Friday, October 23, 2009

Rangers' new additions key fast start

Despite dropping their past two games to the Sharks and Devils at home, the New York Rangers are off to a fast start this season. Before Monday's loss to the Sharks, the Rangers had won seven straight games since falling to the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the season opener.

GM Glen Sather made several risky and questionable moves in the off-season, most notably acquiring high-scoring but injury-prone winger Marian Gaborik as a free agent from Minnesota. Gaborik has been earning his contract so far, with 13 points in the first 10 games.

His 7 goals are two behind league leader Alexander Ovechkin of the Capitals. Gaborik has given the Rangers the big offensive threat that they have lacked for many seasons; the question now is whether or not he will be able to stay healthy for the full season.

Wingers Ales Kotalik and Vinny Prospal were both questionable signings during the off-season as well, but both have been surprisingly productive. Kotalik has 10 points in the first 10 games, and his rocket of a shot has found the net four times.

Prospal is reunited with coach John Tortorella, who coached him in Tampa Bay. Prospal and Tortorella did not always see eye-to -eye in Tampa, and Prospal was pegged as someone with a lot to prove this season. He has delivered so far, with 3 goals and 9 assists for 12 points on the season. 

2008 first-round draft pick Michael Del Zotto has already had a huge impact in his rookie season. Del Zotto came to training camp this season unsure if he would even make the team, but the 19-year-old defenseman has delivered so far.

With 4 goals and 5 assists, Del Zotto is tied for the league lead in points by a defenseman and is one goal behind Calgary's Dion Phaneuf for the league lead in points by a defenseman. The Rangers hope that Del Zotto will continue to improve along with rookie defenseman Matt Gilroy and young defenders Daniel Girardi and Mark Staal to form a solid core of blue-liners for the future.

Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist has been solid in net, as usual. This year he has finally been receiving consistent offensive support, and the combination has led the Blueshirts to a 7-3-0 record. Although the Rangers started out strong last season as well, they struggled down the stretch and barely made the playoffs as the seventh seed in the East.

But so far this year, the Rangers have shown more promise. During last year's quick start, the team was giving away many late leads and holding on to win in overtime and shootouts. This year's team is much more focused and has enough players who can put the puck in the net when it matters most.

If Gaborik stays healthy and the defense holds up, Madison Square Garden might finally get to host some late-round playoff games next May.

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