Rangers Steal Two Points In Win Over Canes

Remember how I said the boys probably deserved a better fate against the Canadiens the other night? Yeah, same goes for tonight. On the second half of a back to back after playing at home versus a tough Blues team, it was the Canes who looked like the better team for the majority of the game. Honestly, if they had goaltending, they probably would’ve won this game. But fortunately for the Rangers, they finally ran out of steam in the third period and the home team was able to take advantage to secure the victory. But the game should’ve been over long before that.

After yesterday’s practice, Alain Vigneault hinted at changes to the power play units. Most people asked why not make changes to the top two forward lines as well. There were no lines shown during that practice (or if there were, the beat writers didn’t mention them) and with no morning skate, fans had to wait until game time to find out what Vigneault had in store. The result? There were changes on the forward lines as J.T. Miller started on the first line with Mats Zuccarello moved down to the third. I’ll have more thoughts on the lines tomorrow but it honestly didn’t matter as those lines lasted all of a period and a half, I think.

My hope at the start of the game was that the Rangers would come out flying and pounce on a tired team playing the second half of a back to back. If I didn’t know better, I would think it was the Rangers who had played last night. The Canes had more energy and controlled play for the first six minutes of the game. Then the Canes attempted to move the puck out of their zone and tried a pass up the ice that Rick Nash intercepted, brought back in and wristed past Ward to get the Rangers on board first. It was their second shot of the game. (At the time, I honestly thought it was their first.)

Of course Nash isn’t perfect as three minutes later, he took a penalty. I think he was covering after a neutral zone turnover so it might have been a penalty he had to take but there was no question it was a penalty. How did the Rangers look on the penalty kill? Well with time running down in it, Dominic Moore did this:

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I honestly was expecting him to dump it in and change when he got to the red line. I know Moore is more talented than a five-minute a night, fourth line player but I had no idea he had those moves in him. That was incredible. NHL twitter feed questioned if it was the shorthanded goal of the year. Not sure about that but it definitely is up there.

Somehow those were the only goals of the period so the Rangers came out with a 2-0 lead despite being outshot 15-8. I don’t remember the Canes getting 15 shots but let’s just say the Rangers didn’t deserve to have a lead, nonetheless a two goal one.

I was hoping the Rangers came out and played a better second period. I honestly don’t remember what happened during the first three minutes because with 16:58 remaining in the period, every Rangers fans world almost ended. Henrik Lundqvist looked to be seriously hurt.

Let me start off by saying I do have trust in Cam Talbot. If the team had to roll with him, I wouldn’t call the season a loss. But this looked really serious.

I haven’t re-watched the play (I’m kind of scared to) but I know Lundqvist stopped a shot up high, dropped to the ice and kicked his legs like he was in obvious pain. Turns out Ryan McDonagh lifted his helmet just as the Canes took a shot and the puck hit him in his unprotected throat. I’m trying not to ask how or why or what McDonagh was doing that led to him high-sticking his goalie (We miss you captain! Please come back to us!) but watching Lundqvist whither around in pain was one of the scariest things I’ve seen live. (I wasn’t there for the Marc Staal injury, although Chris Kreider said this reminded him of that.)

I watched as Jim Ramsey ran onto the ice. Then the Canes trainer came out. Then they opened the zamboni entrance and the doctor in the building came out. Fortunately I have an amazing camera that let me zoom into where they were and I could see Lundqvist’s head was moving. (They hadn’t shown the replay at first so we had no idea where he was hit.) I then watched as our savior got to his knees and then to his feet, throwing his hair back to put his mask back on. The sigh of relief in the building was audible between the “Henrik! Henrik!” chants.

After the game, Lundqvist told the media what we all kind of expected while watching the aftermath play out:

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Now many will say he’s incredible for being able to stay in with those issues. They will point to his competitiveness to fight through it. I disagree. It’s complete stupidity and honestly, I know I’m supposed to trust out medical staff but how can I? How can they let a guy stay in who is lightheaded? And if he lied about it, how can’t they tell that? You can hide a lot of things. I’ve been lightheaded many times before. You can’t hide that. It drives me absolutely crazy how macho these guys think they have to be. Maybe other guys are impressed by it. I’m not. I was glad he at least appeared to be okay though.

