Rangers Send Brassard To Ottawa For Zibanejad

While everyone has been complaining that the Rangers haven’t done anything, I’ve repeatedly said to be patient because a move will be coming once the initial free agency stuff calms down. Well Rangers fans, you got what you wanted:

Oh, that’s not what you wanted was it? Well surprise, that’s what the Rangers did.

Let’s take this piece by piece.

Since the end of the playoffs, there have been rumors about Derek Stepan being traded. The Rangers never leak stuff to the press on actual moves so I immediately assumed (and admittedly hoped) this was a decoy. Apparently it was as this move was completed weeks ago but couldn’t be announced until after the Rangers paid Brassard the $2 million bonus he was due last Friday. Weeks ago. And no one knew. That’s how the Rangers work. One day people will remember this.

Now onto what they did. Oh Derick Brassard. I’ve never believed you were a number one center but you made a great 1A/1B pairing with Stepan. You two were like ying and yang. One knew what the defensive zone was, the other actually knew how to find the net. While I will miss the points and your celebrations, I will not miss your utter cluelessness in your own zone. We just now need someone to make funny faces on the bench, randomly steal opposing players sticks and take care of Mats Zuccarello.

Oh, and while his four points in his Rangers debut and hat trick vs Lightning in 2015 playoffs are definitely great memories, I’ll always remember his OT goal against Pittsburgh in 2014. That comeback doesn’t happen if he doesn’t score that goal to win game one:

I love how Brassard was the only one who knew his shot was in the net. Although I guess that play describes him perfectly as he stopped playing after that. Fortunately for his teammates, so did the Penguins.

So what did the Rangers get? A younger, cheaper version of Brassard in Mika Zibanejad.

In addition, Zibanejad has had two 20 goal seasons and is only starting to reach his prime while Brassard had his first 20 goal season last year. He is also a right handed shot, something the Rangers are in desperate need of. (There is only so many places Stepan can be at once.) And he penalty kills. (Notice a pattern in the moves the team has made this year?)

But more importantly, the Rangers turned a soon to be 29-year old center into a 23-year old center who puts up similar numbers. They also went from having roughly $8.5 million in cap space to now having over $10 million in cap space, which will come in handy as they try to sign Kevin Hayes and Chris Kreider, both of which I expect to return. Oh and the Rangers get an extra second round pick in 2018 for when they inevitably trade their own.

And, to be honest, it shook up the room without completely blowing up the team. Brassard was very well-liked in the locker room so players will notice no one is untouchable if they don’t compete. This plus everything being said about the team should give us a room full of players with quite a chip on their shoulders. Well, those who are still there. While Jeff Gorton didn’t admit to anything else in the works, most of the beat writers walked away thinking he is far from done. As we said in May, it’s going to be a fun summer.

**********

One quick side note. During his conference call with the media, Gorton was also asked if the team ever thought about buying out much maligned defenseman Dan Girardi to which he said, per Andrew Gross:

“I would say no,” Gorton said. “I know Dan Girardi has taken a beating in the media. He’s 32 and he had a significant injury (knee) but he’s had some real good production. He did, by all accounts, not have the season he wanted or we wanted. But we expect Dan to be better. A buyout just didn’t make sense. It’s something we never really considered.”

I’ve said from day one that a buyout didn’t make sense. It didn’t. We just have to hope he bounces back and has a respectable season next year. Expecting him to be an all-star is unrealistic. But expecting him to do what he did this year isn’t really fair either. The only thing we know is that he’ll be there in September.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

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Rangers Player Reviews: Keep Or Dump, Part II

Last week I tackled the Rangers goaltending and defense. If you missed it, you can read it here. Now it’s time for the fun part. Since this is going to get long, we’re going to get straight to it!

