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February 8, 2014 | 11:32am ET
Olympic break is bad timing for Rangers
By Patrick Kearns,

NEW YORK, NY -- For a New York Rangers team that won its last game before the three week Olympic break, the respite could not be falling at a worse time.

The Rangers, who have won seven of their last 10 games, unearthed the consistency absent throughout the early parts of the 82-game campaign from top to bottom, from net outward.

Three weeks apart, with key players enduring strenuous competition and risking injury, is exactly what this team does not need right now.

It starts with goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.

Lundqvist started the year looking like an AHL backup, struggling on high shots, whiffing on low shots and flat out missing everything in between. While the defense in front of him certainly didn't help, Lundqvist's play kept the Rangers at the bottom of newly created Metropolitan Division.

That Lundqvist is gone and the one that has jubilantly celebrated almost as many wins for the New York Rangers franchise as Mike Richter has returned.

Call it whatever you'd like -- although don't mention pad size, he seems to be sensitive about that -- but it all seems like a bad dream for the franchise at this point. A nightmare where you try to run for your life, only to move like you're running against the undertow.

It's not just the increasingly stronger play from Lundqvist, consistency throughout the lineup has been another key for the team.

It took a while for head coach Alain Vigneault -- in his first year holding the reins of this squad -- to figure out which players operated in a complementary style, and how to balance the speed, skill and physical nature of the makeup of the this team.

Now, it seems he has found the perfect line combinations and continues to roll them every night. A far cry from the John Tortorella era, in which the lines changed as often as his moods.

The team's seven wins in the last ten have been all that more impressive because of their incredibly strange schedule. They played two games in sub zero -- Celsius that is -- temperatures in a span of three days, something no other NHL team has done at this point. They came away with two hard fought wins in those games, which served as a bit of a curve ball in the middle of their season.

Hockey players are creatures of habit, and playing hockey outdoors, in a baseball stadium, in freezing temperatures, in the middle of January, is certainly not habitual.

It seems that the team that took the ice at the beginning of the season as the newly renovated Madison Square Garden is a distant thought.

According to statistics compiled by Extra Skater, the Rangers have out attempted their opponents in shots in 24 of their last 30 games. The consistently with which this team executes nightly is there and the results are finally starting to match the underlying numbers.

"We have found a certain comfort level with the way we're playing," defenseman Marc Staal said after the team's 4-1 win over the rival New York Islanders on Jan. 31. "We know what we expect of ourselves, we know what we have to do to win hockey games. We have been able to go into games with guys knowing their roles to make that happen. The effort, that consistency has been there, and we've been able to win more consistently."

Staal is a player that has tremendously flown under the radar these past few months, as he has quietly climbed back into the role of being one of the top defenders on the team.

He has always been the right combination of physical, creative and positionally sound.

His corsi for, relative to the team's corsi while he is not on the ice, ranks third on the Rangers and second among defenseman. His partner, Anton Stralman, ranks first.

It's mostly a matter of health with Staal, who has had his fair share of injuries over the past few seasons, but he really has gotten back to a place where he can be a truly special player on a nightly basis.

Now, the Olympics stand in the way as the next big hurdle for the New York Rangers. With seven players heading halfway across the world, the Rangers will keep their fingers, toes, legs and arms crossed that every player comes back healthy.

Patrick Kearns is a Columnist and the New York Correspondent for The Fourth Period.

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