Second half breakout candidates

Lundqvist and the Rangers among the players, teams that should be better

Updated: January 9, 2014, 9:18 AM ET
By Neil Greenberg | ESPN Insider

Rick NashAP Photo/Frank Franklin IIRick Nash and the Rangers are poised for an uptick in their performance in the second half.

If the season were to end today, the New York Rangers would find themselves narrowly in a postseason spot. Their 22-20-3 record puts them in third place in the Metropolitan Division by one point, and if we use a 90-point season as a benchmark to make the playoffs they need to win between 19 and 21 of their next 37 games to reach that plateau. But the future need not be bleak.

The Rangers have done a decent job of tilting the ice in their favor. Ignoring special-teams play and lead-protecting situations, the Blueshirts have outshot opponents 683 to 601, a margin that is sixth best in the league. Where they have fallen short is not converting on those shots, shooting a below-average 6.1 percent at even strength. Only the lowly Buffalo Sabres are worse (5.5 percent). A lack of puck luck in this fashion typically progresses to the mean as the season wears on, especially when you have players like Rick Nash, Derek Stepan and Michael Del Zotto all below their individual shooting percentage career averages.

In addition to the offense finding its stride, we can expect Henrik Lundqvist, an elite NHL netminder, to get back on track. Voted the best goalie in the league only two seasons ago, the backstop of Team Sweden is 13-16-3 with a 2.76 goals-against average and .906 save percentage. Those last two metrics would be his worst as a pro in nine seasons, making it no surprise the Rangers are struggling as well.

Neil Greenberg is ESPN Insider's NHL analytics expert. His columns have appeared on the Washington Post website, and he is a regular guest on Sirius XM NHL Radio.