2010-11 NHL season preview: New York Rangers

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for lundqvistpads.jpgLast season: (38-33-11, 87 points, 4th in Atlantic Division, 9th in Eastern Conference) The Rangers fell a shootout win short of making the playoffs then watched as the Philadelphia Flyers made it all the way to the Stanley Cup finals. Ouch. The team depended a lot on young players, Marian Gaborik and Henrik Lundqvist and that formula wasn’t strong enough to win them a cup.

Head coach: John Tortorella is the hot-headed type who’s a great fit for New York … at least from an entertaining press conference standpoint. The jury’s out on him as a coach, though, as that Lightning Stanley Cup victory is looking more and more like an anomaly as every year passes.

Key departures: D Wade Redden, F Olli Jokinen, F Aaron Voros, F Donald Brashear. Technically Redden isn’t out of the Rangers organization, but let’s face it, he won’t play with the big club again at that $6.5 million annual cap hit. If GM Glen Sather looked at Olli Jokinen as an expiring $5 million contract, then maybe Sather deserves a little more credit for being with it.

Key arrivals: F Alex Frolov, F Derek Boogaard, D Steve Eminger, F Todd White. Frolov isn’t the most consistent player, but the Rangers got him on a solid, one-year deal. He could pay dividends at his price while Boogaard is wildly overpaid at $1.6 million. No big improvements in the Big Apple, but that’s what happens when your salary cap is managed so poorly.

gaborikanddubinsky.jpgUnder pressure: The Rangers’ training staff is under pressure, because if Gaborik goes down with his typical array of injuries, New York’s offense is shot. Gaborik played an unusually high amount of games last year, but can he do it again?

Protecting the house: Lundqvist is a truly elite goalie. The Swedish netminder keeps the Rangers afloat despite the fact that they’re rarely strong in any other area. The team historically leans on him too much, though, so it’s great to know that they added a solid backup in Martin Biron. Maybe Lundqvist won’t suffer from his annual tough patch if he can have a little rest here and there.

Redden isn’t an enormous loss, but this defense is far from elite. Marc Staal is a nice player, but he might not be a great choice for a No. 1 guy. Really, the team is a collection of second and third pairing blueliners beyond Staal, with Matt Gilroy, Dan Girardi and Mike del Zotto being the other prominent defensemen.

Top line we’d like to see: Frolov-Brandon Dubinsky-Gaborik. Boy, are the Rangers weak up the middle or what? Some might put Chris Drury on the top line, but Drury plays better against second or third pairings (something you love to hear about a guy who makes $7 million per year, naturally). Frolov and Gaborik might skate a lot with each other in reality, unless the team wants to spread its offense out.

Oh captain, my captain: Drury carries Bobby Holik’s torch as a character guy getting paid like a megastar in New York. He is above average to great in the “little things” categories like winning draws, killing penalties and blocking shots. That might not make him worth the money, but it earns him clout as a leader.

Thumbnail image for boogaardparros.jpgStreet fighting man: Boogaard is the ‘Boogey Man’ for good reason; he is huge and terrifying. Sure, his punching ability doesn’t warrant a $1.6 million salary, but he should beat a lot of people up in the suddenly staggering Atlantic Division.

Best-case scenario: Lundqvist wins his first Vezina Trophy because Biron lets him avoid the occasional back to back game. Gaborik stays healthy and helps Frolov enjoy a 30-goal rebirth. Sean Avery impedes the progress of other people rather than himself and his own squad. The team makes a nice run to the Eastern Conference finals as some of the favorites are upset by underdogs.

Worst-case scenario: Gaborik struggles with his usual injury troubles while Frolov drifts in and out of relevance. Avery alternates between self-destructing and getting injured. The Rangers defense cracks in front of a beleaguered duo of Lundqvist and Biron. The Rangers end up missing the playoffs but aren’t bad enough to earn a good draft pick, either.

