New York Rangers climbing the ranks to elite

By Alexander Monaghan
President 

Last night, the New York Rangers proved they can stand up to the so-called elite. Their 4-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins was broadcast on Versus for the entire country to see, putting the team in the spotlight for perhaps the first time since the mid-90s. While Versus, and NHL on NBC for that matter, have pushed the big-market Rangers on hockey viewers for years, this instances is one of the few where the team deserved the honor. Then again, last night was Sidney Crosby‘s fifth game of the season and any game he plays in remains the game to watch; somehow they chose an ISO cam on him over the coaching debuts of Dale Hunter and Kirk Muller.

Anyways, the win had it all. It had penalty kills, power plays, late surges, fights, Matt Cooke AND Sean Avery not to mention a few controversial goals. The end result was the Rangers coming away with a regulation win over a team that only sits three points above them with four games in hand. At the quarter point of the season, the Blueshirts have only 21 games in the books, tying the San Jose Sharks with the lowest games played in the League.

Following the victory, alternate captain Brad Richards stopped short of calling the team elite. See the video for yourself, courtesy of BlueShirts United.

Henrik Lundqvist‘s comments were more of the same. Yes, they acknowledge their current success but at the same time they know they still have another 61 games to play at this level in order to make the playoffs. That mentality is exactly what turned this team from an up-and-coming team to a playoff team last season and what will propel them into a true contender.

Let’s fast forward for a second. We just called the Rangers a team — a term you would not describe them during the pre-lockout era and you would cringe to say during the Jagr/Renney years. GM Glen Sather failed to create a ‘team’ which had players in their roles and featured a good mix of young and old. Nowadays, the team under fiery coach John Tortorella, has earned that distinction through and through.

Their captain Ryan Callahan is homegrown, as is the impressive young back-end of Dan Girardi, Michael Sauer, Michael Del Zotto and Marc Staal. Ryan McDonagh never played a game with another organization despite being a first rounder of the Montreal Canadiens. Offensive weapons Derek Stepan, Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and rookie Carl Hagelin all were drafted and groomed in the system as well. Needless to say, the team also stole Lundqvist as the 205th overall pick in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft.

These homegrown skaters coupled with elite talent like Richards and Marian Gaborik have created a strong, winning environment on Broadway — one that has not existed since Mark Messier came from Edmonton.

Statistically, this team has been among the elite as well. Their goal plus-14 goal differential is higher than only the Pens, Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings. Does that rank among the elite? Yes it doesn and it’s no mirage as they finished last year with an equally impressive plus-35 rating. In addition, they rank first in goals allowed with 44, leading those same Bruins by two tallies. And while their offense may be on the lower end of the pack, they’ve scored three-or-more goals in seven of 11 November contests.

Experts like Rob Vollman of Puck Prospectus labeled the Rangers as lucky due to a smattering of metrics. They claim Lundqvist’s save percentage is unsustainable and the team’s lack of offense will come back to hurt them. While that was true on November 15th, their corsi percentage — a ratio which measures the shot differentials — was 44.8 percent at the time and a better 46.9 percent over the past month. We understand there is still a need for improvement but it certainly is not 27th in the League anymore. A continuation of their added pressure will make the advanced stats align to their current play.

This team, as currently compiled passes the eye test. They’ve defeated tougher foes like the Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals in each their last three games. You can also add the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks to their resume. They have the star power and mix of grit, skill and make-up to be the next big team in this League. All they need now is some recognition.