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Season preview: New York Rangers


Season preview: New York Rangers

To get you ready for the 2015-16 season, we will be previewing all 30 NHL in 30 days, division by division. Check the bottom of the page for a schedule of each preview.

Today’s team: New York Rangers

2014-15 record: 53-22-7, 1st in the Metropolitan

How they finished: Lost in seven games to Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Finals

Coach: Alain Vigneault (3rd season)

Notable additions: LW Viktor Stalberg, C Jarret Stoll, RW Emerson Etem, G Antti Raanta

Notable subtractions: D Matt Hunwick, C James Sheppard, RW Martin St. Louis, LW Carl Hagelin, G Cam Talbot

RELATED: LW lock: Ovechkin missing only one thing on his resume

Schedule against the Capitals: Tue. Nov. 3 at New York, Sun. Dec. 20 at New York, Sat. Jan. 9 at New York, Sun. Jan. 17 at Washington, Fr. Mar. 4 at Washington

Outlook: The biggest question for the New York Rangers is whether or not their championship window has closed. They have been all in for the last few years and have one conference championship to show for it, but the Rangers paid a high price to stay on top of the East.

Here is the way things go in the NHL. Teams draft young talent, build a roster and when those players get old they replace them with young draft picks again. That may be difficult for the Rangers considering they haven't had a first round draft pick since 2012.

That doesn't mean the Rangers do not have any exciting prospects -- Oscar Lindberg looks ready for the NHL this season -- but it does mean that some lean years are ahead for the Blueshirts. When the decline starts, they will have no way to stop it from turning into an all-out free fall.

That inevitable decline may start as early as this year.

New York's best player is Rick Nash, who is unreliable in the playoffs and at 31, may soon become unreliable in the regular season as well.

Henrik Lundqvist is now 33 and isn't getting any younger. Last year, the Rangers had Cam Talbot who did a fantastic job stepping in for Lundqvist, but New York traded Talbot in the offseason. This year, the Rangers will have Antti Raanta as their backup, a goalie who has only 39 NHL games to his name.

Having said that, this team won the Presidents' Trophy last year for a reason. A declining Lundqvist is still better than many of the NHL's other starters. If he continues to play well, the Rangers aren't going anywhere.

Defensively this team is very deep. Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi will remain one of the best shutdown pairings in the NHL. Keith Yandle struggled after being traded to New York at the deadline last year, but he should be better with a training camp to adjust to his surroundings. When you have a player like Yandle on the third defensive pair, that means you've got some good players in that top four.

Mats Zuccarello is expected to be ready for training camp after a puck to the head knocked him out of the playoffs last season and Jarret Stoll may prove to be a free agent steal as red flags made it a buyers market for the veteran center.

Expectations: After winning the East in 2014 and the Presidents' Trophy in 2015, it feels like the rest of the conference is starting to catch up to the Rangers. With an aging Nash, Lundqvist and the retirement of Martin St. Louis, this New York team looks like they may have peaked.

Even if you are a fan of the Stoll pickup, he is 33 and will most likely play on the third line. He's not going to be the tipping point that leads the Rangers to a Stanley Cup.

You can't hate on this roster too much given how much success they have had the past few years. This is still (largely) the same roster that won the Presidents' Trophy last season, but with division rivals like Washington, Pittsburgh and Columbus all getting better, it feels like the gap between the Rangers and the rest of the East is now gone. The Rangers don't have the prospects to reload this roster.

The decline that will see the Rangers fall to the basement is going to begin this year. It won't keep them out of the playoffs, but unless Lundqvist can carry the Rangers, their days of Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference dominance are over.

MORE CAPS: What can the Caps expect from Oshie, Williams at right wing?

