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N.Y. Rangers vs. Columbus Blue Jackets preview: Trade deadline approaching

nyrangers011012_optBY SAM HITCHCOCK
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM
COMMENTARY

With the Rangers in the spotlight as the Feb. 27 trade deadline creeps closer, there is much to say about the Blueshirts of Broadway. For starters, their victory over the Boston Bruins Tuesday, as well as their loss to the Chicago Blackhawks Thursday, are the biggest possible endorsements as to why Henrik Lundqvist should win not only the Vezina, but the Hart Trophy, too.

There were certainly times where New York outplayed, and even dominated, the game against Boston in their 3-0 win. But that certainly can be said for the Bruins as well, as the Rangers were outshot 42-20, with Lundqvist making some spectacular saves. (The crème de la crème was his stop on Zdeno Chara with his back facing Chara, who, oh-by-the-way, has the hardest shot in the NHL.)

Their victory over Boston is a great example of the larger picture for the Rangers this season. New York can be outplayed and outshot. They can also have opponents firing shots from the point while creating heavy traffic in front with rebound scoring chances, and STILL keep them from scoring and winning. Lundqvist was the difference in that game, and the difference Thursday as well.

Now the first 10 minutes of the Blackhawks game saw the Rangers allow three breakaways (one coming on a penalty shot) and some significant defensive breakdowns (allowing the giant John Scott to screen Martin Biron for Nick Leddy’s goal). This gave Chicago the much needed 4-0 cushion midway through the first period.

Biron is hard to fault on any of the goals. However, two of them can be attributed to Dan Girardi’s uncharacteristic miscues -- like his cupping of the puck with his glove in the crease, which led to the Jonathan Toews’ penalty shot, or his pinch in the offensive zone that caused him to lose his stick and give Patrick Sharp the opportunity to find the open ice and the breakaway goal. These errors gave the Blackhawks the chances they needed to finally win after losing nine straight.

This said, anyone who has watched Lundqvist on a regular basis knows that he would have stopped at least two of those three breakaways. He even might have prevented Leddy’s goal, because he has been that unbelievable this season. (Leddy’s goal did hit off the pipe and carom into the net, along with Marian Hossa waltzing around the Rangers’ defensive end, but still Lundqvist may have stopped it. He has been that great.)

Stopping two of those four goals would have put the game at 2-2 at the end of regulation, and, in fact, it very well could have been three Rangers goals if not for the quick whistle on Ryan Callahan’s late goal swipe. Even when the Rangers have ten minute lapses in which they give up huge opportunities to the opposing team (or, as happened in the Boston game, they had two periods filled with lapses, resulting in their being outshot by 32-8 combined in the second and third), when Lundqvist is in net, he helps them weather these storms. That is why the Rangers are the lead contender to come out of the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup.


With the fawning over Lundqvist’s greatness part of the article over, it is time to move on to the more pressing issues at hand. Let’s set the scene though. The Rangers are currently three points behind the NHL-leading Detroit Red Wings and have three games in-hand. They are possibly the best defensive team in the NHL (they are second in goals against and fifth in penalty kill percentage), and score a high amount of goals as well (they are currently 11th with 2.8 goals per game).

They have a home-grown unit that contributes to their dynamic team chemistry, and every player knows his role. Amazingly, they have gone two for two in big free agent acquisitions, with the additions of Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards fitting brilliantly. Both players have bought into coach John Tortorella’s team style (they both play great defense and block shots), bringing their fine playmaking and scoring touch with them to the Big Apple.

Now this is where the article gets exciting if you are a Devils fan or a fan of any other team in the NHL other than the Rangers. The team’s nucleus is in danger of being blown up any day now if New York pays the king’s ransom for star player Rick Nash of the Blue Jackets. To do this, they likely would be giving up a high-quality intangible (gritty player Brandon Dubinsky), the increasingly valuable blue-chip prospect (Chris Kreider), and something along the lines of NHL-leading plus/minus defenseman (Michael Del Zotto, or maybe a Ryan McDonagh or Marc Staal, all of whom are in their early 20’s), along with possibly a first-rounder or another blue-chip prospect.

This could potentially wreck a very special team that’s only real “weakness” is its powerplay which a) is 5-20 in their last five games and b) not the most devastating weakness a contender can have considering the Bruins won the Stanley Cup with that same problem just last year. But general manager Glen Sather loves to make the big splash, so don’t be surprised if the Blueshirts deflect the “Linsanity” to themselves within the next week by tinkering with a very finely tuned machine.

Rick Nash is one of the best two-way players in the game, and believing that his amusingly incompetent general manager, Scott Howson, will correctly broker this deal is a bold assumption. But if Howson correctly demands two established NHL talents, the blue-chip prospect and a first-rounder, and gets it, and the Rangers part with either Del Zotto, McDonagh, or Staal, the team will suffer a fatal wound by shattering their victory wine glass.

 

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