Derick Brassard (C, 80 games played, 27-31-58, +12) – As I mentioned in the first part of these reviews, plus/minus is a useless stat. That said, I have no idea how Brassard was a plus-12. In the offensive zone, he’s great. In every other zone? Not so much. But the Rangers knew what they had when they re-signed him and he’s delivered. There been a lot of talk of moving one of the Rangers top centers. If the team were to find and be able to get a true #1 center, Brassard might be the one to go. But those players don’t grow on trees so my guess is the Rangers will stick with the 1A/1B they currently have. Which means another year of cringing every time Brassard is forced to play outside the offensive zone … 75% to return

Jesper Fast (RW, 79 games played, 10-20-30, +9) – There are not a lot of players that are basically guaranteed to return. The moment the Rangers confirmed Vigneault was staying, I felt comfortable saying Fast would be back too. Fans joke about coaches having pets they refuse to take out of the lineup. Fast isn’t one of those but Vigneault absolutely loves him and why not? He is a perfect bottom six forward who doesn’t look out of place when put in the top six. All season, all we heard was how everyone wanted to play with Fast as he made his linemates better. It was obvious too. And I will take 30 points from him every year if I could … 95% to return

Tanner Glass (LW, 57 games played, 4-3-7, -3) – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I don’t hate Tanner Glass. He also was the least of the problems on the fourth line as he was extremely solid from the moment he returned from an early season stint in Hartford. Was he a player driving the offense every time he was on the ice? No, but he’s never been that in his career. Was he a liability on the ice? Honestly most of the top six were more of a liability on any given night. He has one year remaining so things could get interesting. Would someone trade for him? Maybe. Would the Rangers think about buying him out? It’s possible. But Vigneault likes him and since the rest of the fourth line might be gone, he could remain as the extra forward. Basically Glass is one of the reasons I’m not doing a straight “keep or dump” this year … 50% to return

HayesKevin Hayes (C, 79 games played, 14-22-36, +4) – Every year there is one player that I just don’t know what to write. This year, that is Hayes. He drives me absolutely crazy and I probably wouldn’t be upset if the Rangers decided to move on from this experiment. But I see the talent. It’s there. There’s a reason he was a first round draft pick. And I keep reminding myself that Kreider and Miller needed a few kicks before they figured it out so maybe Hayes is taking the same route. But he is so damn frustrating to watch. … 75% to return

Chris Kreider (LW, 79 games played, 21-22-43, +10) – Oh Christopher. I feel like I start his this way every year but it’s fitting. Funny part is I’ve seen everyone saying what a bad year he had and then look at his numbers (which are almost identical to Miller’s). Do the Rangers need more from the power forward? Absolutely. But his year wasn’t as horrible as everyone thinks it was. Personally, I wouldn’t give up on him. Yes his new contract will look bad to start. But if he finally puts it together, it should look like a steal in no time. And I still think he will put it together … 85% to return

Oscar Lindberg (C, 68 games played, 13-15-28, +12) – Lindberg had an interesting rookie season. He came flying out of the gates with 4 goals in his first 3 games. Everyone knew he couldn’t keep up that pace and he didn’t, although he was solid until the end of the year. There was a lot of questions over the last month when Lindberg appeared to be a healthy scratch for an extended period of time. Then the hip injury came out. There still hasn’t been any word of when he sustained the injury but I’m going to guess his play later in the year had something to do with it. Either way, it complicates his status for next year. While he is a young player who the Rangers probably want to keep, he may be a good chip to add into a big deal or help get draft picks back. I wouldn’t rush to trade him as he definitely showed a lot of promise in a bottom six role but changes are being made and this might be an easy one to do … 65% to return

J.T. Miller (C, 82 games played, 22-21-43, +10) – Raise your hand if you thought J.T. Miller would be a must sign at the start of year? Heck, raise your hand if you thought he would make it past the trade deadline? Give the 23 year old credit – he took a “show me” contract last summer and earned the raise he will absolutely get this year. His 16.30% shooting percentage (22 goals on 135 shots) was best on the team and he tied for first with 5 game winning goals. Is he perfect? Not even close, especially in the defensive zone. But he got rid of those blind passes through the center of the ice so you can see he’s learning. And he will continue to learn in NY … 90% to return

