The Rangers are the best team in the NHL, hands down. I said before the California swing that if we could play well and showed that we could beat the top tier teams, then I’d be ready to buy stock into the Rags being the best team in hockey. Now, after the boys rolled through Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose, we come back East and head back to the Garden for what is easily the biggest game of the year so far for us. I’ll admit, I was wrong about the Islanders, I thought that by this time they would’ve fallen back to the pack to be the average team I thought they’d be, but they haven’t. They’ve stayed the course and are sitting pretty at the top of the East with 57 points (even though they’ve played 3 more games than the Rangers so far this season). But as it is right now, the Rangers are better team. We’re going to win tonight. It might not be by a lot, it might be ugly, but mark my words, we will beat the Islanders tonight, and here’s why:
- The King is on his throne: There is no goalie in hockey right now hotter than Henrik Lundqvist. Over his last 10 games, his Goal allowed average is 1.4 goals per game. You just cannot put the puck past him. Almost every single goal against the Rangers over these past 14 games has either been a weird bounce or an impossible deflection. If Henrik sees the shot it’s not going in. He’s in playoff form in January, and every team in the NHL should be shaking in their boots. Somehow he got snubbed form the All-Star team, and he’s playing like a man on a mission to prove everybody wrong.
- Rick Nash is so hot right now, Rick Nash: He’s tied for first in the NHL with Tyler Seguin of the Stars in goals with 26. He’s playing physical on both sides of the ice. The puck is somehow always finding his stick during odd man rushes, his shot % is at 18 %, an absurdly high number for somebody who takes as many shots as he does. He’s playing the best hockey not just as a Ranger, but of his career. He’s one of the leading candidates to win the Hart trophy and is just so freaking hot right now.
- The Power Play is LETHAL: I don’t know the last time I was able to say this without being sarcastic. I don’t think ever. The power play has been our downfall the last few seasons. It’s the reason we lost in the cup last year, when we converted only 2 of our 20+ chances. We let the Kings off the hook. It’s what got John Torterella fired, because we were scoring on less than 10 % of our man advantages in the playoffs. But now it’s different. Now we’re got what is maybe right now the best power play in the game. Getting Dan Boyle and McDonaugh back was huge for our man up team because those are two guys that run the point and are able to score from the blue line. Our Forwards are feasting on every opportunity they get, with St. Louis, Nash, Stepan and Stempniak all converting chances on the power play. IF the isles can’t stay out of the box, this could be a long, long game for them.
- Kevin Klein is having a career year: Klein had 8 career goals coming into this season. He has 8 so far and it’s only January. Klein was brought in to help with the depth on D. He was in no way looked at as a guy who was an offensively minded Defenseman or even somebody who could be a big contributor, but injuries to key defenders like Boyle, Stall and Macdonaugh forced the vet to step up, and step up he has. His minutes have increased exponentially over the past month and he’s my X factor in tonights game.
I could probably list 6 or 7 more reasons why the Rangers will feast on their little brothers from the Island, but I think you get the jist. Right now, the Rangers are the better more well rounded team. They’re the best team in the NHL right now and if the playoffs started today, they’d be my favorite to win the cup. Right now there are no visible holes in the team. If you’re going to beat the Rangers, you have to hope they beat themselves, and in a game like tonight’s, there’s no chance that’ll happen.
Prediction: 3-1 Rangers