By Steve Silverman
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The New York Rangers are almost out of the woods.
A slow start in the 2013 season has them in the middle of the pack of the Eastern Conference, instead of the No. 1 spot that they were expected to occupy.
Much was made of the fact that a fast getaway was needed in a 48-game season.
The Chicago Blackhawks certainly took that to heart with a 10-0-2 start, and so have the Boston Bruins with an 8-1-1 getaway.
But the Rangers are in good position now that they have won two games in a row and are over .500 at 6-5-0.
If they can win a road game in Boston, they will be in a position to shoot towards the top of the Eastern Conference because the schedule is quite favorable during the rest of February.
They have three home games coming against the Islanders, Capitals and Canadiens, and there’s no reason that head coach John Tortorella’s team can’t go 3-0 in those games.
Winning on the road has been the big issue for the Rangers thus far, as the only team they have beaten away from Madison Square Garden is the high-scoring Tampa Bay Lightning.
Playing on the road should not be an issue for this team. Even when they are not at their best, they have Henrik Lundqvist playing in goal, and that should be enough to allow them to steal a win in at least half of their games.
The Rangers’ biggest issue to date has been scoring. They are averaging less than 3.0 goals per game and they simply have too much firepower for that to continue. Marian Gaborik has six goals, but no other Ranger has more than three goals.
There are certainly signs that the offensive malaise is about to end. Rick Nash and Brad Richards are starting to find their rhythm, and it shouldn’t be much longer before Nash goes on a goal-scoring run. He has not scored less than 30 goals since the 2006-07 season.
While 30 goals is not going to happen for him in this shortened season, there’s no reason he can’t score 20 by the time the regular season ends.
Carl Hagelin seems like he is starting to find his stride again. He scored two goals in the Rangers’ 5-1 win over the Lightning on Sunday, and he’s got the speed to get open against any opponent and then light up the scoreboard.
The Rangers need to get a lot more from Brian Boyle, Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider. Those three have not come close to meeting expectations and have found themselves having to deal with the disappointment of Tortorella.
Kreider should have plenty of inspiration to excel. This appears to be an excellent year for NHL rookies, with players like Vladimir Tarasenko, Nail Yakupov, Cory Conacher, Jonathan Huberdeau, Justin Schultz and Dougie Hamilton all making big impressions in their first years.
Kreider had the advantage of seeing action in last year’s playoffs, so he knows what the intensity is all about. He has too much speed and talent to stay dormant for much longer.
Once the Rangers can get their secondary scoring going once again, they will climb dramatically in the Eastern Conference.
It won’t be easy to get past the Penguins, Bruins and (heaven forbid) the Devils, but they have the best depth in the Eastern Conference.
The Rangers (6-5-0) are the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference after 11 games. Where do you predict they’ll finish after 48 games? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments section below…