I. The captain had two goals and an assist last night, including a quintessential "Ryan Callahan goal" in which he somehow (which a defenseman in front of him) got his stick on the puck (from the ground) to tap it into the net.
Callahan has five goals and an assist so far this year, including four goals and an assist the past four games. Maybe it just took Callahan some time to adjust to being captain, but he's back to playing his kind of hockey and the results are even better than expected.
Three other players that got off to slow starts this year? Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and Derek Stepan. Last night Dubinsky had two assists and both Anisimov and Stepan had goals, including Anisimov's jaw-dropping backhand into the top corner that literally popped the water bottle spilling gatorade all over the back of the net.
Secondary scoring has been a big issue for this team, and it's all slowly starting to come together for the Rangers. Dubinsky needs to find the back of the net to get out of his funk, although he has been playing better and better each game and had his best game of the year last night. But like Callahan, Dubinsky just needs a goal to get himself going.
Anisimov, who has played better than his numbers might allude, was visibly excited after his goal, and even admitted after the game he felt a lot of pressure lift off his shoulders once he finally lit the lamp. Hopefully both him and Stepan keep improving after notching their first goals of the year.
The secondary scoring has helped the Rangers' power play issues as well. The Rangers are 3-for-9 on the man advantage the past two games, and simply look dangerous when they are on the power play. Some of that is Brad Richards becoming more acclimated with his teammates, some of that is Del Zotto looking more dangerous on the point and most of it is just the improved play of the entire team.
The Rangers just played their best game of the year. Now it's time to top it.