Keeping it real: Lundqvist is strong enough to help the Rangers remain competitive, but the team around him is very weak. I think the most realistic outlook is a slightly peachier version of the worst-case scenario. Chances are they’ll end up just a touch better than the Islanders, with a fourth-place finish in the Atlantic and a 10th or 11th spot in the East.

Stanley Cup chances: On a scale of 1-5, with one being the worst and five being the best, having talent like Lundqvist and Gaborik bumps you up one point in my eyes, so let’s give the Rangers a 2. The splendid Swedish stopper will have to play out of his mind for the Rangers to be a serious contender, though.

Rowe says no timeline on Barkov, who could be out a while longer

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 17:  Aleksander Barkov #16 of the Florida Panthers celebrtaes his goal at 1:11 of the second period against the New York Islanders during Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Barclays Center on April 17, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Aleksander Barkov was only supposed to miss 2-3 weeks with a then-undisclosed injury.

That timeline was provided almost three weeks ago, and Barkov still isn’t back playing for the Florida Panthers.

Today, interim coach Tom Rowe provided an update, and it wasn’t good news. Rowe told reporters on a conference call that there’s no timeline for Barkov’s return. He then dropped an even bigger bomb, admitting there’s concern that both Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau could have season-ending injuries.

Huberdeau has not played at all this season after suffering a skate laceration in the preseason. His original timeline was 3-4 months. The Panthers are still hoping he’ll be back by early March.

The Panthers’ frustrating season continued last night in Edmonton, where they lost 4-3 in overtime on a Connor McDavid goal with 2.6 seconds remaining. Though they’re only one point back of a playoff spot, the closest two teams they’re chasing, Toronto and Ottawa, each have five games in hand.

It’s estimated that Florida (20-18-9) will need to go in the neighborhood of 20-10-5 down the stretch in order to make the playoffs. And that will obviously be a lot tougher to accomplish without two of the team’s best forwards — if, indeed, Barkov and Huberdeau are sidelined for much, or even all, of the remaining schedule.

‘No doubt that there is a confidence issue’ with Lundqvist, says AV

2014 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Five
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These are rough times for the King.

Henrik Lundqvist, who for the better part of a decade has been a brick wall for the Rangers, is going through arguably the toughest stretch of his career. He allowed seven goals on 27 shots in a loss to the Stars on Tuesday, and 12 on 49 shots in his last four periods played.

If you go back over his last four games, it’s a staggering 20 goals on 113 shots.

His head coach knows something is wrong.

“There’s no doubt that there is a confidence issue with Hank,” Alain Vigneault said, per the New York Post. “Hank has had some moments in the past, probably never to this degree.

“So he’s in new territory, we’re in new territory to some extent.”

As Vigneault said, Lundqvist’s had some struggles before. The end of last year wasn’t very good — he struggled in late in the year, and was torched in an opening-round playoff loss to the Penguins.

Thing is, both Lundqvist and the Rangers conceded a large part of those struggles were due to the guys playing in front of him, and all the glorious scoring opportunities they allowed.

So it’s telling that Vigneault and Lundqvist aren’t using that theory this time around. In fact, AV went to far as to suggest the opposite — that Lundqvist’s poor play is actually affecting the guys in front of him.

“Sometimes that can trickle down a little bit with the other guys when something happens on the ice,” he explained.

The other big difference with this particular stretch of struggle is that there’s no safety valve. Lundqvist’s traditionally had good backups — Cam Talbot and Antti Raanta, most notably — but Raanta is now sidelined with injury, leaving untested Magnus Hellberg as the club’s No. 2.

(Even during his World Cup struggles, Lundqvist had a capable backup in Jacob Markstrom to lighten the load.)

As such, it’s solely on King Henrik to turn this around. And he knows it.

“I feel like it’s embarrassing and frustrating and disappointing at the same time,” Lundqvist said, per NHL.com. “I need to find another level.

“It’s not good enough.”

