Essentially at the midpoint of their 2014-15 campaign, the New York Rangers are the hottest team in the NHL. Their mid-season report card:
Hey, remember in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs when Rangers fans wanted Rick Nash run out of town? No? Well that's because No. 61 is authoring a season that has his name mentioned in Hart Trophy conversations. Prior to Tuesday night's match against the Islanders at the Garden, Nash had recorded 41 points [26 goals and 15 assists] in 39 games. While plus-minus is a flawed statistic, Nash does lead the Rangers with a plus-19 rating.
But it hasn't been solely The Rick Nash Show on Broadway. In a contract year, Martin St. Louis has tallied 32 points [14 goals and 18 assists] while playing in every game. Derick Brassard, Derek Stepan and Dominic Moore have given Alain Vigneault solid play in the three of the four center spots, which has allowed rookie third line center Kevin Hayes a gradual learning curve.
The state of an unquestioned strength in 2013-14 was hotly debated after the Glen Sather allowed Anton Stralman to leave for Tampa Bay. Replacing Boyle was future Hall-of-Famer Dan Boyle. After missing 14 games with a broken hand suffered in the season opener, Boyle's game has rounded into shape recently. Brought in to bolster the power play, Boyle has seven points [three goals and four assists] on one of the league's stronger man-up units.
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Among the revelations for the Rangers has been the play of Kevin Klein. Acquired last January from Nashville to stabilize the third defense pairing, Klein has set a career high in goals with eight, and is on pace to set a new career high in points.
The top pairing of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi play in all situations.
Since his first day wearing the diagonally lettered sweater, Henrik Lundqvist has been the Rangers foundation. Entering Tuesday night's game against the Islanders, Lundqvist had a 20-8-3 record in 31 games, with a 2.26 GAA, .918 save percentage and five shutouts.
Lundqvist's No. 2, Cam Talbot, has been more than capable when he fills in for The King. Talbot is 4-3-1 with a 2.14 GAA and .925 save percentage in nine games. And it was Talbot who started and won one of the Rangers' most impressive wins of the season, a 4-3 regulation win over the defending Stanley Cup Champion Kings on Jan. 8 at the Staples Center.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B+
For years, the words Rangers and potent power play had been the setup for a bad punchline. In 2014-15, those words are part of a factual statement. Entering Tuesday night's game, the Rangers man advantage units ranked ninth in the NHL with a 20.7 percent success rate. The penalty kill unit is tied for 11th in the league, but the Rangers' four shorthanded goals is tied for seventh most in the league.
Among Alain Vigneault's strengths are his patience and, upon learning that personnel combinations have created chemistry, staying with those lines and defense pairings.