Goaltending There may be some goalies who are better than Lundqvist in a given year, but when it comes to sustained excellence, there is none better. He has notched at least 30 wins during every full season he has spent in the league and registered an impressive 24 in the truncated 2012-13 campaign. Although he wasn’t impenetrable during last year’s playoffs, Lundqvist still posted a strong 2.14 goals-against average and won 13 games. Lundqvist is technically sound and makes it tough for opposing teams, because he rarely gives up soft goals. That’s a difficult situation for rivals, because they can’t count on too many off nights from him. Backup Cam Talbot is pretty good himself. He had a penurious 1.64 GAA last year and pitched three shutouts in just 19 games started. His save percentage of .941 was outstanding. Talbot gives the Rangers quite a sense of comfort when Lundqvist gets some rest. Power Play After registering the seventh-worst power play success rate in 2012-13, the Rangers took a big step forward, converting 18.2 percent of their tries. A big reason was that head coach Alain Vigneault devoted an assistant to the special teams unit, and that helped New York build chemistry and success. Of course, there will have to be some shifting this year. Brad Richards, one of the top forces of the group last year, is gone, as is Benoit Pouliot, who scored seven times when the Rangers were a man up last year. But adding Dan Boyle is huge. He scored six of his 12 goals on the power play last year in San Jose and has a big shot and the cool confidence to run the power play from the blue line. Stepan is a strong pivot on the man advantage, and Brassard showed himself to be valuable last year in terms of goals scored (seven) and his steady passing, which allowed the Rangers to move the puck better than Ryan McDonagh Jared Silber/NHL/Getty Images they have in the past. Kreider had six power play goals last year and should get a chance to do more damage, with Richards and Pouliot gone. Penalty Kill Even though New York lost solid penalty-killing center Brian Boyle, the unit should still be strong, in part because of its commitment to do being aggressive when a man down. Too many times in 2012-13, New York sat back and allowed rivals to control the action. That didn’t happen last year, and the team improved by more than four percent. One of the keys to the group is center Dominic Moore, who doesn’t score a lot, but who does play solid defense and can help prevent opponents from getting comfortable on the power play. Expect the Rangers to be solid in this area again in 2014-15, because even without Boyle, they will continue to push rivals when a man down, something that creates discomfort and torpedoes power play success. Three Questions 1.Can the Rangers offense thrive? New York lost some key producers from last year in Richards and Pouliot, and it’s up to Nash and the relatively anonymous members of the offense to carry on. It should be enough to keep New York in contention within the Metropolitan Division, but another deep playoff run could be out. 2. Will the defense continue to be stingy? The Rangers have a built-in advantage in this area in Lundqvist, but the lineup in front of him has to be stout, because not even the world’s best goalie can be perfect. Adding Boyle helps the power play, but he has to be steady on the second line of defense, too. 3. Is there magic left? Last year’s run to the Cup finals was accomplished by a team playing well together, a strong goaltender and plenty of hard work. But the Rangers aren’t one of the league’s top teams in terms of pure talent, so asking everything to come together so beautifully again may be too much. Prediction The Rangers will be one of the Metropolitan’s best, and it’s entirely possible they will reach the semis of the Eastern Conference. But anything more than that could be asking too much. New York sustained some losses that will hurt, and though it did make a couple solid additions, it appears that replicating last year’s success will be too difficult.
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