Dominic Moore (C, 80 games played, 6-9-15, -2) – All year I heard how his linemates were bringing Moore down. There’s only one problem with that – he played with plenty of guys and they all did fine when moved off his line. So maybe they weren’t the problem. Look I have nothing against Moore. It was a great story for him to come back and he really is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet. The last two seasons he was more than serviceable in his role. But if we’re being honest, he had a really bad season this year. And because of it I think it’s safe to say his time in New York is up … 5% to return

Nash-BrassardRick Nash (LW, 60 games played, 15-21-36, +8) – Where to begin. Let’s start with the obvious – this was an injury plagued year for Nash. He missed a lot of games and had trouble coming back when he did return. Truth of the matter is, the Rangers need more from him. They know it, he knows it, everyone knows it. To sit and say the year was a failure, though, wouldn’t be accurate. Think of how bad the penalty kill was in January and February. Who was missing at that time? I get it. The Rangers aren’t paying him for his defense. But to ignore how good he is on that side of the puck would be ignorant. He’s very good defensively. But the Rangers need offense which is why, for the first time, I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t make it to opening night next year. Although I do laugh at the fact I predicted this exact situation before the trade was even made … 55% to return

Eric Staal (C, as a Ranger: 20 games played, 3-3-6, +1) – Two years ago, everyone said give Marty St. Louis some time to adjust to a trade from the only home he’s really known. He was horrible that season after the trade (1-7-8 in 19 games) but had another year so everyone forgot. Same thing happened with Keith Yandle last year (2-9-11 in 21 games). But because Staal was only here for this season, everyone can’t believe how bad he was. These players need time to adjust. Staal never got the chance. Do I regret the trade? I wasn’t really for it the day it happened but I accepted it. Is it the worst trade the Rangers have made? Not even close. They tried, it didn’t work, move on. At least they didn’t give up another 1st round pick … 5% to return (I highly doubt he’s returning but it’s not impossible.)

StalbergViktor Stalberg (LW, 75 games played, 9-11-20, +6) – Sometimes you have to admit when you are wrong. Stalberg surprised me this year. While he definitely had some bad streaks, he had more good games than bad ones. I guess whatever Vigneault said to him in regards to this being his last shot finally sunk in. But while he was good, he wasn’t irreplaceable. Would I be upset if the Rangers kept him? No, assuming it’s a short term, cheap contract. His speed does help in both the bottom six and on the penalty kill. Will Stalberg be able to take this year and cash in elsewhere (similiar to Benoit Pouliot a few years ago)? Absolutely. And if that’s what he wants to do, I will wish that team as much luck as I wished Edmonton … 65% to return

Derek Stepan (C, 72 games played, 22-31-53, +5) – The best news regarding Stepan right now is that this isn’t a contract summer. There has been talk of possibly moving the young center but personally, I think that is one of the dumbest moves the Rangers could make. Yes he could get them a ton in a trade. But he wouldn’t get his replacement. I understand the Rangers need a true #1 center and Stepan isn’t that. (Although to be fair, at almost 47% he ended the year with his highest faceoff percentage in his career so there’s hope on that front.) But he does everything. And don’t forget how much he was missed during that month he was out. His defensive game did seem to take a step back but so did everyone this year. I’m not ignoring five years of fantastic play because of one below average season. I’m going with my gut and saying Rangers will do same thing … 90% to return

Mats Zuccarello (LW, 81 games played, 26-35-61, +2) – Going into the season, everyone was worried we might not see our favorite Norwegian on the ice again. Zuccarello had other plans, having a career year after a life threatening injury. But he’s very similar to his best friend when on the ice. In the offensive zone, he’s great. In every other zone? Not so much. But the Rangers knew what they had when they re-signed him and he’s delivered. (Yes I literally copied and pasted those same four sentences.) Honestly, no one can complain about what Zuccarello did this year so while there are only a few definites this summer, Zuccarello staying is probably one of them … 95% to return

 

If these percentages are accurate then yes, I realize there won’t be enough changes if the team really is in a new era. But there are reasons to keep almost every player on this roster and I’m sure the Rangers management realizes this which is why I’m really intrigued to see what they do. It’s going to be an interesting three months, that’s for sure.