Anyway, I don’t know if the Rangers were stunned or still playing the same way they started the game, but they didn’t give Lundqvist a break when play resumed and two and a half minutes later, the Canes finally beat him to cut the lead in half. The injury had nothing to do with the goal. I was surprised it took that long for the defense pair of Dan Boyle and John Moore to let up one. In the offensive zone, those two are probably great together. In the defensive zone, I’m honestly not sure which one is worse. I think this one was Boyle’s fault.

The Rangers were lucky as that was the only goal of the second so they managed to make it to intermission with an undeserved (to me) 2-1 lead.

The third period started similar to the rest of the game but as the minutes went on, the Canes finally ran out of energy. And the Rangers pounced. At one point I was watching them and wondering if they were finally skating and playing hockey or if they just looked like they were because the Canes clearly had nothing left. I think it was a combination of the two.

Halfway through the period, the BC friends teamed up for a great goal as Kevin Hayes made a great pass that Chris Kreider only had to tap in. Most Rangers would’ve missed the tap in though. Kreider, on the other hand, actually had his stick on the ice and was ready for the pass. Honestly, Kreider was probably one of the best Rangers all night as I actually noticed when he was on the ice. Not surprisingly, he was the second star of the game.

Just 21 seconds later, Dan Boyle made up for his lousy play the rest of the night by blasting one from the point to make it 4-1 off a great pass from Carl Hagelin. At that point, Rangers fans finally felt comfortable their team might win this game. And they did. Even though there was a little less than a half a period remaining, the Canes really didn’t put up much of a fight and the Rangers walked away with a big two points.

So what does this game mean going forward? Hopefully the four goals allows the boys to remember they can score. That said, if they play the way they did tonight against 90% of the league, they won’t win 4-1 no matter how much Lundqvist stands on his head. They need to be better. I saw some people say the break came at the wrong time. I disagree. I saw this coming before the break. I was hoping the break would stop it before it got worse. It didn’t so now the boys have to mentally do it themselves. I think they can. But we’ll see what happens on Monday when the Panthers come into town.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

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Good Defense Not Enough As Rangers Shutout

Anyone else get flashbacks to May 29, 2014? That would be game six of the Eastern Conference Final last year, for those who don’t remember dates. When these two teams want to play hockey, they really can put on a show.

Before we get to the game, here’s a couple of stats for you. Heading into tonight, the Rangers were 6-9-1 against teams currently in the top eight in the east this season. They are 6-0-2 vs the top eight teams in the west. Go figure. The Rangers do need to fix this though if they want a chance at the west in the playoffs.

Two quick lineup changes tonight as John Moore was in for Matt Hunwick (this rotation will continue for the next five weeks unless one is traded before that) and Lee Stempniak in for J.T. Miller. I really wish I knew the Rangers plan for Miller. Because what they are currently doing just doesn’t make sense. (I know the same was done with Kreider, but why do Hayes and Fast get a pass while Miller is benched after one mistake? That’s the part I don’t understand.)

Now onto the game. You know the old saying that playoff series breed rivalries? Even the newest of fans would assume these two teams had a heated playoff series recently after watching the first twenty minutes.

It started out quiet and calm. Both sides getting a couple of chances, with the Rangers best coming from the newly created fourth line of Glass, Hayes and Fast. Then a little bit before the halfway mark, the Rangers got the first penalty as Mats Zuccarello was called for holding. Nothing crazy and fortunately the Rangers were able to kill it off.

Less than two minutes later Chris Kreider and P.K. Subban re-introduced themselves to each other and the result was basically seven minutes of mayhem. It started with a Subban hit to Kreider that went uncalled. Kreider retaliated as the two went up the ice and we all know that always gets called. But the retaliation was a light, and I mean light, crosscheck and Subban went down as if he was shot. The result? They both went to the box and spent the next two minutes screaming at each other.

As they came out of the box, Subban made it seem as if he was going to go after Kreider and the young Ranger didn’t hesitate to drop his gloves and return the favor. But in typical Subban, actually typical Canadiens, fashion, Subban then tried to turn away to draw the penalty. The referees didn’t fall for it and sent both right back to the penalty box. I honestly don’t remember the last time I saw Kreider that incensed about something.

According to John Giannone, Glass told the Canadiens bench that what Subban did was embarrassing (it was) and one of the referees told the Canadiens bench he will call that play the same way all night so stop and play hockey. My biggest issue with the Canadiens is this crap. They are part of such a storied franchise and this stuff is an embarrassment to that logo and those who have worn it before them.

