Steve Zipay is an award-winning journalist who has covered events from Super Bowls to World Series and issues
After a rocky start that Henrik Lundqvist predicted after not playing all summer, and allowing some uncharacteristically soft goals, the Swede is rounding into form. He's in 10th place in GAA and save percentage and has surrendered two goals or less in 12 of his last 17 games (10-6-1). But he hasn't posted a shutout after eight last season. Veteran Martin Biron (1-1-1, 2.50, .911) has been more than capable as a calming influence, but the duo certainly could use more offensive support.
Where do the Rangers stand in goals? In the bottom three of the East. That's nowhere near good enough to be more than a playoff bubble team. This is perhaps the most pressing need in the second half. With Rick Nash leading the way, streaky Marian Gaborik needs to be the No. 2 punch, with Brad Richards, who had 25 last season, as 2A. The Rangers have scored five goals in a game twice, but have been shut out twice and scored a single goal four times.
The top four, led by Dan Girardi, have been very steady, although they get scrambly at times, leaving their feet to block passes and sliding out of position. And the team doesn't have a premier gunner. Marc Staal, out indefinitely, leads the group with two goals and 11 points, so Michael Del Zotto and Anton Stralman will need to rise to the occasion. We'll see how much Roman Hamrlik, 38, claimed off waivers last week after Staal's injury, has left in the tank.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C
Think Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The power play (24th in the NHL), which had lingered among the bottom three, cost the Blueshirts points in the standings for most of the first half before finally clicking in four of the last five games. Ryan Callahan leads with four of the 12 goals. On the other hand, the penalty kill has survived the loss of Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and Brandon Prust and ranks fifth in the East (82.7).
Given the shortened season and no training camp, Tortorella has been torn between pedal-to-the-metal and rest and recovery. As usual, he quickly pulls the trigger on players he believes are underperforming, but is supportive of others despite their struggles. He says he has been listening to the team's leaders for guidance, but make no mistake, this is his show. He'll need to find a balance and press the right buttons for another playoff run like last season.
Coming on like a nor'easter, the elite power forward obtained from Columbus in the off-season has been a difference-maker. Nash leads the team in goals, points and dazzling drives to the net -- and he missed four games with injuries. If he wills the Rangers to a high playoff seed with a dynamic second half, he just might be in the conversation for the Hart Trophy. Honorable Mention: Ryan Callahan
MOST IMPROVED: Derek Stepan
Sure, sometimes playing on a line with Nash doesn't hurt, but he's been the team's top center over the first 23 games (5-10-15 and a plus-9), has been deployed in all situations, getting big minutes and is improving on faceoffs. When Stepan, just 22 and maturing in his third season, records a point, the Rangers are 8-2-1. Deserves a substantial raise next season. Honorable Mention: Carl Hagelin
MOST DISAPPOINTING: Chris Kreider
Maybe the expectations were too high for the Boston College star who gave the Rangers a huge lift in the playoffs. Maybe grinding through a full training camp would have smoothed out the defensive miscues that irritated coach John Tortorella enough to ship him back to the AHL. At any rate, Kreider, who has speed and size and tremendous upside, looked passive and/or confused at times and has been outplayed by fellow rookie J.T. Miller. Having said that, he still should be playing forward over Stu Bickel. Close second: Brad Richards
TOUGHEST BREAK: Marc Staal's injury
Nash, Richards and Ryan McDonagh all have been victims of dangerous hits, but the sudden deflection of Flyer defenseman Kimmo Timonen's shot that hit him near the right eye on Tursday is a major blow. Staal, who had rebounded nicely from a concussion last season, is fortunate in the long-term, but will be sorely missed in the interim.