 

(All photos: Melissa Andus)

Rangers Use Late Second Period Push To Tie Series

There aren’t really must win games at any point unless your team would be going home with a loss so I’m not sure I could say today’s game was a “must win” for the Rangers. But it was probably as close to one as there could be without saying it was one.

The injury situation for both teams was well-known (Ryan McDonaghDan Girardi and Marc-Andre Fleury out, Henrik Lundqvist and Evgeni Malkin back in) so let’s just get straight to the game.

With the Rangers shorthanded on defense and the Penguins adding firepower, the visitors came into this game with one idea in mind – if you can’t beat them, then beat them. Through the first twenty minutes, every Ranger made sure to finish their checks (and shockingly didn’t take themselves out of position to do it) which led to this:

I’ve always held the belief that you don’t want to be the team that hits more as it means you have the puck less. For some reason, it felt pretty even through twenty even though the hits were 22-4. Maybe that’s because Henrik Lundqvist looked like himself and therefore the score was still 0-0.

Of course that didn’t last long as the teams started the middle frame at 4-on-4 with Hornqvist and Mats Zuccarello in the box. I guess Zuccarello liked it there as he went right back in ten seconds after he came out, only this time he went alone. There’s only so much teams can do against the Penguins power play and the home team had the lead. And then the home team took over and it started to look like it was going to be a long remainder of the afternoon.

Then with seven and a half minutes remaining in the period, the Rangers tied it as J.T. Miller found a pinching Keith Yandle for the put home. Exactly 18 seconds later, this happened:

https://www.nhl.com/video/embed/brassards-go-ahead-goal/t-280291404/c-43547003?autostart=false

The Penguins challenged saying Derick Brassard was offsides. Only one problem? He had control of the puck so that wasn’t possible. The officials agreed after watching on their little TV screens and the Rangers had their first lead of the series.

Thirty seconds later, the Rangers were given a power kill. The worst part of it? None of the guys on the ice after two minutes realized the penalty was ending and Bryan Rust had a breakaway out of the box. Fortunately it was Rust and not one of their superstars. Even more fortunate was Lundqvist made the save.

With a little over four minutes remaining it was Miller again, this time finding Zuccarello to make it 3-1 Rangers. In less than five minutes, the Penguins went from looking like an unstoppable team to looking like…the 2015-16 Rangers.

Miller couldn’t keep up the good period, taking a bad penalty shortly after the third goal. Somehow the Rangers killed it to take the two goal lead into the third.

I expected a push from the Penguins while the Rangers attempted to sit on their heals for the final twenty minutes. Instead, I got a Chris Kreider goal 39 seconds into the period to make it 4-1. It happened because of a horrible turnover by Daley in front of Zatkoff but it wouldn’t have if the Rangers hadn’t pushed to get the puck in the zone in the first place.

Then came the third period I expected. Was it as bad as other times this season? Not even close. But did I feel for even a moment that the game was under control? I still don’t feel that way and the final buzzer already sounded.

To put the third period in perspective, the Rangers got into some penalty trouble, leading eventually to a 4-on-3 and a Penguins goal to make it 4-2 with over 14 minutes remaining. I wish I could explain what happened over those 14 minutes other than all of New York holding their collective breath.

I do know the Penguins realized that the officials had swallowed their whistles and took full advantage. First it was Kunitz with a dirty slash to the back of the leg of Marc Staal. The officials apparently missed it but Kevin Klein didn’t and came to the aid of his defense partner leading to Kunitz and Klein both receiving seven minutes in penalties. (I’d say that was a win for the Penguins.)

