Rangers Analysis: Key Players Returning to Form

The current four-game winning streak has seen many of the Rangers top players return to form and begin to play top-notch hockey once again. It is pretty evident that this team does not succeed if the players that are relied on the most do not perform to the best of their ability and get the job done on a consistent basis. That very problem played a big part in the struggles of November and early December, but ever since Coach John Tortorella started enforcing the "no entitlement" policy, it seems like everyone has upped the ante, even if it is only a little bit. That makes the difference between winning and losing in a sport that is so tightly played, and we are seeing that with our Rangers as we speak.

Henrik Lundqvist, undoubtedly the most important player on this club, was one of those individuals not playing like himself in November. The Swedish star was getting criticized for allowing soft goals and not coming up with the big saves when they were needed, something that was pointed out by Tortorella. However, starting with the 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres in Buffalo a few weeks back, Henrik Lundqvist has been Henrik Lundqvist, and that consists of amazing saves and standing on his head night in and night out.

Heading into the season, critics were saying that Henrik cannot be the story every night for this team. Well guess what? When he isn’t the story, the team loses, so I think that mentality needs to be rethought. Lundqvist has not had much offensive support, but still manages to hold a 2.41 goals against average and a .923 save percentage. That puts him at eighth in the league in save percentage, a remarkable stat for a goalie on a team that has not been too hot this season. If Henrik is playing well, this does not win. That is the bottom-line and as much as people continue to say Hank cannot be the story every night, he will always be the story if this club is winning.

For example, in the four game winning streak, Lundqvist has faced 141 shots, making saves on 136 of them. That is a .965 save percentage through four games, not something just any goalie can do in this league no matter what team they play on. The Rangers are in the middle of a fight for a playoff spot, but they have a tremendous edge over other teams if they have goaltending like this.

Marc Staal has turned things around on defense, after playing the worst hockey of his career to begin the season. Let’s get something straight about Marc Staal. He is not a flashy defenseman, and not one that is known for his offensive capabilities, but rather a solid blueliner in his own end and in front of his goaltender--Sort of like a Chris Chelios. That being said, I truly believe the thought of having to produce and score goals like Tortorella requested got him off his game, but ever since readjusting his focus, he is looking like the stellar defenseman that is used in crucial situations and put out there against inferior opponents.

Then there is Captain Chris Drury. Drury had a below-par season last year, and started this season off the same way with only two points in the first eighteen games. Within the four game winning streak, Chris has registered three goals and an assist, combining for four points. If the Captain can continue to produce at a pace like this, it will boost the confidence of the entire team. I have always been a Drury supporter and do not feel it is his fault he was handed a $7 million contract. The guy has heart and wants nothing more than for this team to win. I really hope he can continue to play like this and produce on a consistent basis.

Alternate Captain Ryan Callahan, who I spoke about yesterday, is yet another player who has turned things around. Expectations were set high for Cally with him coming off of a career year last season. At first, he was not even close to meeting those expectations, but now has six points in his last ten games, four in his last four. This puts the Rochester native on pace for yet another 20-goal season, but I feel he could hit the 25-30 range if he can continue to score goals like he has the past two or three weeks.

In the end, this all adds up and equals to a winning team. The Rangers are not going to win off of Marian Gaborik goals; they need support from all areas and all lines, not just one. There are still several things wrong with this club, and there are gaps that need to be filled as well as problems that need to be fixed, but for now, the Blueshirts are finally looking like a team, and most importantly, one that is winning games. On that note, enjoy your Christmas Eve everyone!