NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — While the New York Rangers have been close the past two seasons, time may be running out on their quest to win their first Stanley Cup since 1994.
Last year was the target year. After losing the Stanley Cup to the Los Angeles Kings two seasons ago, New York put it all together last season and won the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s best team in the regular season.
They made it back to the Eastern Conference finals before losing to the upstart Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games.
The Lightning have inherited the favorite’s role — at least in the conference — and many wonder whether the Rangers missed their chance after setting club records for wins (53) and points (113).
Henrik Lundqvist is now 33 and Rick Nash once again failed to be an elite postseason player despite having 42 goals in the regular season.
There were some changes in the offseason with the biggest being Jeff Gorton taking over from Glen Sather as general manger. The roster changes were minor in comparison with the biggest moves being the re-signing of center Derek Stepan and forwards J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast.
The Rangers biggest hope this season is that young core players take that next step, particularly 24-year-old Chris Kreider, who is coming off a career-best 21-goal season. Management also is hoping that Stepan (16 goals, 39 assists) and Derick Brassard (19 goals, 41 assists), Kevin Hayes (17 goals, 28 assist) and Miller (10 goals, 13 assists) improve.
The defense, led by captain Ryan McDonagh, returns intact. The lone addition is Dylan McIlrath, who is making the jump from Hartford of the AHL.
The Rangers will open the season on Wednesday against the defending Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
“I think as of now we’re focused on short-term stuff,” Stepan said of having unfinished business from the past two seasons. “We really don’t have much of a choice. It’s kind of our own decision to focus on, obviously training camp was first, now the start of the season is our main focus.”
Here are some other things to look for from the Rangers this season:
HANK: Lundqvist leads all NHL goalies (min. 350 appearances) in appearances (620), wins (339), shutouts (55), and goals against average (2.26), and is tied for first among NHL goalies in save percentage (.921) since he began his NHL career in 2005-06. He was 30-13-3 last season after being sidelined by a vascular injury sustained after being hit in the neck by a slapshot. He is still at the top of his game. With Cam Talbot traded to Edmonton, Antti Raanta is the new backup. He was 7-4-1 with a .936 save percentage and 1.89 goals-against average in 14 games with the Blackhawks last season.
NEW FACES: Besides Raanta, the Rangers added forwards Jarret Stoll, Viktor Stalberg and Emerson Etem. Stoll is an excellent faceoff man, a weakness last season, and has won two Cups with the Kings. Stalberg won a Cup with Chicago in 2013. He has something to prove after being let go by Nashville. Etem was acquired from Anaheim. He had five goals and five assists in 45 games and added three goals in 12 postseason games. Center Oscar Lindberg has made the jump from Hartford (AHL) after an impressive training camp.
ZUKE: It remains to be seen how Mats Zuccarello returns after missing much of the postseason with brain contusion sustained after being hit in the head by a McDonagh slap shot. He was hospitalized and lost his voice for a couple of days. His stamina was a bit off in the preseason but he showed no effects from the injury. The 28-year-old right wing is a spark plug and his absence clearly hurt. He had 15 goals and 34 assists in the regular season.
DEFENSE: The Rangers went through the playoffs with four injured defenseman — McDonagh (foot), Marc Stall and Dan Girardi (ankles) and Keith Yandle (shoulder). This should be a big year for Yandle, who is in the final year of a contract. He had two goals and nine assists in 21 games after being acquired from Phoenix.
KREIDER STEPPIN UP: There has been much focus on Kreider, who has all the tools to be an impact player. He has size and speed and a great work ethic. The pressure has been put on him to step up and give the offense another option other than Nash, who just has not delivered big goals in the postseason.
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