I am not going to go into specifics as to why, but I feel that one major reason is because the majority of the core have grown up and learned to play with each other.
If anyone has played any sort of team competition and has 'grown' with a team, it is abundantly clear that you mature and improve as a team. You become comfortable with one another and learn how each player plays. It becomes a very fluid and smooth game.
Agree with every item. Except I'd put the above on top. Everything flows from that.
This season is a non starter with out Buy In from the players on Torts and his system.
Oh, that was not in any particular order. Every player on the team not only plays and believes in what Torts is preaching, but also police the lockerroom that way. Every player without fail, players specifically the way that Torts wants. THere is no selfishness.
Everyone besides Dubinsky and Boyle are playing better from last year, including the defense which now SHOULD feature 3 near-elite shutdown guys and a 50+ point offensive defenseman. I don't know if the 2 month struggle is what these guys really are, though.
I'll go in a different direction with this....I think the answer is that we aren't "so much better this year". We were already pretty good last year and we ended the season playing really well. Winning 11 of our last 16. If not for a Callahan injury, we very well may have made a decent showing in the playoffs.
Regarding improvements...Richards has addressed a big need, Gaborik is healthy, and a player like Hagelin gives us another dimension. It's led to a far more consistent offense which has allowed us to keep things simple defensively and play the game to our style.
While not a fan of his over his first 2 seasons, I have to give props to John Tortorella here. In just a couple of years, he really weeded out the trash on this team (Gomez, Zherdev, Avery, etc) and now has a roster full of guys that have bought in, and are willing to go through a brick wall for their teammates.
And Lundqvist too, of course, although we all knew he was always great.