by PuckStopsHere on 01/16/12 at 08:50 AM ET
There is no clear leader in the NHL standings at this point in the season. Two teams have 60 points each to tie for the lead. Given that the New York Rangers have 43 games played and Chicago has 46 games played in that tie, the Rangers are first overall in the league.
The New York Rangers were not considered a serious candidate to be first overall in the NHL. After all last season they finished 18th in the league. They grabbed a playoff berth by winning the eighth seed in the East Conference. They have taken a big step forward so far this year.
The biggest single reason for this is better team defence. Henrik Lundqvist is having an extraordinary season that puts him in the Vezina lead. Their young defence has taken a big step forward as Dan Girardi and Michael Del Zotto have become top defencemen.
Offensively their biggest star has been Marian Gaborik. He doesn’t have a great record of staying healthy over his career, but he has stayed in the lineup so far this year. His 23 goals place him fifth in the league. He has only 12 assists, which gives him 35 points and has him well back in the points race.
The Rangers do not have a top scorer and this could be their downfall. Brad Richards, Ryan Callahan and Derek Stepan are the other players on the team with 30 or more points. Richards has a strong track record and could improve his scoring rate significantly in the second half of the season.
The New York Rangers have developed into a top defensive team. As such, they will remain near the top of standings in the league. I do not think their offence is strong enough to keep them in first place overall.
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