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Rangers' 5 keys for success this season

Undated file photo of Marian Gaborik.

Undated file photo of Marian Gaborik. Photo Credit: Christopher Pasatieri

1. Better health for Marc Staal

The defenseman, suffering from concussion-related headaches, was placed on IR Wednesday and Swedish rookie Tim Erixon will step in. The front office is looking for experienced help on defense because it remains unclear how long Staal, fourth in the league among blueliners in average time on ice, will be sidelined.

2. Chemistry between Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards

Richards, an elite playmaker, was signed in July to set up Gaborik, the Slovak sniper who had an off-year. How long will it take for the two to click, and how effective will Brandon Dubinsky or another left wing be on the flank?

3. Cranking up the power play

The Rangers ranked 18th in the league with the man-advantage last season, and coach John Tortorella experimented with both four and five-forward units in the preseason. Richards, who will quarterback the power play, is a critical piece.

4. Establishing some dominance at home

The Blueshirts were 24-16-1 on the road last year, but even with a 6-3-1 finish, the Rangers won just 20 games at home, the fewest of any playoff team.

5. Improvement in the youngsters

Veterans Chris Drury, Vinny Prospal and Sean Avery are gone. Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh and Michael Sauer need to avoid slumps and prove their freshmen years weren't flukes. Defenseman Michael Del Zotto hopes to rebound after a disappointing sophomore year.

Prediction: Sixth place in the East

If Staal can return to his All-Star level sooner rather than later, the Rangers have the pieces to avoid a last-minute scramble for the post-season.

New York Sports