Blueshirts Sit atop Eastern Conference Standings through 41 Games
The New York Rangers have reached the mid-way point of their regular season schedule with a record of 27-10-4 through 41 games. The Rangers are off to their best start in 40 years, and third best start in franchise history, with 58 points to sit atop the Eastern Conference standings and rank second in the league overall. New York has posted four winning streaks of five games or longer this season, which is the most in the league, and marks the first time in franchise history the Rangers have done so through the team’s opening 41 games. The Rangers are also off to their best start at Madison Square Garden since 1995-96 with a 13-4-2 record at home.
The Rangers’ charge has been led by veterans Henrik Lundqvist, Marian Gaborik and Dan Girardi, who were recently selected as NHL All-Stars. Lundqvist currently ranks third in the NHL in goals against average, is tied for third in save percentage, fifth in wins and fifth in shutouts. Gaborik is tied for third among all NHL skaters in goals, and Girardi leads the league in average ice time and ranks fourth in blocked shots. It is the first time since the 1996-97 season the Rangers had three players selected for the All-Star Game (Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Brian Leetch). Head Coach John Tortorella also clinched an All-Star berth, becoming the first Rangers coach in franchise history to coach in the All-Star Game.
First-year captain Ryan Callahan is on a career-high pace in goals, assists and points while ranking among the league leaders in hits and blocked shots by a forward. Defensemen Michael Del Zotto and Ryan McDonagh continue their development into a larger role with the team, as two of the Rangers top four defensemen from last season, Marc Staal and Michael Sauer, have missed a combined 58 games to injury thus far. Del Zotto is currently tied for fifth in the NHL, and second among league defensemen, with a plus-24 rating, and leads all Rangers defensemen in goals, assists and points. McDonagh ranks 12th in the NHL in average ice time and is tied for seventh in blocked shots.
New York has seen nine new players make their debut as a Blueshirt during the first half of the season – free agent acquisitions Brad Richards and Mike Rupp, along with Jeff Woywitka, Brendan Bell, Andre Deveaux, Anton Stralman, John Mitchell, and rookies Tim Erixon and Carl Hagelin. Richards, who ranks second in the NHL with six game-winning goals, posted a five-game point streak to begin his Rangers career, the longest by a new Ranger to start the season since Marian Gaborik in 2009-10. Rupp missed 22 games to injury early in the season, but returned to action in the middle of December and registered two goals to capture first star honors in the NHL Winter Classic. Hagelin was recalled from the Rangers’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate Connecticut Whale on November 24th, and posted a four-game point streak to begin his career, the longest by a Ranger rookie since Steven King began his career with a four-game point streak in 1992-93 (courtesy of the Elias Sports Bureau).
The Rangers opened the 2011-12 Season on October 7th and 8th in Stockholm, Sweden as part of the 2011 Compuware NHL Premiere. It was the second time the Blueshirts made a trip overseas for the NHL Premiere, having been a part of the 2008 NHL Premiere in Prague, Czech Republic. The Rangers travelled to Europe on September 26th to kick-off a 12-day, six-game trip through the continent, beginning with exhibition contests in Prague, Czech Republic, Gothenburg, Sweden, Bratislava, Slovakia and Zug, Switzerland. Their European tour culminated with back-to-back games on October 7th and 8th against the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks in Stockholm, Sweden.
Ryan Callahan registered the Rangers’ first goal of the season at 15:22 of the first period in their season opener on October 7th, while making his debut as the team’s captain. Named the 26th captain in franchise history on September 12th, Callahan also established a Rangers record for most shots in a season opener with a career-high, 11 shots on goal, which also represents the most by an NHL player in a season-opening game since Pavel Bure registered 11 shots on October 3rd, 1997.
The Rangers returned to North America with a 0-0-2 record, as they continued their season-opening seven-game road trip. The road trip established a franchise record for longest stretch away from Madison Square Garden to begin a season, breaking the old record of five games set in 1952-53 and 1953-54. It was only the seventh time in franchise history the Rangers had a road trip of seven games or longer at any point of the season. The road trip culminated with a four-game swing through Western Canada from October 18th to October 24th, with stops in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg. The Rangers began the Western Canada trip with wins in Vancouver and Calgary, marking the first time the team won in those two cities in the same season since 1986-87. New York concluded the trip with a 2-1 victory in Winnipeg on October 24th, marking the Blueshirts’ first visit to Winnipeg since facing the former Winnipeg Jets franchise on November 17th, 1995. It was their first win in Winnipeg since a 5-4 victory on November 21st, 1992. The Rangers completed their season-opening seven-game road trip with a 3-2-2 record, including a 3-1-0 mark through Western Canada.