A couple minutes later, Derek Stepan went back for the puck to negate an icing and was shoved into the board by Ben Lovejoy. The officials missed that one too as Stepan laid on the ice and the puck went up the other way. Stepan eventually made it back to the bench, stayed there for a few minutes and then headed to the locker room for the concussion protocol he has to know all to well by now. I’m guessing he passed as a few minutes later he was back on the bench.

But through all that, the Rangers rock was a rock as Henrik Lundqvist refused to let another puck past him and the series heads to New York tied.

And I should feel confident with that as the Rangers really did play 120 decent minutes of hockey in Pittsburgh. I’m just not sure how much longer this will last. I also expect Fleury back on Tuesday and while Zatkoff was admirable on Wednesday, he wasn’t great today. (Basically, he was today what Antti Raanta was on Wednesday – he didn’t cost his team the game but he most definitely didn’t win it for them.)

While the Penguins hope to get Fleury back, I’m sure the Rangers hope to get some defensemen back. Both Brady Skjei and Dylan McIlrath filled in admirably but the Rangers won’t win if they are permanently in the line up. (I did enjoy the NBC crew continually mentioning the Rangers “two best defensemen” were missing.) We’ll see if we get any updates on either over the next couple of days. Until then, at least we know we won’t be seeing handshakes in Madison Square Garden this week.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

The Day After: Thoughts On Rangers After Game 74

After 74 games, I have come to one conclusion on this years’ Rangers – this team is maddening to follow. I understand there are ups and downs in an 82 game season but usually there is a flow to them. This year there is no rhyme or reason to any game we’ve witnessed.

Anyway, some quick thoughts after yesterday’s performance.

  • After the disaster in San Jose, I immediately thought about last nights’ game against the Bruins. Yes, the Rangers had a game on Monday night against the Panthers. I expected them to show up for that one. While this team is consistently inconsistent, they more times than not have a bounce back game after a stinker like they had on Saturday. But how would they follow that? I refuse to think the message finally got through but it was nice to see the Rangers follow up Monday with another solid performance. It makes me feel a little better for continuing to believe in them when everything else says I should give up.
  • Let’s discuss Keith Yandle. It is not a secret how I feel about him – I think of him as a forward who spends time on the blue line (and who won’t be back next year no matter how much fans beg him to be). His performance yesterday is why the Rangers traded for him. He ran the power play better than I’ve seen anyone attempt to in years. He helped create offensive chances every time on the ice. His vision and passing was exactly what the Rangers hoped and expected it would be when he first arrived on Broadway. There is no one who questions this side of his game. But if the Bruins had even put an ounce of effort in last night, he wouldn’t have been the clear star of the night he was. When he can play the bulk of his 20 or so minutes in the offensive zone, he looks like a superstar. When he’s forced to play the majority of that in the defensive zone, he looks like he belongs in the press box. That’s my main issue with him. But if we are going to see more of what we saw last night over the next few weeks (and hopefully months), then he was worth every penny it cost to get him.
  • Speaking of the power play, I think the Rangers officially have one unit. Their first unit of Yandle, Derek Stepan, Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello and Chris Kreider works, or at least has worked recently. Their second unit is a tire fire which is why the first power play of the night last night was a disaster. As long as the Rangers are able to start their “first unit”, we should be talking about more actual power plays than power kills for the rest of the season.
  • Side note: Where did that Derick Brassard rocket come from? He’s been here for three years and I had no idea he could do that. He might want to try more often.
  • I love this quote by Henrik Lundqvist on ex-Ranger Lee Stempniak:
    “I don’t know what’s up with Lee,” he laughed. “If we did something bad to him when he played here. He’s just out of control against us, I can’t believe it. I felt like we treated him really nice when he was here. You have to give him credit, he’s been extremely good against us.”
    I know there are people who think Stempniak is a good player. He is definitely an-NHL caliber player who is having a great season. I refuse to believe he is as good as the Rangers make him look. If they even attempted to defend him, there wouldn’t be a single person wishing the team had kept him. Again, he’s good. He’s not anywhere close to as good as he looks against the Rangers, hence the reason he’s been on six teams in the last three years.
  • Finally, I have to talk about the “bounces” the Rangers got last night. I can’t remember a game where they had more puck luck than they did against the Bruins. Honestly the only time they didn’t get a bounce was the Bruins first actual goal. If certain other defensemen had attempted that pass, they would’ve been immediately (and correctly) burned at the stake by fans.
    • The first Rangers goal? The correct call was actually made but if that happens in December, referees would’ve blown it dead by mistake.
    • The Bruins first disallowed goal? The Rangers are lucky it was offsides as I’m not sure they would’ve won the challenge on goalie interference and as has been the case a lot recently, the five guys on the ice left Lundqvist completely out to dry. (No surprise on Brassard being one of them but the defensive pair was Ryan McDonagh and Kevin Klein, who somehow couldn’t handle Stempniak all night.)
    • The penalty that led to the Rangers second goal? Questionable call, at best. And the fact the Rangers never really received a make-up call on it is actually surprising.
    • The Bruins no goal call to start the third period? I’m guessing because it was Lundqvist, the referees assumed he saved it so called “no goal” on the ice. But while you can’t actually see the puck over the line, we all know it was. At least that call goes both ways. And because it was no goal, we can pretend Stempniak wasn’t left completely wide open by McDonagh and Klein yet again.

