By Brian Monzo
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October is here and it's time for a preview of the 2012-13 New York Rangers! 82 grueling games are coming up.
It's January, and after a lockout that extended over 100 days, there will be a 48-game season.
The Rangers are coming off an Eastern Conference Finals appearance, and were only a handful of goals away from moving on to the Stanley Cup Final. The problem was, of course, a lack of goal scoring. The Rangers made a note to try to fix that issue.
Rick Nash. And they didn't even have to trade Derek Stepan for him, though trading Stepan for him still would have been a steal!
The lockout was a disaster. Everyone knows it, and we blogged and tweeted about it. But now we move forward and start talking about actual hockey. I don't know about you, but I am fired up. Now it's time to look at the Rangers and how they stack up this season.
We start with the forwards. The top four centers are Brad Richards, Stepan, Brian Boyle and Jeff Halpern. Halpern, playing in his 13th season, was signed on July 10t to shuffle between the third and fourth line and help primarily in the face-off circle.
Boyle is coming off two solid seasons as a defensive forward, and he can provide decent secondary scoring. He is fearless when it comes to blocking shots, something that is very important to head coach John Tortorella. Boyle was having a very good playoff but got banged up and never returned as the same player.
Offensively, Richards and Stepan will be relied on to provide the scoring down the middle. Richards is in the second year of his long-term contract that he signed last summer, and Stepan is entering his third season in the league.
Richards is the key to the Rangers' success in scoring goals. He will likely be centering the top line with Nash and sophomore forward Carl Hagelin. Richards won't score all the goals, but he will be vital in face-off success and setting up Nash is scoring the goals he was brought in to score. Hagelin is a speedy winger who can get to all the loose pucks. He hasn't showed yet that he is a premier scorer, but his ability to move around on the ice is vital.
Nash was brought in for a package of good players. The Rangers sent Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon and a first-round pick in exchange for the goal-scoring power forward. Every year the Rangers seem to be just short in the goal-scoring department in the playoffs, and the hope is that he will be able to put them over the top. He has scored 289 career goals and is still only 28. The Rangers gave up some vital parts of their organization to bring Nash in, and he will be relied heavily to bury the puck.
Stepan will center the second line, which will likely feature 40-plus goal scorer Marian Gaborik and the team captain, Ryan Callahan.
Stepan has continued to get better each season and will need to step up to create a goal-scoring line. His points total has increased both seasons, and while the shortened season will effect that, Stepan will be looked upon to feed the puck to Gaborik as much as possible.
Gaborik, when healthy, has done everything he has been asked to since signing with the Rangers. He has scored 40-plus goals two out of three seasons, and only injury has forced him to play at a low level. The only good thing to come out of the lockout was the fact that it allowed Gaborik to heal from offseason shoulder surgery and start the shortened season on time.
Callahan is the leader of the team, and when he goes the team goes. He scored 29 goals last season and brings a level of energy and passion to the team unlike anyone else. He will be expected again to do a little of everything, and no one doubts that he will.
Boyle will center the third line with rookie Chris Kreider on his wing. along with veteran forward Taylor Pyatt.
Kreider emerged in the playoffs as one the Rangers' biggest weapons, scoring five goals in 18 playoff games. His combination of speed, size and power allows him to do things that no one else can. Boyle will be looking to get Kreider the puck as much as possible. Pyatt, coming from the Coyotes via free agency, can play well on both ends of the ice. I think his offensive numbers will be a tad higher than people expect. Pyatt has scored 20 goals before and can easily drop 12 goals in the 48-game season.
Halpern will center the fourth line with Mike Rupp and Arron Asham. Forward Brandon Segal could see some time in and out of the lineup as well. The fourth line will provide grit, energy and minimal offense. Halpern will be plugged in to kill penalties and win key face-offs. Rupp and Asham will be the enforcers when the opportunity is necessary. Segal is a gritty forward who, when given the chance, could score some goals.
The defense will pretty much look the same.
The big three of Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal will be the top three minute eaters.
When Staal was unable to start last season because of a concussion, the team relied on McDonagh and Girardi as the top defensive pairing, and they soared. Girardi was elected to the All-Star Game and McDonagh turned himself into a near-elite defenseman.
They will continue to be the top pairing.
Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that Michael Sauer is coming back from his concussion, so I'd expect Anton Stralman to be plugged in as the fourth defenseman paired with Staal. Stralman has a nose for the offensive end of the ice while Staal can play both ends.
Michael Del Zotto was signed for two more years and will be on the third pairing, likely with Stu Bickel. Del Zotto will play on the power play as well. He was the Rangers' top scoring defenseman, and will likely be again. Bickel is still a work in progress but can play in his own zone and drop the gloves when needed.
They also brought back Matt Gilroy to fill in as the sixth/seventh defenseman, giving the team some necessary depth. Gilroy's game is mostly offense, but his work the last two years has gotten his defense where it needs to be to play in the NHL. Steve Eminger was brought back and will also will be used in that role. It goes without saying, but a successful team can not have enough defense.
I am not so sure how much I should say about the goaltending.
Vezina Trophy-winning goalie Henrik Lundqvist will continue to do his thing, and will probably win a handful of games by standing on his head. We all know what to expect from Hank. He will play a good portion of the games, and will be one of the biggest reasons why the Rangers are where they are when the season ends. He has won 30-plus games in each of his seven seasons in the league, and while that streak is likely going to end in a 48-game season, I would expect him to be a finalist again for the Vezina Trophy.
Marty Biron is as good of a backup as there is in the NHL. He will have to play 8-10 games this season and I would expect him to play as well as he has since the Rangers signed him.
Tortorella and Mike Sullivan are likely as anxious as anyone to get going, and with expectations high for this team, I would expect them to be ready to go.
It's hockey season, folks.
Let's drop the puck!
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