By Steve Silverman
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Much is being made of the 48-game season that each NHL team will play, and that it will be a sprint to the playoffs instead of the usual marathon.
However, that’s not really the case. A team that starts the season by winning eight of their first 10 games will be in great shape, but that’s not enough. It’s about sustaining that performance for the next 38 games.
During the 1994-95 season, the New Jersey Devils would eventually win their first Stanley Cup, sweeping the Detroit Red Wings in the Finals.
The Devils did not start the season by sprinting out of the gate. Instead, they began the season by losing three of their first four (0-3-1). Obviously, that did not cause any long-term problems despite the team’s truncated schedule.
That wasn’t the best way to go, but it wasn’t the end of the world, either.
The Rangers will start the season as one of the favorites to walk away with the Stanley Cup. Oddsmakers say the Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins have the best chance of raising the Cup sometime next June, but don’t overlook the Boston Bruins.
The Rangers will open the season with two of their first three games against the Bruins, and there is no way that John Tortorella will allow his team to relax against Boston. Tortorella is already pushing his team hard through the first three days of practice because he knows he has the kind of roster that is capable of winning a lot of games — and perhaps a championship — this year.
The Rangers certainly have the superstar power to carry the team — with Rick Nash joining Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik on the top line — but it’s the depth that is probably the most impressive thing about the Rangers.
Their second and third lines are just as capable of scoring the winning goal as many teams’ first and second lines.
Tortorella understands this and he will be content to grind out wins with his depth.
Don’t get me wrong. On days and nights when the Rangers have a big advantage in speed, rest or motivation, he will push them to race out to a big lead. But that’s not going to happen every night.
Instead, it’s about staying even in the first period, taking a lead in the second and then grinding out the victory in the final period.
With players like Derek Stepan, Ryan Callahan, rookie Chris Kreider, Brian Boyle and Carl Hagelin manning the second and third lines, the Rangers are not going to have to resort to desperate tactics.
The defense should be able to assure victories when the Rangers have the lead going into the third period. Tortorella preaches defense and that means shot blocking. Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal are going to block a lot of shots.
Henrik Lundqvist is almost certainly going to get most of the shots that get through to him. He is the best goalie in the league, and the only goalie who can make a good argument against him is Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings, who backstopped his team to the Stanley Cup last year.
Quick is excellent, but he has not been as good as Lundqvist over the long haul.
The Rangers are far better defensively than the Penguins and they are far better in goal than the Bruins since Tim Thomas decided to take a year off.
Who does that?
The Bruins are certainly perplexed and angered by Thomas’s sabbatical, but the Rangers could care less. They should be able to take advantage to become the best team in the Eastern Conference.
And it’s not dependent on a hot start.
Do you agree, or is it imperative that teams come out firing in this strike-shortened season? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…