Rangers Are the Hummingbirds of the NHL

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 14: Goalie Nikolai Khabibulin  of the Edmonton Oilers sits on the ice as the puck comes out of the net on a goal by Brian Boyle  of the New York Rangers during the second period of a hockey game at Madison Square Garden on November 14, 2010 in New York, New York. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)

It amazes me what a difference attitude can make for an NHL team.

Look at the Rangers.

On paper, the team shouldn’t be significantly better than last year’s model. The biggest difference is the absence of defenseman Wade Redden.

Yet, this is simply a much better team than last season. This team has 41 points in 34 games, currently good for fifth place in the East, but a 98 point pace. Last season’s team finished out of the playoffs with 87 points.

This season’s team has outscored opponents by 17 goals, sixth best in the league. Last season’s team finished with just a +4 goal differential, 14th best in the league.

What’s the difference this season?

Everyone has their own theories.

Newsday floated the idea that coach John Tortorella has mellowed and players are responding better to his not screaming like a maniac all of the time.

Tortorella himself has praised the Rangers’ room, apparently feeling he finally has the right mix of personalities.

In general, I’ve been much more impressed by Tortorella’s coaching. In last night’s come-from-behind win over Phoenix, the Rangers got the tying goal via an improvised line of Chris Drury, Derek Stepan and Sean Avery. Tortorella has done a lot of nice mixing-and-matching like that all season, without it degenerating into line roulette.

Tortorella’s also been great about awarding ice time based upon merit. Brian Boyle has 12 goals on the season. That’s the same amount he scored in his previous three NHL seasons. Brandon Prust has five goals on the season, three of them short-handed. He has just six goals in his previous NHL seasons.

Tortorella’s been great about rewarding them with ice time when they’re on a roll.

It seems that team vibe or personality is apparently a real thing, though. Because while the Rangers are hardly a lights-out team, they’re playing well beyond their talent levels. They’ve managed to replace talent with effort and that means a lot in the regular season.

To see the talent-for-effort effect in reverse, just take a look at the Wild, who seem to be in a very dark place.

The Wild, on paper, probably have a more talented team than the Rangers. Yet effort seems to be a real issue for Minnesota. As do line changes.