See more team previews:

Pacific Division 
Anaheim Ducks 
Arizona Coyotes 
Calgary Flames 
Edmonton Oilers 
Los Angeles Kings
San Jose Sharks 
Vancouver Canucks

Central Division 
Chicago Blackhawks
Colorado Avalanche
Dallas Stars
Minnesota Wild
Nashville Predators
St. Louis Blues
Winnipeg Jets

Atlantic Division 
Boston Bruins
Buffalo Sabres
Detroit Red Wings
Florida Panthers
Montreal Canadiens
Ottawa Senators
Tampa Bay Lightning
Toronto Maple Leafs

Metropolitan Division 
Carolina Hurricanes
Columbus Blue Jackets
New Jersey Devils 
New York Islanders
Philadelphia Flyers 8/28 
Pittsburgh Penguins 8/29 
Washington Capitals 8/30

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3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

You may think this was an ugly four-game road trip for the Caps, but with a 3-2 win in Buffalo on Monday, Washington managed to earn five out of a possible eight points.

Here is why the Caps beat the Sabres and managed to save the road swing.

A missed high-stick (maybe) from Ovechkin

Ovechkin scored the first goal of the game in the second period as he deflected a high-shot from Christian Djoos down past goalie Chad Johnson. But did the deflection come on a high stick? The play was reviewed and the goal was ultimately upheld. According to the NHL, it was determined that "video review supported the Referee's call on the ice that Alex Ovechkin's stick was at or below the height of the crossbar when he tipped the puck into the Buffalo net."

NBC Sports Washington analyst Alan May broke the play down during the second intermission and made his case for why the NHL actually got the call wrong.

Was that a high stick? I don't know. As compelling an argument as May made, it still looks inconclusive which means the review made the right call. What surprises me is that the referee did not disallow the goal on the initial call.

Whether the review is truly inconclusive or flat out wrong, Washington was fortunate to walk away from this sequence with the goal.


A centimeter of ice

Hockey is a game of inches and it took less than an inch to put Washington up 2-0. When an Evgeny Kuznetsov shot hit off the boards and bounced back to the front of the net, it sparked a scrum next to goalie Chad Johnson. Eventually, John Carlson was able to get a swipe on the puck sending it trickling to the goal line, but Kyle Okposo was there waiting and appeared to kick it out to safety just before it crossed. A review triggered by the Situation Room, however, revealed that the puck had just barely managed to cross the goal line before Okposo got to it.

Here's the view the NHL released after the review:

Philipp Grubauer's third period

After dominating the first 40 minutes of the game and taking a 2-0 lead, Buffalo predictably made a late push in the third period with two goals to pull within one. Washington outshot the Sabres in the first and second periods, but Buffalo reversed that trend in a big way in the third as they outshot the Caps 17-6. Grubauer turned aside 15 of those shots and was impressive after barely being tested in the first two periods.


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3 stars of the game: Caps knock out the punchless Sabres

3 stars of the game: Caps knock out the punchless Sabres

Coming off an ugly 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, a Buffalo Sabres team missing star Jack Eichel was just what the doctor ordered for the Caps to get back on track. Washington dominated the first two periods and then survived a late surge from Buffalo for the 3-2 win.

After battling to a scoreless first, Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson spotted Washington a 2-0 lead in the second. They then held on in the third period as Buffalo began to tilt the ice in their favor, with Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring the empty-netter to put this game out of reach. Evander Kane would pull Buffalo within one, but with only three seconds left it was too little, too late.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Alex Ovechkin: Ovechkin opened up the scoring in the second period as he deflected down an innocent shot from Christian Djoos past Chad Johnson.

Ovechkin also set a physical tone as he battled with defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen all game long. After taking a high elbow from Ristolainen early in the game Ovechkin skated up to Ristolainen prior to the faceoff on his next shift and let him know that it was on. 

2. John Carlson: Carlson had a hand in both of Washington's first two goals. He recorded a secondary assist on Ovechkin's goal as he made a blue line pass to Djoos which Djoos fired on net and Ovechkin deflected. Carlson then managed to hit the puck past the goal line in a scrum next to Johnson. It looked initially like Kyle Okposo had managed to kick out the puck just before it crossed, but Carlson was awarded the goal as a review showed the puck had completely crossed the line.

3. Philipp Grubauer: A Sabres team that ranks last in the NHL in scoring and that was also without its leading scorer did not test Grubauer much in the first two periods. Facing a 2-0 deficit, however, Buffalo made a third period push to try to tie the game, but Grubauer was up to the task as he turned aside 15 of the 17 shots he faced in the final 20 minutes. He finished with 32 total saves on the night.