by Patrick Hoffman on 01/17/11 at 04:26 PM ET
Nicholas was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to give us his thoughts on the Blueshirts at the halfway point of the season.
PH: At the half-way point of the NHL season, what are some of your general thoughts on the New York Rangers?
NM: I think the New York Rangers have taken many by surprise so far this season. They’ve established an identity as a hard-working hockey club that will bring a consistent effort on most nights. They are not skilled like the Penguins or Capitals, but they have coped with that by feeding off of energy and effort. The Rangers are finally fun to watch because they can skate with every team in the league. They’ve been in playoff position for majority of the year, so I would look out for this team come April.
PH: In your opinion, who have been the best players for the Blueshirts this season? Why?
NM: Well you certainly have to start with goaltender Henrik Lundqvist here. Without him this team goes nowhere, and that is the case pretty much every season. He’s had better defensive support this season, therefore he has put up better numbers.
Brandon Dubinsky is having a breakout season, almost at the 20 goal mark already. With Gaborik slumping and constant injuries throughout the lineup, Dubi has carried the team’s offense on his back.
Brian Boyle cannot be overlooked, either. He’s been clutch for the Rangers centering the third line and has given them some offense that they were not expecting. His efforts on the penalty-kill and in the defensive zone in general have been spectacular. Speaking of defense, Marc Staal and Dan Girardi now form one of the better shutdown pairings in the National Hockey League. With Rozsival and Redden no longer on the team, they are the leaders of the Blueshirt blue-line.
PH: In your opinion, which players have been disappointments for the Blueshirts this season? Why?
NM: Marian Gaborik has obviously been the biggest disappointment for the Rangers this season. After scoring 40+ goals last season, he was expected to have a major impact offensively once again this year. Well, that has not been the case by any means. He’s been in a slump all season, and whether or not he may be playing through an injury, the production needs to be better.
Michael Del Zotto was a big disappointment on defense, which is why he is currently playing in Connecticut (AHL). He had a wonderful rookie season last year, but the sophomore curse got the best of him this season. I’m sure he will bounce back just fine, but to this point he’s been a liability on defense.
PH: What do you think about the play of youngsters Zuccarello and Sauer? How do you think they have contributed to the team this season?
NM: Introducing youth to the lineup was a major goal of John Tortorella’s this season, and so far they’ve done a pretty good job of doing just that.
Since being recalled in late December, Mats Zuccarello has made his mark on the Rangers. His great speed and flashy hands have added skill to the lineup and he has impressed the coaching staff. The big thing for Zuke is that his small frame has not really been a problem, so he may be here to stay.
Michael Sauer started off a little slow in the beginning of the season, but as the games go by his confidence rises. Sauer is a physical stay-at-home defenseman, which is what the Rangers have been looking for since last season. He may not always be noticeable, but that is a good thing. He is steady, smart and does not back down to anyone. He’s been a solid addition to the blue-line this season.
PH: How do you think team head coach John Tortorella has done this season?
NM: I think John Tortorella deserves a lot of credit for what he has done this season. The team is finally playing the hockey he has wanted them to since he took over the job two years ago. He’s gotten the players to buy into his system, and despite injuries to key players, they have found ways to win and stay in the playoff mix because of that. He’s made some questionable decisions, sure, but as a whole Torts is doing a great job with the Rangers, especially the younger guys.
PH: Any other thoughts you’d like to share on the Rangers with Kukla’s Korner readers?
NM: Watch out for the Rangers come playoff time. They could be this year’s dark horse.
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Patrick has a tremendous passion for hockey. Besides covering the Rangers and the NHL for Kukla's Korner, you can also find Patrick's work over at Sportsnet.ca, The Red Light District Hockey Blog, NHL Home Ice, and Liam Maguire's Ultimate Hockey web site.
Prior to writing for the above mentioned outlets, you could find Patrick's musings at hockey web sites/outlets such as TheHockeyNews.com, TheFourthPeriod.com, Spector's Hockey, Hokeja Vestnesis, Blueshirt Bulletin, SNYRangersBlog.com and many more.
For questions, comments and hip checks, feel free to e-mail Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org.