Skating to the Finish Line

The Rangers have been having a great season so far, but there’s still a long way to go before anyone can say just how good of a team they really are.

That isn’t to say they aren’t one of the best teams in the NHL this season. They’re just as tough as any other team, they have the best goalie this season in Henrik Lundqvist and they’re a team that really cares about how well they play. It was almost scary to hear there are players on the team who don’t sleep the night after they’ve lost a game because they’re so upset with themselves.  But we all know their schedule from here on out is brutal, maybe one of the hardest faced post-lockout.

Let’s look at this week. They lost to the Devils yesterday, they’ll go up against Tampa on Thursday, Philadelphia on Saturday and finally Washington on Sunday. That is not easy, not even for the team who currently sits on the first place chair of the Eastern Conference. Their easiest game doesn’t come for another couple of weeks when they see Columbus.

However, let’s not forget the Rangers always rise to the competition. This season, the Blueshirts seem to start the first two minutes of every game a bit shaky, but all they need is for Lundqvist to make some key saves and they’re ready to go. Not starting the first few minutes off great hasn’t been much of a problem, but that will have to change now that they’re in the latter half with a demanding schedule. The first two minutes of a hockey game can be so critical, and changing momentum during a game will be more difficult as time goes on.

While the schedule is a huge challenge, Martin Biron will still have to play the X amount of games Tortorella wants him to play. Biron’s an exceptional No. 2 goalie who is having a really good season. He’s easily capable of playing against teams like Washington and coming out on top. Tortorella knows this too. Biron’s played a total of 13 games so far and a golden number would be to have him play a little over 20 games, probably in the 22-24 range. The Rangers may easily have a playoff spot, but the most important thing for them this season is to get them as far into the playoffs as possible, which means no matter how good he is, Lundqvist is going to need all the rest he can get.

More important for the Rangers to  focus on if they want to stay in the top tier of Eastern Conference teams is that Godforsaken, horrible, awful power play. They’re 27 in the league in power play goals; I don’t know why they aren’t 30.

It’s sad to watch them during those two minutes of having a one-man advantage. It isn’t an issue of not having good enough offensive players to score goals, they’re just nowhere near selfish enough to do so. All they do is pass the puck and take too much time to look fancy, and as a result they can’t get a good shot on goal. The opposing team doesn’t even need to cover the point-player because they know they’re never going to take a shot, let alone a good enough one.

Michael Del Zotto stepped up to the plate this season as a player, but he needs to start doing what the Ranger scouts wanted him to do when he was drafted in 2008.  He’s a power play guy who can pose a threat at the point. He can make some dumb mistakes, but he showed in his first season that he knows how to run a power play. If they work with him and make him confident, he will be a difference maker on the power play. If they could also drill it into Gaborik and Richards’ heads to shoot, this power play shouldn’t be so problematic.

There’s a lot of work the Rangers need to do in the next couple of months. It’s a hard schedule that will produce some really grueling contests, but the Rangers will have to keep up the play they’ve maintained this season to assure them a nice, long run during the post season.