By Brian Monzo
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29-20-3. This is the New York Rangers record heading into All-Star weekend. They currently sit 3rd in the Atlantic division behind the first place Philadelphia Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins. They are locked into 6th best in the Eastern Conference.
It has been an injury plagued first half to the season. Here is the list of injuries they have suffered:
-Vinny Prospal had offseason knee surgery, should be returning after the break
-Chris Drury broke his finger in training camp, and re-broke at the start of the season and missed 6 weeks.
-Marian Gaborik separated his shoulder and missed 2 weeks.
-Ryan Callahan broke his hand and has missed 6 weeks.
-Brandon Dubinsky discovered a hairlike fracture in his leg and has missed a week and will miss another 2-4.
-Derek Boogaard went down with a concussion and will likely miss the rest of the season.
-Erik Christensen tweaked his knee and has missed 4 weeks.
-Ruslan Fedotenko hurt his shoulder and will miss 3 more weeks.
-Alex Frolov tore up his knee and will miss the rest of the season.
-Dan Girardi hurt his ribs and ended his streak of 330 consecutive games.
This, along with the day-to-day injuries lead to the acquisition of Wojtek Wolski from the Phoenix Coyotes and call-ups of players like Mats Zuccarello, Chad Kolarik, Kris Newbury and Evgeny Grachev. It has also has given larger roles to players like Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust, as well as rookies Derek Stepan and Michael Sauer.
Overall, what we've seen is a unity of players who have conformed into a team that plays a hardworking game. They do not have the most talented team in the league, but their work ethic has given them the ability to comeback late in games and perform well in back-to-back contests. They've gotten contributions from everyone on the team and their goaltending has been superb all season. They've become a team that battles every game and has caught the eye of the league. Former NHL coach and current analyst Ken Hitchcock called this team the 'sleeper' team in the East.
Let's look at the grades:
Marian Gaborik - C+: It's not often you get a complaint about 31 points in 38 games. But 10 of his 16 goals have come in three games. For a team to be successful, your best players need to play like your best players, as coach Tortorella says, and Gaborik hasn't been that. I think a strong second half is very possible.
Brandon Dubinsky - B+: Their leading point man with 38 points in 47 games. Plays in all situations and is a fan favorite. Only scored 1 goal in his last 9 games, but on pace for career highs.
Ryan Callahan - A: He is the heartbeat of this team, and since he has been out, you've been able to tell. His return is like a trade acquisition.
Sean Avery - B: Say what you want about Avery, but he plays his heart out, doesn't complain about lack of minutes and makes things happen. His 20 points and a +3 on the season show his worth.
Wojtek Wolski- A: Only played a handful of games since he got here, but he hasn't looked lazy and has scored in the shootout.
Artem Anisimov - C+: He is fun, but frustrating to watch. He may or may not score 20 this season, but the talent is there and it needs to come out
Brian Boyle - A+: Coach said he was penciled off the team. He worked his way back on and leads the team with 18 goals. Plays in every situation and makes the team better.
Derek Stepan - B: 4th among NHL rookies in scoring with 30 points. It seems like he is an inch away from being able to score 30, he needs to find that finishing touch, which he will.
Ruslan Fedotenko - B: Tortorella said he was one of his 'main guys' before he went down. Not flashy, but makes stuff happen.
Brandon Prust - A: Plays with everything he has every night. Blocks shots, scores, fights and has become a key player on this team.
Mats Zuccarello - A: 4-4 in the shootout and acts like he is the best player on the ice when he is out there. Another promising rookie with 11 points in 17 games.
Erik Christensen - C: Very inconsistent before injury, but clutch in the shootout. You'd think he's better then 14 points in 37 games.
Alex Frolov - D+: Barely visible before injury. Talent is there, never showed.
Derek Boogaard - C: Scored a sweet goal with a slapshot and skated better than I thought, but not the tough guy that came with the signing.
Marc Staal - A: Leads the Rangers in ice-time and is +12 on the season. I always feel he is going to break out on the offensive side, but he may just be 7-10 goals with 15-20 assists every season. First time in the All-Star game, as well.
Dan Girardi - A: Mr. Consistent plays as both ends, blocks shots and helps shut down top players. No complaints here.
Steve Eminger - B-: Has surprised people with his play. Logs ice time and blocks shots but his -8 is an issue.
Michael Sauer - B+: I don't think anyone saw Sauer stepping up as a rookie to be as steady as he has been. Doesn't make too many mistakes. Won't light it up offensively but his +10 looks great.
Michael Del Zotto - C-: Too many bad plays and no confidence offensively led this sophomore to a demotion to the minors. Once his kinks are worked out, we will see him again. No timetable for his full-time return.
Matt Gilroy - B: Went from a bench warmer to a gamer. Took some time to adjust but plays in all situations and creates plays offensively.
Ryan McDonagh - A: The call-up when Del Zotto got demoted. McDonagh's name rarely gets mentioned on the ice, which means he isn't making mistakes. Very steady and can shutdown anyone.
Henrik Lundqvist - B+: Struggled at the start of the season but now has 21 wins, 7 shutouts and a goals against under 2.30. Named to the All-Star team, the King is ready for the playoff push.
Martin Biron - A: It took years to find a solid backup for Lundqvist, but Biron has been just that. The coaches and fans feel comfortable with him in any situation, and his 8-4 record and goals against of 2.21 is more than anyone could have asked for.
The Rangers are on pace for around 97 points, which is definitely playoff worthy. The only positive about the injuries is that they happened the first half of the season. When these guys start to return, they will all be like trades. Callahan, Girardi and Prospal will return next week, followed by Dubinsky and Fedotenko. We haven't seen this team at full strength. Who knows what is possible when that happens.
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