Once those coincidental minors came to an end, the two skated towards the bench and almost went at it again. Apparently, again according to Giannone who was standing right there, Kreider looked at the Rangers bench asking if he should. The bench said yes but by the time he turned around, Subban had already gone to the bench. I honestly expected to see more from those two but I guess they both calmed down during the intermission and decided to play hockey instead.

As for actual hockey in the second half of that period, the Rangers had a couple of turnovers that made me want to scream (Ryan McDonagh needs to open his eyes every once in a while), Dan Girardi missed a point blank chance off a perfect Derek Stepan feed and Dale Weise was absolutely robbed by Henrik Lundqvist. Oh and Tanner Glass fought Brandon Prust. While both got some punches in, Glass didn’t get enough for my liking. (Seeing Prust drop would’ve been the only thing enough for my liking.)

Back to the Weise shot as it was reviewed at the next whistle but fortunately ruled inconclusive. Some quick thoughts on the review. Remember a couple of weeks ago when the Rangers had one of these reviews conclude a puck that obviously was in the net wasn’t? That happened again. And for the same reason. Did we all know the puck probably crossed the goal line? Absolutely. But there is no view that showed it completely over the goal line therefore ruling on the ice has to stand. The closest I saw had it still touching the goal line. The rule basically says you need to see white between goal line and puck. I didn’t either time and both times the goal didn’t count. At least they’re becoming consistent with it.

There was another scrum as the period came to an end leading to the Rangers starting the second with a full two minutes of power kill time. Those two minutes would set up the entire period as after an action filled second half of the first, the second period was completely calm. Both teams got chances on the power kill but neither were able to capitalize and the teams headed to the third still tied at zero. (I will give some credit to both penalty kill units as they did shut down the opposition. But when a player with the man advantage passes the puck into the penalty killer, it’s not that difficult for them to clear.)

As for the third, it really looked like we were headed to overtime with no score. I kept waiting for that to change but it just didn’t look like it was going to. Then the Habs took what probably should’ve been a harmless shot on net with 4:17 remaining and it somehow squeezed past Lundqvist. Game. Set. Match.

I had absolutely no confidence in the Rangers tying the game. It had nothing to do with the way they were playing as they probably deserved a better outcome. (Heck, they deserved to win this game more than a few they won during the streak.) The questions were when would Vigneault pull Lundqvist and would Montreal get the empty goal? The answers? With a minute and a half to go and hilarious no. They really tried but basically did everything but hit the actual net. I thought that might give the Rangers a chance.

Then a bad icing call led to the Rangers having to try to get the puck up the ice with less than 30 seconds remaining and what do they do? They drop pass. The words running through my head just thinking about that play…you have an idea what they are. I just don’t get it. I don’t understand why they think that’s a good play at any point in the game. It doesn’t work. It never works. Okay, maybe once every 500 tries it works. Those odds tell me to stop doing it. Yet every game, every period, all they do is drop pass. I just don’t get it.

Anyway, other than a couple of moments, the Rangers honestly played a great game and deserved a point. Two things hurt them:

First, in the first period they fell into the stupid crap Montreal always pulls. Did it technically hurt them? No, there were no goals and it stopped after the first twenty. (I really wonder if the teams were warned.) But it took them off their game. An early goal would’ve changed this game and the Rangers really had no chance to get one in the first period because of all the side show stuff.

Secondly, puck luck. There’s no other way to put it. I have no idea how many times the line of Brassard, Nash and Zuccarello either hit a post or missed the net. If half of those pucks had gone in, the Rangers would’ve won this game easily. But it just wasn’t meant to be. Which is why I was just waiting for the Canadiens to score. At least it wasn’t an ex-Ranger to do it.

Next up, the Rangers have a day off and then it’s another round of Staalapoolza. This one actually will be as all three brothers will be in the game. (Well, as of this writing they will be. I believe the Hurricanes have a game tomorrow night so anything is possible.) I don’t want to say that’s a must win but due to Carolina’s place in the standings and the Rangers current streak, it basically is to the point a game could be a must win in January. Don’t disappoint me boys.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

Change In Venue Doesn’t Change Outcome For Rangers

Exactly two weeks ago, the Rangers and Islanders met at Madison Square Garden where the visitors shut out the home team 3-0. The difference between that game and tonight, besides the change in venue, was that Derek Stepan would be available for this game. He technically hadn’t played against the Islanders this year (he was out for the first game and hurt very early on in the second) so I was hoping that would make a difference. It didn’t as the Islanders still beat their local rivals, this time by the score of 4-1.

