Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Save The Trophy Talk

At nearly the halfway point, the Rangers' record (26-9-4) is tops in the NHL. Their 56 points are one better than the Canucks, who've played more games. Boston has 53 but have played one fewer game. The West boasts the most competitive division with a three-team tie for first in the Central between Detroit, St. Louis and Chicago, who all have 53 in more games played than either New York or Boston. There's also the Flyers with 52 and one more played than our Blueshirts.

It all sounds nice on paper. In fact, the Rangers' start is almost identical to the 27-9-3 mark the '93-94 team posted. Without sounding off any alarms, save the Cup talk for later. John Tortorella's club has a lot of work left to even be in the discussion with a championship team that boasted Hall Of Famers. There also were no brownie points, with a thing called ties still part of the league. In terms of talent, it's not even close. Aside from Henrik Lundqvist, Marian Gaborik and perhaps Brad Richards, that's where the comparisons stop. Mike Keenan could roll out Mike Richter, Mark Messier and Brian Leetch along with leading scorer Sergei Zubov, who combined to run one of the best power plays. Adam Graves was money. Even if the former single season record holder with 52 goals overachieved, you can't ignore his output. Gaborik (23 goals) probably will fall short of 50 but has been a monster. Lundqvist is statistically better than Richter but Richy was unflappable and repeatedly stole series. Aside from the five-game win over the Devils, Henke hasn't had a defining moment. If the season ended today, he'd win the Vezina and be in the Hart discussion.

When you think about this team, it's really about core players stepping up to lead us to first overall thus far. Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan, Artem Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky, Mike Del Zotto and Dan Girardi are the glue of this team. Throw in Marc Staal now that he's back along with Ryan McDonagh, who Slats stole from Bob Gainey for Scott Gomez. Carl Hagelin has been a breath of fresh air since arriving from Connecticut, combining blazing speed with tremendous hockey sense. His skating and work ethic along with the skills he possesses make him a key rookie, who's scored big goals. Still, it's hard to overlook the contributions of Alexei Kovalev, Sergei Nemchinov, Steve Larmer, Esa Tikkanen and a guy by the name of Stepane Matteau. That team also boasted the underrated Kevin Lowe and Beuke, who would do anything to win. Danny G is similar but does it differently while Jeff Beukeboom was the big bruiser who would knock you on your ass for even breathing in Richter's direction. The closest guy we have to that is Mike Sauer (concussion), who remains out. There is no timetable for his return, which means revelation Stu Bickel takes part in his 10th game tonight when the Rangers go for five in a row versus the Coyotes.

There's a lot of season left and still plenty of tough games on the schedule with the surprising Sens visiting MSG Thursday before the Blueshirts hit the road this weekend in Toronto and Montreal. There's three left with the Flyers, five with the Devils, four with the banged up Pens and four with the machine-like Bruins with the first one in Beantown January 21. The Islanders are never easy to play against due to the rivalry. Basically, all Tort's crew has accomplished is giving themselves a cushion. But if you've glanced at the standings, you know how close the race is. The Flyers aren't going away and the Devils have upped their play since our win in Newark. Dan Bylsma will find a way to keep the Pens afloat. Especially with studs Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury still there and them getting great news on James Neal.

I love the way this team plays. They compete and are a breath of fresh air to watch God willing. No thanks to Dolan and Time Warner. Be that as it may, nothing's been accomplished yet. The second half will ultimately decide where our True Blue wind up. No time for the weary.

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