The New York Rangers had a magical 2011-12 regular season. Henrik Lundqvist won the Vezina Trophy after an incredibly consistent season in net. The offense was effective enough to win 51 games before acquiring Rick Nash this offseason. The young defense battled injuries to be one of the best groups in hockey and will only get better. The New York Rangers have actually improved the roster that finished atop the Eastern Conference. Is there any doubt that they can repeat last season’s success?
The Pittsburgh Penguins, despite playing without Sidney Crosby for most of the year, finished just one point behind the New York Rangers. The Penguins tied the Rangers with a conference-best 51 wins. The Penguins enter the season healthy and complete, and likely would have been the best team in hockey if Sidney Crosby were healthy last season.
This offseason, however, the Penguins took a small step backward when they lost third-line center Jordan Staal. After a disastrous postseason effort against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Penguins have serious goaltending questions. Still, Crosby is back and healthy. While the Penguins may struggle to find the offensive depth that has made them almost unstoppable this decade, they still have two of the most dynamic scorers in the game. Their offense-intensive approach represents a directly opposite organizational strategy to that of the New York Rangers, but both teams win.
The New York Rangers will surely be a top team in the Atlantic Division this season. Their goaltending and defensive prowess under John Tortorella ensures, barring injury, another successful season. The Rangers are too strong in their own end to fall apart. They also acquired a perennial 30-goal scorer in Rick Nash to finally give their offense some stability. This is a complete New York Rangers team, but are they better than the Pittsburgh Penguins?
The 2012-13 Atlantic Division race will likely decide the top team in the Eastern Conference again. The Atlantic produced four playoff teams last season, all of which tallied over 100 points. The Conference Finals saw the New Jersey Devils triumph over the New York Rangers after the Flyers-Penguins series stole headlines in the first round. The Atlantic Division, yet again, is loaded.
The New York Rangers are built for the grind that comes from playing in such an incredibly talented division. Henrik Lundqvist is one of the most stable goalies in hockey and will keep the Rangers consistent throughout the year. Their system cultivates consistency. With one of the best top-six combinations in the NHL, the Rangers have a capable offense in 2012-13 as well. Ultimately, this is a roster with extremely limited deficiencies. The Pittsburgh Penguins are not a complete team. While they will be an elite team again this season, they’ve lost depth and their goaltending situation is suddenly very unstable. The New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers both failed to improve this offseason and likely will not compete with the Pens and Rangers.
This division is New York’s for the taking.