Earlier in the day, the handful of beat writers who did make it to the morning skate mentioned that the forward lines were TBD due to a number of players feeling ill. All players were present during practice but I just had this feeling someone wasn’t playing tonight. I guess everyone decided to push through as the only change was Tanner Glass in for Lee Stempniak. This is where the rotation should be for 12th forward.

Anyone worried about the teams not being ready due to the break had their fears put at ease really quickly as the pace of the game was set from the first face-off. Unfortunately once again it was the Islanders setting the pace. You will probably hear how the teams went back and forth in the first period and they did. The Rangers did get a couple of chances on Halak. But the Islanders had and created more.

According to the stat sheet, the Rangers had six giveaways in the first. I would double that number and maybe you would be close. (Funny part is the game sheet had the Islanders with eight giveaways. There is no way the Islanders had more giveaways than the Rangers.) It wasn’t that the Rangers were playing poorly. They just didn’t seem to understand that they didn’t have all the time in the world to make plays anywhere on the ice and in doing that, they made the Islanders look far superior.

It finally burned them with two minutes remaining in the period when Mats Zuccarello could’ve put the puck in deep in the Islanders zone but instead attempted a cross ice pass that was easily intercepted and brought up the other way. Then I have no idea what the five players did on the ice but it ended with the Islanders getting the first goal of the game. I specifically have no idea why Ryan McDonagh was lying on his stomach in front of Lundqvist. It wasn’t even a snow angel. He just lied down and tried to swipe with his stick as if that would make a difference. Surprisingly, it did not. And I refuse to blame Lundqvist in any way since he made 16 saves, many of them “grade A chances” as Vigneault would say, in the first 20 minutes. That’s not acceptable Rangers.

Fortunately for the Rangers, the buzzer sounded and they had a chance to go back to the locker room and regroup.

I wish I could say it helped but it didn’t. Again, the boys weren’t playing poorly. The Islanders were forcing them to look like they were. (Yes that is my backhanded way of giving the Islanders the credit they probably deserved.) Actually, I am going to give credit to one Islander – anyone who wonders why Halak was in Columbus this weekend over Henrik Lundqvist needed to watch this game. There was nothing Lundqvist could do on the goals (and he made an incredible save with Brassard barreling into him) but Halak was better. And that’s why the Islanders had a 2-0 lead after two.

Oh, right, the Islanders scored early in the second to double their lead. I’m sure it was a misplay by the visitors that led to the goal but I’ve already blocked the play out. That’s what happens when you see a team get numerous chances and just not able to bury one.

The third was the same minus the part with the Rangers having as many chances. Honestly, I just wanted them to get one. Just get one past Halak so they knew they could beat him. Carl Hagelin answered my prayers by finally getting the Rangers on the board. Granted it happened with less than 10 seconds remaining and the Islanders already having a four goal lead but at least they got one past him. Now I have some hope for the next game three weeks from now. Not a lot, but some.

Larry Brooks had an article today saying the Rangers should “tank for Sidney” meaning they should make sure to fall into the 2-3 battle so they could play the Penguins. Honestly, I’d be fine with that but I’d also be worried the Pens manage to take first and they get the Islanders. If I had my choice of the Bruins or the Islanders, I’m taking the Bruins every day of the week. At this point, the Rangers need to do whatever it takes to not get the Islanders in the first round and pray whoever does takes care of them. Otherwise it’s going to be a short postseason. (They just have their number right now. And you absolutely cannot discount a goalie being inside their heads as Halak currently is.)

But for now we get to forget about our New York neighbors and prepare for the Canadiens who are headed to the Garden on Thursday. Only with the Rangers would I feel more confident about that game then I did about tonight.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

Rangers Have Decisions To Make With Deadline Looming

As the players return to (snowy) New York after a few days in the sun, I can only hope they enjoyed their rest as over the next 75 days, they will play 38 games. To put that in perspective, they played their first 44 games in 104 days. We knew they had to catch up at some point. I just hope they have something left for the playoffs after this stretch.

Anyway, I didn’t do much on the All-Star Game since the Rangers only had Rick Nash in attendance. And while he was an alternate captain on the visiting team (and kept drafting all of our enemies), he really didn’t do much over the weekend. I did enjoy this quote from him after the game though:

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Yes, no goals for Tavares on Tuesday. And if you want to get stuck in Columbus with him and Halak for a couple of days, that’s a trade-off I might be willing to take.

