Thursday night, the New York Rangers played their tenth game of the 2009-10 season, which means it's time for a team status report from On Goal Analysis:
After the first furlong, the Rangers are 7-3-0 (14 pts), 2nd in the Atlantic Division (2 pts behind Pittsburgh) and 4th overall in the Eastern Conference. At Game Ten last season, OGA called the Blueshirts CHASING STANLEY- IN the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This season, however, back-to-back home losses to San Jose and New Jersey have given us pause, so we'll call the Rangers SHARPENING SKATES at Game Ten. What does this mean? Well, you could read The Tao of OGA for an explanation, or you could simply finish reading this sentence, which says that it means the Rangers are playing above the Playoff Qualifying Curve (PQC), but just below the level required for us to call (with almost 90% accuracy) them IN the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Rangers goal-scoring woes of last season appear to be history, as they're currently potting an average of 3.70 per game (3rd in the NHL). At the other end of the ice, they're only allowing 2.60 per game (5th).
New York's Power Play, which last year was a pitiful 13.9% (29th in the NHL), is currently firing on all cylinders at 27.3% (T - 6th). The Penalty Kill (86.0%, 5th), meanwhile, hasn't dropped off like it was expected to following the offseason departures of Blair Betts and Fredrik Sjostrom.
On an individual level, the Blueshirts have many pluses: Marian Gaborik (10GP, 7-6-13, +5) has been everything Glen Sather could've hoped for, and more (he hasn't missed a game...yet)...Ales Kotalik (10GP, 4-6-10, -3), who's never scored more than 25 goals in a season, is on pace to top 30...Vinny Prospal (10GP, 3-9-12, +5), reunited with coach John Tortorella and playing on Gaborik's line, has found new life in New York. Think he expected this? His player profile photo says it all...Rookie blueliner Michael Del Zotto (10GP, 4-5-9, +1) is just 19 years old, is quarterbacking the Rangers' Power Play, and is improving with every game...The list of "plus" players could go on, but you get the idea: The Rangers, both as a team and as individuals, are playing quite well right now. Before moving on to the minus section, however, I feel compelled to include Wade Redden (10GP, 1-3-4, +3) on this list. Last season, I bagged on him mercilessly, and he earned it. So far in 09-10, however, Redden has been a pleasant surprise. While he will never play at a level high enough to justify his monster contract, Redden has been solid - even dependable - in the early going, and Rangers fans should be pleased.
At this point, the only team stat worthy of genuine concern is Faceoff Percentage (48.4%, 23rd in the NHL). The Rangers must improve on the draw, both to generate more scoring chances in the offensive zone and to reduce the number of scoring chances allowed in their zone. Because they're scoring goals in bunches, the fact that the Blueshirts are only taking 29.6 shots per game (18th) isn't particularly alarming. It could indicate, however, a need to work on puck possession and sustained pressure in the offensive zone, as they seem to score quite a few goals off the rush.
As for individuals, Chris Higgins (10GP, 0-2-2, Even) is still searching for his first goal as a Ranger, and now finds himself on the 3rd line...Ryan Callahan (10GP, 2-3-5, +2) is doing the little things well, but so far isn't putting as many biscuits in baskets as hoped. To be fair, the Fickle Finger of Fate has been a factor, as in Callahan's broken-up breakaway against the Devils (a great diving poke-check by Oduya)...Michal Rozsival (10GP, 0-3-3, +1) earns a minus for spending the first several games looking like he didn't even want to be on the ice. In Game Ten, however, Rozy looked like a different player. Hopefully, this is a sign of things to come.
THE NEXT TEN GAMES:
On the road again...New York plays seven of their next ten games on the road, including a three-game swing through Western Canada. Fortunately, the Rangers will have four days off after playing at Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary, as their next (home) opponent will be the speedy and surprising Atlanta Thrashers. Another bit of good fortune: there are no back-to-backs in this furlong. Other road games are at Montreal, the Islanders, Minnesota and Ottawa. In addition to Atlanta, the Rangers host Phoenix and Boston.
Look for the Blueshirts toughest road tests to come in Edmonton and Calgary. Back at MSG, however, don't expect any of the three games to be easy. This will be a challenging furlong for the Rangers, but from where they stand right now, it won't take much to push them over the top and force OGA to call them CHASING STANLEY at Game 20.
Take me back to On Goal Analysis.