But to be fair, the Rangers earned those bounces last night. They played well enough to deserve them. And while it isn’t an exact science, usually teams who deserve them get them. Here’s to hoping the Rangers continue to deserve them for the next 8 games and then the three months following them.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

Raanta Bounces Back As Rangers Beat Leafs

The Toronto Maple Leafs are the worst team in the NHL. (Yes, they have less points than the Edmonton Oilers, although the Oilers have played more games.) So of course the Rangers needed a late goal to actually win the game. Because why would they ever make things easy?

I know every team goes through it but the turn around time for this back to back really wasn’t fair. The Rangers played a late game (8pm start) in New York last night, then had to travel to Toronto which obviously involves going through customs, for a 7:30pm start time tonight while the Leafs have been sitting at home since Monday. Again, I know every team ends up with at least one of these a year. But I don’t understand why they have to.

Naturally, the Leafs looked like the better team for the first 20 minutes. It started early when just four minutes into the game, the home team took the lead. It started with Ryan McDonagh trying to be a forward and pinching in for a shot on Bernier. He did get back as the puck went up the ice, then let Parenteau get behind him and tap home a lucky bounce for the Leafs. (There was question on if he kicked it in. I’m not going to get into that and just say it counted.)

The news got worse after that as the Rangers next shot wasn’t for almost ten minutes. The good news was Antti Raanta was up to the task all night, keeping the score at 1-0. With just over a minute to go, and the shots at 12-3 in favor of the Leafs, Leo Komarov woke up the Rangers bench by doing this:

Sigh. Just what he needs right now.

And I’m going to rant for a moment. As you can see on the video, McDonagh stayed on the bench. Why? There is a minute to go in the period and he is clearly shaken up. Even if they think he was hit in the nose and just has a bloody nose, the guy just came back from a concussion. There is a minute left in the period. SEND HIM TO THE LOCKER ROOM AND DOUBLE CHECK!

I don’t understand it. I’ll probably never understand it. The good (or bad, depending how you look at it) news was the hit got a lot of attention from writers and analysts around the league. And they all asked the same question – what is he doing on the bench? Maybe this time, the Rangers will get some kind of penalty for it. I’m not holding my breath.