So with the All-Star weekend over, what do fans have to look forward to next? The trade deadline!

With exactly five weeks until the deadline, talk surrounding the remaining free agents on the team will pick up whether we like it or not. Unlike last year, it’s been relatively quiet during the first half of the season (and I’ve been perfectly okay with that). That won’t be the case for January as the futures of UFAs Mats Zuccarello, Marty St. Louis and Lee Stempniak plus RFAs Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin, John Moore, J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast need to be decided.

There’s a few names we can probably take off that list – St. Louis isn’t going anywhere and won’t be re-signed until the summer. Same for Stempniak, unless they decide to move him for a draft pick, but either way he won’t be re-signed during the season. And Stepan will be signed. It’s just a question of when. To me, he should be next on the list. I understand he’s a RFA but he will also cost the most money. Might as well see what you have left after you get him under contract rather than hope you have enough after you handle everyone else. But I will be the most shocked of everyone if Stepan has a new contract before August.

That leaves Zuccarello, Hagelin, Moore, Miller and Fast. I wish I could sit here and say what will happen with those five but I honestly don’t have a clue. I’ve said since the start of the season that I don’t expect both Zuccarello and Hagelin to make it to September. (I’m honestly not sure both make it past the trade deadline.) I know some people think the decision comes down to not having a spot due to other players being around. That’s not the case nor has it ever been. (I will point out below how that’s not the case with one in particular.) The Rangers need to decide if what they bring is enough for what they are going to cost. That’s it.

Right now Mats Zuccarello is in the top six. Do the Rangers think he belongs there or do they want to find someone else (possibly Anthony Duclair) to fill that role next year? If St. Louis returns (as most expect him to), Zuccarello’s spot is the only one available for a change. So do the Rangers stick with the current top six or do they try to make it better? (Not saying they need to but they might think they need to.) His vision on the ice is something I’m sure the team doesn’t want to lose. But he’s a very smart player on a team filled with smart players so unless he brings something else, they might think he’s expendable. There were rumors his agent was in town right before the break so he might be the first we hear stuff about.

As for Carl Hagelin, he won’t be getting a top six role on the Rangers. As a RFA, he can’t say he’s going somewhere else to find one. He’s a bottom six player who is a fantastic skater and even better penalty killer. Is that enough to pay him more than the $2.4 million in actual salary he’s making this year? I know the cap comes into play but I don’t think the actual money is the issue. With the kids coming up, is it worth spending that money on a bottom six player? I’m not sure it is.

But that’s where J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast come in. What is the Rangers plan for them? Larry Brooks had a great article last week regarding Miller, saying the Rangers need to let him play to see what they have. If they decide they want to keep both of those players, you have four guys already penciled in for your bottom six next season (those two plus Dominic Moore and Kevin Hayes). Assume the Rangers are going to sign one veteran, like they did with Stempniak this season, and that’s five. You keep Hagelin and have Tanner Glass as your 13th forward and suddenly there’s no room for any more kids to come up. Now maybe they don’t think any are ready. But if they do, someone on that list needs to go and Hagelin might be the odd man out.

(Before anyone says Glass should be, the two players play completely different roles. Hagelin’s role is replaced by the kids. Who can replace what Glass brings? And before anyone says he brings nothing because fancy stats says he brings nothing, watch him play. He hasn’t been as horrible as everyone is saying. Unless of course you were expecting him to lead the team in scoring in which case you were never going to get what you expected.)

If I had to guess, the Rangers will make a trade for a bottom six forward meaning someone currently down there will be gone. I would have no problem with it being Stempniak but I would honestly be surprised if Hagelin was at Casino Night this year. (This year the event is three days after the trade deadline.) I also expect John Moore to be gone unless they really can’t find another option. I’m still not sure it’s the right move but at this point, I’d be shocked if he hasn’t asked for a trade.

But for now the Rangers return from sun and relaxation to snow and a lot of work. And it starts, as of this writing, with the Islanders tomorrow night in Nassau. It sounds like the league is doing everything they can to make sure this game is played even with the blizzard the area is expecting. The Rangers moved their practice to Nassau for this afternoon and I assume are treating this like a road trip and staying over in Long Island. Maybe that will help them to play better. They are usually a better a road team, after all.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

No Artwork Needed, Rangers Still Beat Sens

After the game, Alain Vigneault said that every night didn’t have to be a Picasso. If he was saying tonight’s game against the Senators wasn’t, that would be an understatement. It honestly looked like two tired teams who wished the break could’ve started a few hours earlier. But both mustered through and managed to get a point. But as Mats Zuccarello said, it’s the good teams who get two. The Rangers are a good team.