Depth scoring helps Penguins get by Canadiens

MONTREAL, QC - JANUARY 18:  Olli Maatta #3 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates his third period goal with teammates during the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on January 18, 2017 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Montreal Canadiens 4-1.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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MONTREAL (AP) Eric Fehr and Jake Guentzel scored in the second period to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins past the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 on Wednesday night.

Defensemen Ian Cole and Olli Maatta also scored for Pittsburgh, which won its second game in a row after a three-game skid.

Sven Andrighetto scored for Montreal, which lost its second straight and has only two wins in its last six games. The Canadiens’ offense remained in a rut coming off a 1-0 loss Monday in Detroit.

Penguins goalie Matt Murray was back in form after Monday’s wild 8-7 win over Washington, making 19 saves. But Carey Price‘s woes continued as Pittsburgh outshot Montreal 26-20. Price allowed three or more goals for the eighth time in 10 games.

A tight-checking first period saw Pittsburgh strike first as Cole took a feed from Evgeni Malkin on a counterattack and scored on a high shot inside the near post with Patric Horqvist screening Carey Price. Malkin picked up his seventh point in five games.

Fehr, who got into the lineup with Matt Cullen out 3-to-4 weeks with a foot injury, was left alone in front to take a pass from Chris Kunitz and score 5:19 into the second. Guentzel made it 3-0 at 17:38 when he tipped a point shot from Cameron Gaunce, who was making his Penguins debut.

Andrighetto got one back at 18:11 when he banked one in off Murray from the side of the net.

Conor Sheary got away with tripping defenseman Jeff Petry behind the Montreal net and fed the puck to Maatta at the point for a low shot that went through Price’s pads 15:36 into the third frame.

A scoreboard tribute was paid to former Montreal Expos star Tim Raines for his induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame earlier Wednesday.

UP NEXT

Penguins: at Carolina on Friday night.

Canadiens: at New Jersey on Friday night.

PHT Morning Skate: Tortorella says ‘not a chance’ LeBron James could play hockey

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Auston Matthews is putting together one of the best rookie seasons we’ve seen in a long time, but if it wasn’t for Ukrainian skating coach Boris Dorozhenko’s unique teaching methods, he might not be the player he is today. (ESPN)

–Not many people expected the Minnesota Wild to contend for the Central Division crown this season, but their play is making some in the national media believe they have a chance to do some damage in the near future. “I give them a ton of credit,” NBC hockey analyst Pierre McGuire said. “They’ve put themselves in a great position to win a Cup. This is the best team they’ve had in Minnesota ever. Like, ever!” (Minneapolis StarTribune)

–If he wasn’t a basketball player, I could see LeBron James playing in the NFL. But a hockey player? I don’t think so. It sounds like Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella agrees with me. “He can’t skate,” Tortorella said during a radio interview. “He’s too damn big, he can’t skate. And you can tell him I said that, I challenge him.” (BarDown)

–The Boston Bruins were up 3-0, 4-1 and 5-4 in last night’s game against the Red Wings, but they still found a way to lose the game. Watch the highlights of that tilt by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–Every hockey fan is aware of the incredible season Sidney Crosby has put together, but for some reason, Evgeni Malkin‘s stellar play seems to be flying under the radar. After all, Malkin isn’t too far behind Connor McDavid for the scoring title. “He doesn’t get as much attention as he deserves,” said Penguins assistant coach Sergei Gonchar. “Not only this season or that season. I think overall if you look at his career, I don’t think he has been covered as much as some other guys. I think he deserves more credit for what he has done in his career.” (NHL.com)

–The 2003 NHL Entry Draft is regarded as one of the best drafts in league history. That year, the Penguins took Marc-Andre Fleury first overall, but if it had to be done over again, who would the top pick be? According to a pair of Sportsnet hockey analysts, Patrice Bergeron or Ryan Getzlaf would go number one if that draft could be done over again. (Sportsnet)

–In his final year of eligibility, former Expos outfielder Tim Raines was finally voted into the Hall of Fame yesterday, and the Montreal Canadiens made sure to congratulate him during last night’s game: