NHL New York Rangers

New York Rangers: Who Needs to Step Up As They Return Home?

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New York Rangers: Who Must Step Up As They Return Home?

Geoff Burke - USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers finally return home Monday night for their first game at the transformed Madison Square Garden. The team, however, carries a lot of question marks and problems. Key players such as Rick Nash, Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin are injured.

Injuries should never be an excuse for a team's poor play, but the Rangers have looked out of sync and lost as a result of the loss of these three players. Some players such as Brad Richards and Cam Talbot have stepped up in their absence. This is not enough, however.

Yes, the absence of Callahan, Nash and Hagelin have exposed the Rangers' glaring lack of scoring depth. However, it does not excuse the fact that the players on the ice have not battled hard enough on a night-in, night-out basis to win games. Those expected to step up have not done so, and especially have not lived up to their contracts.

Players like Marc Staal, Benoit Pouliot and Brian Boyle have had strong games. Others have been invisible.

There has been an adjustment period to new coach Alain Vigneault's offense-first system, but it is not an excuse for not executing simple, fundamental hockey. It is not an excuse for showing a quitting attitude following blowout losses to teams like the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks or New Jersey Devils. Not everyone deserves blame for such a lackluster start, but some are more deserving than others.

Which players need to step up the most following a 3-6 start?

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5. Mats Zuccarello

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Rangers GM Glen Sather showed a lot of faith in Mats Zuccarello by bringing him back last year and signing him to a new contract in the offseason. So far, his faith has not been rewarded. Zuccarello only has one point so far this season, a goal in last night's game against the Detroit Red Wings. Before that, he was a healthy scratch against the Philadelphia Flyers. He is already in new coach Alain Vigneualt's doghouse.

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4. Michael Del Zotto

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Michael Del Zotto is a player that stood to benefit from Vigneault's new system. So far, he has not shown it. Del Zotto is pointless with a -6 rating so far. He has failed to hit the net many times on shots from the point, and has had a lot of trouble with puck possession on the power play. Del Zotto was a healthy scratch for their 4-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils. He may not have much time left to prove himself.

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3. Henrik Lundqvist

Geoff Burke - USA TODAY Sports

Henrik Lundqvist has not played anywhere close to Vezina Trophy form so far. Sure, he posted a 2-0 shutout against the Washington Capitals and had a solid game against a tough Los Angeles Kings team. Other than that, he has been mediocre at best. His goals against average so far this season is 3.45. In a 4-0 loss to the Devils, Lundqvist allowed four goals on 15 shots. Soon after, it was revealed he had been bothered by an "undisclosed injury." He will return to the lineup tomorrow in the home opener against the Montreal Canadiens. The time is now for him to turn his season around.

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2. Derick Brassard

Geoff Burke - USA TODAY Sports

In the absence of three of the Rangers' top forwards, Derick Brassard has been expected to play like a top-line center. He only has one goal this season -- the game winner last night in Detroit. Brassard looks like a shell of the player that came over last season in a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Rangers need Brassard to be that player, especially while they are decimated with injuries.

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1. Derek Stepan

Chris Kelly - USA TODAY Sports

Derek Stepan held out for more money during training camp and got a two-year, $7 million deal. So far, he has not played anywhere close to his paycheck. He has zero goals and is a -8. The Rangers expect him to be their no. 1 center, and he has failed to do so thus far. The lack of a training camp should not be an excuse for his poor play. It's time to earn his money.