With no lineup changes to discuss, there really wasn’t any pregame news. That continued in the first period as I would love to write about everything that happened. But I fell asleep. I was at the game.

Okay, I didn’t actually fall asleep but it was a pretty boring period with nothing to discuss. It did go by rather quickly as the Rangers were on the power play at the end and I had no idea the period was close to over. Anderson made a save and I couldn’t figure out why the whistle blew since the puck was loose. The whistle didn’t blow. The horn sounded to end the period. Oops! Anyway, that was really all I have for the first period.

The second period looked to start the same way and I was reminded of a playoff game between these two teams a few years ago – where I believe they went to overtime tied at zero. It really felt like we were headed that way. Both goaltenders were making terrific saves but when they weren’t, they were saved by a post or the puck was shot into their chest. The Rangers were guilty of both of those things, numerous times.

But then, when I was losing all hope of seeing a goal before a shootout, the puck came back to Dan Girardi at the point. I honestly couldn’t tell who was on the point but screamed for them to shoot it. (I actually think I said “shoot it, whoever you are!”.) Girardi put a perfect low shot on net that was saved by Anderson but the rebound bounced to Kevin Hayes who had nothing to do but slam it into a wide open net. And he did to give the Rangers the lead. (By the way, for those who wonder why Girardi is on the power play, watch that goal. I’m not saying it’s right but that’s why.)

Four minutes later, that line gave the goal back as a horrible neutral zone turnover by Jesper Fast led to the Senators tying the game. A minute later, Lee Stempniak took a stupid penalty and it took the Senators all of nine seconds to take the lead. At the game, I thought Girardi poked it past Lundqvist but they gave the goal to the guy standing next to him so I guess he didn’t touch it. Either way, it wasn’t a good penalty kill.

The worst part was Henrik Lundqvist was having a phenomenal game up until that point and all I kept thinking was he had to be thinking he couldn’t do everything. It took 63 seconds to prove that. Hayes, Fast and Stempniak each played one more shift after that in the second period. Stempniak had one in the third but otherwise the three spent the rest of the game on the bench. Not sure Hayes deserved to be benched but I can’t really argue on the other two.

Three minutes later, the Rangers were given a gift. The Senators were called for a penalty with two and a half minutes remaining in the period. Shortly into the kill, they took another one. Granted it took the Rangers at least 15 seconds to give up the puck as 18,200 fans screamed at them to give the Senators the puck to get the whistle. Watching the 5-on-3, I understood why they didn’t bother at first. It had zone time but it was all on the perimeter. Honestly the power play was so bad, they actually got booed when the buzzer sounded to end the period. I’m not sure they deserved that but it was bad.

I really wasn’t sure what to expect in the third period. Less than three minutes into the period, the puck was in the Rangers zone. Two beautiful passes later, it was in the back of the Senators net. Just watch as Marty St. Louis finds Marc Staal who finds Chris Kreider who finally found the back of the net:

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Kreider had a number of chances all night as he was flying around the ice. His teammates noticed as well as he had the Broadway Hat after the game.

But as beautiful as that pass was, it doesn’t compare to what happened roughly 20 minutes later.

The two teams battled it out for the remainder of the third period but neither goalie was letting another puck past them and to overtime we went. Honestly, knowing the Senators recent record at MSG (13-1-1) and how well Anderson has been against the Rangers (I think he is something like 6-0), I gladly took that point. Then this happened:

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Derek Stepan, there are no words for that pass. I know it’s moves like that which is why you choose to pass instead of shoot but even though you are really good at passing, sometimes you can take a shot. At first I thought he actually was there. After the game Carl Hagelin said the two made eye contact before Stepan got the puck so I’m positive Stepan was trying to put that puck on Hagelin’s stick. And he did. Perfectly. Game, set, match and another two points for the Rangers.