The Rangers’ home opener at Madison Square Garden took place on October 27th against the Toronto Maple Leafs, their latest home opener since they opened the 1948-49 season on October 27th, 1948 (excluding the lockout-shortened 1994-95 Season). The Blueshirts, who were the last team in the NHL to play their home opener this season, were defeated by their Original Six opponent, 4-2. The Rangers’ home opener allowed fans to experience the first phase of the three year, top-to-bottom historic Madison Square Garden Transformation, for the first time.
New York entered their contest on October 31st against the San Jose Sharks with a 3-3-3 record. The Rangers defeated the Sharks, 5-2, to begin a seven-game winning streak that concluded with a 4-2 win over Atlantic Division rival New York Islanders in Long Island on November 15th. The winning streak was the team’s longest since 2009-10, and just three wins shy of the franchise record streak of 10 straight wins established in 1972-73. The Rangers out-scored their opponents, 27-11, having registered the game’s first goal in six of the seven games. In the 425:00 of game action during the streak, the Rangers held the lead for 250:28 (58.9%), were tied for 173:50 (40.9%) and trailed for only 0:42 (0.2%), according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Ryan Callahan (five goals, three assists) and Derek Stepan (three goals, five assists) tied for the team lead with eight points apiece during the seven-game winning streak, while Henrik Lundqvist (5-0-0, 1.77 goals against average, .941 save percentage) and Martin Biron (2-0-0, 1.00 goals against average, .959 save percentage, one shutout) combined for a 1.55 goals against average and .946 save percentage over the span.
The Rangers finished the month of November with a 9-2-0 record, and carried that momentum into a busy December schedule. New York was scheduled for 15 games, their second busiest month of the season after March, including eight on the road and two back-to-back sets. The Rangers posted a record of 10-4-1, marking the first time the team won 10 games in a month since October of 2008. One of those 10 wins, a 4-1 victory at Buffalo on December 10th, was the Rangers’ 2,500th win in franchise history, making the Blueshirts the fifth team in NHL history to reach the milestone along with Boston, Detroit, Montreal and Toronto.
The month of December also saw HBO film crews follow the Rangers, giving fans and viewers a behind the scenes look at the team in the critically acclaimed series 24/7 Flyers/Rangers: Road to the NHL Winter Classic. The series featured the Rangers in four episodes leading up to and through the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic game against the Philadelphia Flyers at Citizen’s Bank Park on January 2nd.
In the fifth annual Winter Classic, the Rangers erased a two-goal deficit to defeat their Atlantic Division rival Philadelphia Flyers, 3-2, in front of 46,967 fans. After a scoreless first period, the Flyers and Rangers combined for three goals in a 2:25 span of the second. Brayden Schenn and Claude Giroux gave Philadelphia a 2-0 lead with goals at 12:26 and 14:21 of the middle frame, respectively. Mike Rupp responded 30 seconds later to cut the Flyers’ lead to 2-1 heading into the third period. Rupp tallied his second goal of the game at 2:41 of the third to tie it up, and Brad Richards notched the eventual game-winner at 5:21. Henrik Lundqvist made 34 saves, and turned aside the first penalty shot attempt in a NHL Winter Classic game with 20 seconds remaining in regulation, to record the win. Brandon Prust and John Mitchell recorded two assists apiece, while Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan each tallied an assist. Marc Staal made his season debut after missing the first 36 games of the season with a concussion suffered last season.
The Rangers are the first team to play in the NHL Premiere in Europe and the NHL Winter Classic in the same year.
The Blueshirts are now 4-1-0 in January and have registered at least one point in 26 of their last 33 games (24-7-2) dating back to October 29th, after beginning the season with a 3-3-2 mark. The Rangers sit atop the Eastern Conference standings, and rank second in the league overall, with a record of 27-10-4 (58 points). According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this is the latest the Rangers have been in first place of the Eastern Conference standings since the 1995-96 season, when New York held the top position through games played on March 15, 1996 (game #68). The Blueshirts rank among the league leaders in several statistical categories, including first in fewest regulation losses (10), second in points (58), winning percentage (.725) and hits (1,171), tied for third in wins (27), regulation/overtime wins (25) and plus/minus rating (plus-30), tied for second in fewest goals against (83) and goals against average (2.02), fourth in goal differential (plus-32) and fifth in blocked shots (669).