The key question going into the 2012-2013 season is whether the Rangers with Nash and Kreider will be carbon copy of the shot blocking, defense first team of last year.
For those of us who look unkindly at how Coach Tortorella has sucked the life out of creativity and failed to make use of assets (i.e., Avery), there is strong reason to doubt that the addition of Nash and Kreider to the mix of top six forwards will matter. However, even if the basic structure of the offense and defense remain the same (and I hope not), there are two huge differences between this team and last year's team.
The Left Wing Lock: The Rangers lost to the Devils in the playoffs, and were outplayed by the Senators (and almost lost) because of the "left wing lock." In most simple terms, it is a defensive system, sometimes confused with the neutral-zone trap. The main objective of the left-wing lock is to prevent an odd-man rush and create turnovers. You prevent the odd man rush by always having your left wing back along with the two defensemen when the opposition is breaking out.
Then, your two other forwards aggressively force the puck to the offensive teams left wall, "locking up" the opposing winger on the breakout. This gives the defending team a better chance of causing a quick turnover, creating an odd-man advantage and a scoring opportunity.
Visualize two Devil forwards deep, forcing the Rangers defense to throw the puck along the left boards to a waiting Ranger wing and then preventing that Ranger forward from advancing by surrounding him with two defenders and a forward. The Rangers break out play from their own zone has always been to come up the side boards - tailor made for the use of this strategy against them.
Nash will make a difference. Kreider (as the season progresses) will make a difference. They are each big, strong left wings, who have the power to force the puck up the wall and the speed to force one of the defenders to stay back a little. We should be able to get out of the zone better, and maintain possession more often.
The Power Play: The Rangers power play conversion rate during the past year was a horrible: 15.7%. The playoffs were better, at 17.8% - and 2 of those 13 goals were from Kreider. Otherwise the percentage was 15.1%. Nash adds even more to the power play. 83 of his 272 goals were on the power play. He is willing to play in front of the net like Cally. Plus, he is hard to move, great hands and can open the ice for Gabby. A power play percentage of 20% is very possible, and with that fewer liberties will be taken at even strength.
One hopes that the Rangers will employ a more aggressive defense (say 2-1-2) instead of the box and shot blocking, at least with the first two lines on the ice, but whether Torts uses the new tools he has remains to be seen. However, even if Torts fails to change, this will be a better team. A team that is not yet the best in hockey, but should be one of the top five.