Offense now comes first for Blueshirts
The Rangers enter the 2013-14 campaign with a new coach and virtually the same group of players from last season's sixth-place conference finish. Alain Vigneault replaces the volatile John Tortorella and will have to implement a new style of play, while always answering for the ever-high expectations that come with coaching in New York. Here are three keys to the Rangers' season, which begins Thursday night in Phoenix against the Coyotes.
Health of Hagelin, Callahan and Staal
Carl Hagelin and Ryan Callahan are progressing after offseason shoulder surgeries, and Marc Staal has completed his series of comebacks after suffering an eye injury in March. While all three are at different points in the rehab process, all hold keys to the team's success this year. Callahan contributed 31 points and 16 goals last season, and Hagelin had 24 points and 10 goals. That's a sizable amount of firepower missing to open the year.
The Vigneault era
Whenever a new coach is a hired, a certain amount of transition and growth should be expected. That may go double for Vigneault as he looks to implement an offensive-minded style of play -- polar opposite to Tortorella's defense-first philosophy. The transition can be harder for a team that has found a fair amount of success using the old ways.
Stepan at No. 1
Derek Stepan is coming off a season in which he led the team with 44 points and was second with 18 goals. He's poised to take over the role as No. 1 center from Brad Richards, and he's showed he's ready for that jump. Richards, who was demoted to the fourth line in the playoffs, is expected to open the new campaign on the left wing. With Stepan likely seeing the ice with Rick Nash even more often, coupled with the increased offensive style, the Rangers may see an uptick in goals this year.
Much at stake for King Henrik
Henrik Lundqvist has been one of the most consistent forces on the ice at the Garden since 2005.
This season may prove to be a big test for the 2011-12 Vezina Trophy winner, since he'll have to deal with questions regarding play during a contract year, conditioning over the course of a full season and preparing for the Olympics this winter.
After presiding over eight shutouts and a 1.97 goals against average (GAA) during his Vezina year, Lundqvist's numbers dipped slightly last year as he posted a 2.05 GAA and only two shutouts during a lockout-shortened 2013 season.
Now, the 31-year-old Swede will look to impress as he's expected to become the highest-paid goaltender next offseason. That task may prove harder than in years past, as he will also face pressure to replicate his Olympic performances, which included the record for most minutes without allowing a goal, in the 2006 and 2010 games.
With a potentially lucrative contract in the balance and the Rangers adjusting to a new system under Alain Vigneault, the stakes have rarely been higher between the pipes at the Garden.