Somehow, after a forgettable first half to the season, the New York Rangers clinched a spot in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. No fight for a wild card spot, no signs of pressure, no wild miracles necessary; just a spot in the playoffs sealed with a couple of games left in the season.
Now the real fight is to get home-ice advantage against their probable opponent, the Philadelphia Flyers. But before we look to the future, let’s look into the past:
How did the Rangers get here?
Let’s start with the Derick Brassard, Derek Dorsett and John Moore trade.
No matter how it’s spun, the trade for forward Rick Nash is one of the best in recent memory, if not the best (the Scott Gomez for Ryan McDonagh trade is my personal choice for the best one.) However, even though the trade is what provided the Rangers with their best forward, they lost a valuable part to prior success.
In that trade, the Rangers lost Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and, though he departed beforehand, essentially released Brandon Prust once their plans for getting Nash were made clear. Those three players were most likely not going to be consistent 20 goal-per-season forwards, but they were adding points on the third lines where it counted. There was also a grittiness to all three; I’m not even sure whether or not the Rangers have truly found someone who has lived up to Prust’s capabilities.
So when this issue of toughness and point production needed to be addressed, the Rangers got Brassard for point, and Dorsett and Moore for grit. After that, the Rangers signed Benoit Pouliot and brought back Mats Zuccarello.
Together, as the Rangers’ third line, they have a total of 137 points. There are only two games before the playoffs, but Zuccarello only needs one more goal to have a 20-goal season.
To be fair, this is also due in part (possibly all) to a lucky coach swap that saw the Rangers as the party that benefited the most. John Tortorella has proven himself time and again to be a great coach capable of winning a cup, but the situation in Vancouver is bleak right now.
Alain Vigneault has been able to come in and addressed all of the major problems Tortorella and his coaching team weren’t able to fix. Vigneault has been able to get point production from all of his lines this season, regardless of who was where at what time during any given game.
Also, the power play is ranked in the top half of the entire league. Think about that.
While production from the bottom lines has been a key factor in the Rangers becoming a better team, it’s also important to mention that correct player placement is probably the most important piece of the puzzle that is success.
After a long battle over contract fees, Derek Stepan has come into his own as the Rangers’ top center. He probably won’t break 20 goals for the season, but his game has certainly picked up, and a major reason for that is the addition of Martin St. Louis.
People can say what they want about St. Louis coming in and not producing goals whereas Callahan has netted at least a couple with the Lighting, but that’s a narrow-minded focus on one part of the game. St. Louis isn’t going to block shots and get garbage goals, but he is making the Rangers’ game more fluent and more attractive. In the same vein as Pittsburgh Penguin Sidney Crosby, St. Louis is able to improve the players around him. He ups the tempo of the game and makes the Rangers’ passing more formidable. Before his arrival, it was very easy to break up the team’s passes and for opponent’s to gain momentum starting in the neutral zone. That’s not happening as much now that St. Louis is here.
It’s an exciting and only semi-stressful time to watch the team. The playoffs are just shy of being here, and now it’s just a waiting game of finalizing the match-ups.