New York Rangers: Why They're Closer to the Cup Than You'd Think

Rob WatersCorrespondent IFebruary 8, 2012

The New York Rangers have 71 points in 51 games played, and currently are first in the eastern conference.
The New York Rangers have 71 points in 51 games played, and currently are first in the eastern conference.Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

For those of you who have been following my recent work, you'll know that I have been vocal about the New York Rangers chances for a Stanley Cup championship this season.

After a disappointing loss on Feb. 7 to the New Jersey Devils, it might seem strange to talk about how the Rangers can win the Stanley Cup this year.

But to be blunt, some nights teams have it together, and other nights they don't.

The Rangers have predominantly been an offensive threat to every division of the NHL this season, and are leading the Eastern Conference with 71 points in 51 games played.

While the Rangers are currently struggling to consistently score (they are 15th in the NHL for goals scored), they have been the toughest team to score on, with only 99 goals against—the lowest in the NHL. They are fifth in the NHL with a 87.1 penalty kill percentage.

Goals scored are obviously how games are won in the NHL, but a shutdown defensive lineup is how leads are preserved and wins are earned.

While the Rangers power play efforts have been nothing short of atrocious this season, their penalty kill has been outstanding. The Rangers have only given up 22 power play goals against—fourth in the NHL—and only one goal more than the leader, the Montreal Canadiens.

With the expert leadership of head coach John Tortorella, the Rangers are poised to make a deep postseason run. Tortorella led the Tampa Bay Lightning to a Stanley Cup victory in 2004.

It's apparent with the Feb. 27 trade deadline quickly approaching, the Rangers are making bold moves to secure an offensive (and possibly a defensive) player that can help light up the lamp.

Henrik Lundqvist has been nominated for the Vezina Trophy three times (2006, 2007, 2008).
Henrik Lundqvist has been nominated for the Vezina Trophy three times (2006, 2007, 2008).Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Forward Erik Christensen was traded Feb. 3 to the Minnesota Wild, and Wojtek Wolski and Jeff Woywitka were sent down to the Hartford Whale for conditioning stints.

While the conditioning stints are temporary, it gives the Rangers over $5 million in cap space availability before the trade deadline. Wolski and Woywitka need ice time, but I feel this is more of a way for general manager Glen Sather to showcase his tradeable assets.

There is little margin for error in a Stanley Cup run, and the Rangers have the outstanding goaltending duo of Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Biron. Combined, the two goaltenders have eight shutouts, second in the NHL. Lundqvist has been exceptional this season, and is a serious contender for the Vezina trophy. 

Perhaps the secret to Lundqvist's stellar performance this season is his diet: He's playing 12-13 pounds lighter than his listed weight of 195. His secret? Changing his diet and exercise regimen over this past summer. 

Lundqvist also attributes his maturation of a player to his success.

"I think I'm getting a better understanding of the game and reading plays and players," Lundqvist said.

For all of the faults we can find in the Rangers season this year (power play, consistent scoring, injuries), the list of what they are doing right far outweighs the negatives. The Rangers are a winning team, and the majority of the time win decisively.

They just need to approach the rest of this season one game at a time, something Tortorella has preached all along.

If the Rangers can find a way to score more consistently—and key players wake up from offensive slumps (I'm looking at you, Brad Richards)—there's a bright light at the end of the tunnel for this season: the glimmer of the Stanley Cup being hoisted by the New York Rangers in Madison Square Garden.