May 29, 2014; New York, NY, USA; The New York Rangers pose with the Prince of Whales Trophy after beating the Montreal Canadiens 1-0 in game six of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

2014-15 NHL season preview: New York Rangers

This 2014-15 NHL season preview features the New York Rangers.

What was Stanley Cup worthy in 2013-14?

Like the Stanley Cup Champion LA Kings, the New York Rangers’ defense was what propelled them to their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1994. Their 2.32 goals allowed per game was 4th best in the NHL, while they also finished with the 3rd best penalty kill (85.3%).

Leading the defense was 25 year-old Ryan McDonagh. He had an excellent season at both ends of the ice as he posted career-highs in goals (14), assists (29), points (43), shots (177) and ice-time (24:49). He also was absolutely dominant in the playoffs, where he led the Rangers with 17 points in 25 games while playing nearly 27 minutes per game.

Dan Girardi was once again his usual shot-blocking self, finishing 8th in the NHL with 174 blocks. He also led the Rangers with 191 hits.

New York also found some scoring from unlikely sources this season, starting with leading scorer Mats Zuccarello. After being very productive in Sweden and in the AHL, Zuccarello has had somewhat of an underwhelming career thus far in the NHL. He certainly rectified that this past season, pacing the Rangers with 59 points despite averaging just the 5th most minutes per game among Ranger forwards.

As has been the case since he entered the league, the Rangers’ backbone was their goaltender: Henrik Lundqvist. After a slow start to his season which had him sitting with a .908 save percentage at the Christmas break, Lundqvist was back to his old self in the second half. He posted his 5th consecutive season of .920 or better and his 8th career 30-win season, only missing the mark in the lockout shortened 2012-13 where he won 24.

What was draft lottery worthy in 2013-14?

Despite throwing the second most shots at opposing nets (33.2 per game), the Rangers managed just 2.61 goals, ranking 18th in the NHL. They also ranked 22nd in the NHL with a 48.8% faceoff winning percentage, the worst among all the playoff teams.

What certainly didn’t help the offense was how ineffective Michael Del Zotto was, especially considering he was arguably their best offensive talent on the blue line coming into the season. The 24 year-old managed just 11 points in 42 games before being traded to Nashville.

Rick Nash probably was the single biggest reason the Rangers’ offense didn’t produce as it could have however. Last season was the first time since his rookie season way back in 2002-03 that his point-per-game average dipped below 0.72, as he managed just 39 points in 65 games. What might be more concerning however was that it was the 3rd time in his last 4 seasons that his shooting percentage was below 11%, after going 7 straight years with 11% or more to start his career. For a player that shoots as often as he does (3.38 per game in his career), he needs to convert more often. He also went an absolutely ridiculous 14 playoff games before scoring his first of the post-season.

While he did play pretty well come playoff time, Martin St.Louis’ regular season with Rangers would have to be considered a bust. Before being dealt to New York, St.Louis was scoring at his usual pace with Tampa Bay, putting up 61 points in 62 games. With the Blueshirts, he managed just a single goal and 8 points in 19 games.

So what did they do to get better?

As with any team that has playoff success, the Rangers’ unrestricted free agents garnered tons of interest on July 1st, which created several holes for the team to fill.

After Benoit Pouliot signed a massive deal with the Oilers, the Rangers needed a winger to provide some scoring depth, and they hope that Lee Stempniak is the solution. He scored a respectable 34 points in 73 games with Calgary and Pittsburgh last season, but he’s also topped 40 points 3 times in his career. He’s not a big-time scorer, but he’s been very consistent throughout his career scoring between 0.46 and 0.68 points per game in every one of his seasons.

Tanner Glass will be expected to replace at least some of the physicality that Brian Boyle provided. Despite being much smaller than 6’7″ and 244 pounds, Glass outhit Boyle by nearly 100 as he led the Penguins with 247 hits in just 67 games. Considering that number, the fact that he only took 15 minor penalties also shows that he can be physical without hurting his team.

Player to watch

After scoring 17 goals and 39 points in 66 games in his first full NHL season, Chris Kreider made quite an impression in the playoffs. Despite playing in just 15 games due to injury, he finished 4th on the team with 13 points.

He’s got excellent size and speed and will get a bigger opportunity with the Rangers this season. Look for him to take another step towards becoming one of the NHL’s premier power forwards and come close to 30 goals. Health is a concern however.

…I just don’t think it’ll be as deep a run as last year.

They will make the playoffs if…

They can adequately replace Anton Stralman. As crazy as that sounds, the quality minutes Stralman provided took tons of pressure off McDonagh, Girardi and Marc Staal.

They will miss the playoffs if…

Henrik Lundqvist goes down with an injury. Backup Cam Talbot cannot be expected to post a .941 save percentage as a starter, can he?

What should we expect this season?

Would the Rangers have been in the Stanley Cup Final had Chris Kreider not taken out Carey Price in the Eastern Conference Final? While I think it’s a valid question, it’s not to say New York didn’t earn their spot.

The top 3 they have on defense rivals any in the NHL, and with the best goaltender in the world behind them I think the ingredients are there for them to be as good as they were last year defensively, if not better.

Offensively, you have to think that unless Nash rediscovers the scoring touch that made him a 7-time 30-goal scorer, they will once again struggle.

Overall, the Rangers lost some depth this off-season and had a short summer to boot. While the parts that remain should be enough to make another run, I just don’t think it’ll be as deep a run as last year.

Prediction

44-29-9 97 points, 3rd in the Metropolitan Division, 7th in the Eastern Conference

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Tags: 2014-15 NHL Season Previews New York Rangers NHL

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