And so the Rangers head into the All-Star break on a 16-3-0 run. Some might say the break is at a bad time but I think the boys need one. Time to refresh the batteries and prepare for the next four and a half months. For I know every guy in that locker room doesn’t plan on playing any less than that.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

No Controversy This Year: Marc Staal Stays In New York

Unlike last year, Rangers fans don’t have to wait until the deadline to find out what will happen to their big name UFA. Because just a couple of days after his 28th birthday, Marc Staal did this:

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Well that makes the next two months a whole lot easier. The contract is believed to be for 6 years, $34.2 million ($5.7 per year) with a no-move clause in the first three years and limited no trade clause in last three.

Am I surprised this happened so early or that he is staying? That would be a no on both. I have been predicting he would stay all season. (Guess my dream was right again.) And as for the contract being done so quickly, the fact that there were no articles regarding contract negotiations told me everything was going just fine. Think about it. Did you see a single contract number or issue regarding Marc Staal all season? There was nothing. By this time last year, Ryan Callahan had been signed and traded a hundred times while no one knew what was going on with Dan Girardi. The formula is pretty simple here.

So let’s talk about the contract.

I have one issue – his cap hit is higher than Dan Girardi’s. I know he’s younger but he’s also injury prone and one hit away from a career-ending concussion. (I know technically every player is and I hate to say that but once you’ve had a major one, you are more prone to them.) And the eye injury is still an issue to me. Due to that, he will always be on the Rangers second defense pair so he shouldn’t be paid more than those on the first pair. (Not including Ryan McDonagh who is ridiculously underpaid since he was coming off his entry level contract. The numbers for Girardi and Staal will be doubled for McDonagh in his next contract.)

That said, getting Staal to stay for a cap hit of under $6 million a year is an absolute win to me. He said from the beginning he wanted to stay in New York and I believed him. He repeated it after the contract was done but seeing him sign this contract proves it.

As for the fact that he is staying in New York, I know a lot of people were against re-signing him. I wasn’t. Here’s why:

You can’t replace him. I don’t care what people think, you can’t. The Rangers have one of the best top four D because all four could be a top defenseman on another team. You take one away and move someone else up, in this case John Moore or Matt Hunwick (or someone from outside), and suddenly that defense doesn’t look as good. (It would not be Kevin Klein as Klein plays the opposite side.) Does he have moments where I want to staple him to the press box? Of course he does. So does Ryan McDonagh and Henrik Lundqvist. Doesn’t mean I’m actually doing it.

Either way, while he does drive me nuts, I am glad he’s staying. And it means we get #StaalsAreBrothers for another six years. Question is how many teams will we get to do that with? (By the way, you know Marc likes New York if he was willing to go against mom in trying to be on the same team as his brothers.)

Time to celebrate six more years of Marc Staal!

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

Rangers Early Goal Leads To Victory Vs. Pens

It’s no secret my feelings of the Penguins. I hate them. I can’t hide it so I don’t try to. Therefore, to start this game my stomach was in knots as I hate seeing the Rangers lose to them. Fortunately the boys put my concerns at ease fairly early in a game where the home team looked to be the one playing their third game in 3.5 days rather than the visitors.

One lineup change today as apparently Tanner Glass suffered an upper-body injury against Columbus that kept him from playing and allowed J.T. Miller back in. Before the game, Vigneault talked about Miller and what he needs to do to stay in the lineup and said he:

“believes he’s on the right track but I don’t see him being in the lineup every day.” Part of that will be matchups. And part of it, Vigneault said, is Miller’s learning curve as an NHL player.

That’s fine but Miller is 21 in his third pro season while Kevin Hayes is 22 in his first pro season and hasn’t missed a game. I’m not saying Miller has played better than Hayes as I’m not sure he has. But Hayes seems to be guaranteed a spot every day and I’m not sure it wouldn’t help him to watch a game or two as he makes similar plays. Anyway, it seems Miller is being given the same treatment as Chris Kreider was when he was just starting. That turned out just fine so we’ll just wait and hope for the best with Miller.

I’m not sure how to judge the first period. Lucky? If you listened to NBC, the Rangers played a great period. But what the scoreboard says doesn’t dictate how the period was played. Was it better than their past few first periods? Absolutely, by a mile. As I’ve said all week, they care about this game so were bound to have a better start than they did last Tuesday. But was it a good period? Not so sure.

It started with a face-off loss at center ice and the Penguins having control of the puck. Then for some reason, they tried a cross ice pass to the point that was missed by Letang and bounced out of the zone. It wasn’t missed by Rick Nash who raced up the ice on a 2-on-1 with Mats Zuccarello. Fleury thought there may be a pass and left room on the short-side which Nash gladly took giving the visitors the lead just 26 seconds into the game. It was a lead they would never relinquish.