And to the surprise of no one, the captain didn’t come out for the second period. The Rangers said it was for “precautionary reasons”. If that’s the case, why wasn’t he checked immediately for the same reason? Personally, I don’t think it’s precautionary. What that video doesn’t show is the next few minutes as they sorted the penalties out and each time they showed McDonagh, he was squinting with his head down. Basically, it was clear to everyone except the Rangers fantastic medical staff that he should be in the locker room. I want to say I hope he feels better tonight or tomorrow. But that’s two hits directly to the head in a 13-day span. That’s not good.

Anyway, back to the game. So the penalties sorted out with Komarov getting a five minute major and Kevin Klein somehow only getting two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct. Which meant the Rangers would get a three minute power play early in the second period. And what did they do during those three minutes? Nothing. They didn’t have a single shot with 26 seconds to go when the Leafs took another penalty, a high sticking double major.

Due to the whistle and second penalty, the puck was able to enter the Leafs zone since that’s where the face-off was. Somehow the Rangers kept it in and with two seconds remaining in the 5-on-3, Derick Brassard rifled home his team-leading 21st of the season. And why did he actually shoot? He said during intermission that the bench was screaming the first penalty was almost over. Brassard is the one player who listens when people scream shoot. Sometimes it works out for him.

Of course the Rangers killed the remaining power play time from the double minor but at least we had a tied game and a visiting team that almost looked like they were in the game.

A few minutes later, Mats Zuccarello did this:

https://www.nhl.com/video/embed/situation-room-nyr-vs-tor/t-277997788/c-41540903?autostart=false

He almost missed! Wide open net and he actually almost missed. I honestly thought he missed at first. Fortunately for him Bernier’s pad was in the net.

The Rangers would take two penalties over the second half of the middle frame which they would fortunately manage to kill off, allowing them to take a 2-1 lead into the third period.

And then the boys attempted to hang on for dear life. Derick Brassard said they would keep pushing the offense instead of sitting back. Two early penalties led to 20 minutes of attempted trap defense. (Side note: First penalty came just 98 seconds into the period and went to Marc Staal leading to Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein playing the entire two minutes on the kill. And they did so perfectly.)

Then with less than three minutes remaining and the face-off deep in the Rangers zone, the Leafs pulled Bernier…and got the tying goal. It was actually comical to see all five Rangers on the ice in front of Raanta and the puck come loose and easily be put in the back of the net. I felt bad for the backup goaltender because after making 35 saves, he didn’t deserve the loss that looked like was coming.

At that point, there was exactly two and a half minutes remaining and I was just hoping for overtime. The Rangers had other plans as that goal finally took them off their heels and forced them to try for offense. Just 59 seconds later, J.T. Miller would force a giveaway right in front of Bernier. He would then pass the puck to Mats Zuccarello who passed to Derek Stepan who put it in the back of the net allowing the Rangers to regain their lead. I would take it as a positive they were able to bounce back so quickly but the Leafs are in last place in the league for a reason.

The boys would add an empty net with 20 seconds to go and take a victory that probably should’ve been decided long before it was. Now the question is when will we see Ryan McDonagh again? No surprise that the team made their displeasure of the hit known nor that Vigneault didn’t have an update on the captain. Since I’m assuming they are off tomorrow, we won’t know until Saturday at earliest. My guess? He won’t be at MSG on Sunday night. Guess we have to wait and see.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

Rangers Don’t Bend With Win Before Break

Can we all agree two points are two points no matter how you get them?

Because the truth is, no one will remember this game a week from now nonetheless come April. They will just see the two points in the standings. Which means it’s okay if the Rangers do the same thing they did with yesterday’s game tape and throw this one away.

Sure there were some positives – the Rangers welcomed back Derick Brassard who snapped out of his slump in a big way with two goals and three assists. And the power play actually scored a goal. But overall, I can’t imagine the team is happy with this one…other than getting the two points.

