Previewing the East: New York Rangers
NOTE: Over the next several weeks, BlueJackets.com will take an extensive, in-depth look at the Jackets' new opponents in the Eastern Conference. Be on the lookout for photo galleries, analysis, video highlights and more!
NEW YORK RANGERS
Head coach: Alain Vigneault
Captain: Ryan Callahan
LAST YEAR: 26-18-4 (56 points), 6th place in the Eastern Conference, eliminated by Boston in Eastern Conference semifinals
VS. CBJ in '13-14: 11/7, 12/12, 1/6, 3/21
OUTLOOK: In a word, "change" might be the best way to describe the Rangers' offseason after they were knocked out of the playoffs by the Boston Bruins. John Tortorella was dismissed after four-plus season as head coach - a tenure that included four playoff berths - and Alain Vigneault was brought in to amp up the Rangers' offense and bring a more lighthearted approach behind the bench. The "coach swap" was completed days later when Tortorella was hired to coach the Canucks, Vigneault's former employer. Before that, there was a major trade with the Blue Jackets (their second in a year), making for a ton of familiar faces on both sides of this Metropolitan Division match-up. New York returns its core group of players, including arguably the best goaltender in the business in Henrik Lundqvist, but seeks more consistent production from its star players (who were average in the playoffs). The challenge for Vigneault will be to get more scoring from a group that struggled to light the lamp at times, but there's no questioning the enormous potential for the Rangers if things bounce their way. Are they the best team in the East? Some may say so, but their commitment to doing the little things in all three zones is perhaps their greatest weapon.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Lundqvist is like the ace of a pitching staff: when things aren't going well, he can steal one and get the team back on track. When momentum is on their side, he's the backbone and makes all the necessary stops between the pipes. He is the Rangers' most valuable player without question and as he goes, they go.
There's a lot to like about Stepan's game, which is steady in all three zones and has gotten better as he's gotten older. When New York traded for Rick Nash a year ago, there was speculation that Stepan would eventually become Nash's center man. While that hasn't yet happened (at least on a regular basis), Stepan appears poised for a strong year in 2013-14.