You would think that would give the Rangers momentum but I didn’t think it did. The Penguins continued to control the puck, eventually drawing a penalty two and a half minutes later. (It was a light call but they called them both ways in the period so I won’t complain.) The Rangers killed that and a minute later finally got some time in the Penguins zone where a lucky bounce landed on the stick of Derick Brassard and then in the back of the net to double the Rangers lead. I say lucky bounce cause it ended up out by the point where Kevin Klein blasted it and somehow the rebound landed right by Brassard with the only player knowing it was there was the one who put it in the back of the net.

So you would think a two goal lead would switch momentum but you would be wrong again as three minutes later the Rangers took another penalty, this time Marty St. Louis attempting to cover for Ryan McDonagh. Vigneault said before the game that he needed better from his top pair then he got in the game on Friday. Girardi was far from perfect but I think that was meant for the guy with a permanent letter on his jersey. Fortunately the Rangers killed that one too.

But they played with fire and took a third penalty a few minutes later, this one a stupid one by Chris Kreider. There was no way they were killing three and less than halfway through the kill, McDonagh forgot the Penguins captain was standing next to him allowing him to easily bury the power play goal. I miss you, Ryan. I don’t know what it is, but please come back to us.

I honestly thought the game would be tied when the buzzer sounded but the Penguins helped their rivals out by taking back-to-back penalties to allow the Rangers to get some zone time for the remainder of the first. The Penguins killed both allowing the Rangers to only have a 2-1 lead as the teams went to their respective locker rooms.

Unlike in the past, though, second periods have been the Rangers best and today was no different as the Rangers came out ready to play. Just two and a half minutes in, the Rangers won a face-off in the offensive zone with Derick Brassard getting the puck back to Rick Nash. Zuccarello raced to the net as Nash flipped one towards Fleury. It hit the Penguins defenseman stick (I think it was Scuderi) and bounced over Fleury and into the net to give the visitors a 3-1 lead.

Two minutes later, the Penguins took their third penalty with one of our favorite calls, putting the puck over the glass. As like the Penguins did on their third power play, the Rangers made them pay as Derek Stepan blasted one from the face-off circle that Fleury had no chance of seeing through a Chris Kreider screen. And that was all for Fleury for the day.

Surprisingly, the Rangers continued to dominate play through most of the period although two more penalties by the Penguins probably helped. (Neither were successful although they did have zone time in the second, just not many shots.) In the last minute, it looked like the Penguins were starting to fight back so mix that with how the Rangers usually play when having the lead going into the third and everyone assumed we would be in for a wild third period.

For once the Rangers surprised us and we were wrong. They actually played hockey for most of the period (a mid-period power play not included as they basically tried to kill the clock for some unknown reason).

Of course Rangers fans did get a little bit of a scare when Henrik Lundqvist let up an absolute softy to Perron just over four minutes into the period. (I know some will blame McDonagh and Girardi for letting him past them, I think McDonagh took a penalty on the play too, but Lundqvist should’ve had that one.)

But two minutes later, Derek Stepan bailed them out by regaining the three goal lead on a turnover by the Penguins in their own zone. The shot was another blast from the face-off circle. Can someone show video of those two goals over and over again to Stepan until he gets it through his head he needs to shoot the puck every once in a while? Kid has a great shot.

After that, the teams basically played out the remainder of the period because they had to. The Penguins had a couple of chances but overall, the Rangers actually played hockey for the period and made sure no more damage was done. If this game, third one in 3.5 days, doesn’t prove the Rangers think of the Penguins as more of a rival than the Islanders, then I don’t know what will. There is no way they had energy for this matinee and yet they controlled most of the game, especially in the latter stages.

It also means the Rangers went 3-0-1 in the season series against the Penguins as they don’t have to see them again until the playoffs. While I enjoy the regular season series win, I hope they can do the same again in the playoffs. This team always worries me cause I never know when they are going to turn it on. But for now, I’ll enjoy the fact the Rangers basically went 4-0 against them this year (yes, I want to count that shootout loss as a win for obvious reasons).

Next up, the Rangers plan to sign Marc Staal (rumor is the contract is done and will be announced soon) then have a practice tomorrow and a game against the Senators at MSG before having a week off for the All-Star break. Let’s end the first half on a good note boys!

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)