Our daily IR report hasn’t changed since yesterday – to the surprise of no one, Rick Nash was unable to go. Reportedly it is only a bone bruise and he should be ready when the team returns from break. We’ll see what happens. On defense, Dan Boyle was a healthy scratch, another non-surprise, allowing Dylan McIlrath a chance to get a game in. I think the kid wants to play as he might have been one of the best defenseman on the ice tonight.

You could tell early on the Rangers weren’t happy with their performance last night. Honestly, the first few minutes reminded me of the start against Vancouver last week where the Rangers came out flying…and hit a post on their first shift. This time it was just 21 seconds in as Chris Kreider rang one off the post. A little over a minute later, the Rangers would get their first power kill of the night. (I honestly don’t remember the power play so I’m just going to assume it was a power kill.)

Six minutes into the period, the Rangers finally capitalized with Dylan McIlrath rifling one for his second career goal. As with the first one, he didn’t really know how to celebrate. The goal was originally credited to J.T. Miller, who McIlrath thought had tipped it while standing in the crease, but review later showed Miller never touched it and McIlrath got a nice ovation when the change was announced.

Ten minutes later, the Sabres would tie it on a goal I can guarantee Henrik Lundqvist would want back. It came right after a commercial break where they had shown on the big board the guys skiing through NYC this past weekend after the storm. I joked Lundqvist was still focusing on that. Gionta did have a nice deflection but it was still a shot Lundqvist has to save.

The Rangers would get a split power kill to end the first period and start the second and once again did nothing with it. (Well, they killed it so I guess that was something.) The call was for a blatant knee by Pysyk on Jesper Fast after Evander Kane had “collided” with Mats Zuccarello a few seconds earlier. The first may have been a collision but the two back-to-back had me worrying it was going to be a long night. (Couldn’t say I was totally surprised either when I remembered it was Bylsma behind the Sabres bench.)

Early in the second, Derek Stepan was hit with a clear high stick that left his nose bloody (and possibly broken, although we won’t know for sure until after the break). Of course the referees missed it, forcing Stepan to rush to the bench and then complain to the referees during the next stoppage of play. I’m pretty sure his argument was something along the lines of “my nose didn’t just randomly start bleeding”.

The Rangers were given another power kill shortly afterwards which I remember even less than the first two so that tells you all you need to know.

It looked like that was how the rest of the period (and game) were going to go when a broken play by Kevin Hayes and Viktor Stalberg led to the go-ahead goal. Stalberg left the puck for Hayes, who whiffed on it and then Stalberg got the “rebound” and somehow put it in the net. It went in cleanly so maybe he got more on it than it looked like he did watching the goal live. Basically, the puck never should have been near the net nonetheless in it but the Rangers would take it.

The Sabres would get a power kill of their own late in the period and then a great chance in the waning seconds as Ryan O’Reilly came down on a breakaway. Somehow, and I’m still not sure how, Marc Staal caught him and stopped him without taking a penalty. It may have been the best defensive play we’ve seen from Staal all season.

Then came the third period. Six goals in twenty minutes. While I didn’t think the 2-1 lead was safe, I can’t say I was expecting that.

It started just a minute in when Derick Brassard got his first goal of the night to give the home team a 3-1 lead. Everyone in the building felt good as we all hoped a two goal lead would be safer than a one goal lead. Three and a half minutes later, the Sabres cut the lead to 3-2. A minute after that we had a tie game. I don’t even know who to blame on both goals. I do know it was the same defense pair and neither looked to be Kevin Klein’s brightest moments. (I’m honestly not sure he was to blame on the first one but his partner was trying to take Eichel so it was either him or the forwards who lost Girgensons. On the second goal, I’m not sure where he was but he wasn’t anywhere near where he was supposed to be.)

As the Garden prepared for the possibility of another loss after blowing a lead, J.T. Miller had other plans as he tapped in a Jesper Fast shot that had been deflected right to him to regain the lead. Guess he wasn’t happy with losing the goal earlier in the game. Honestly, I’m not sure if he was tired or annoyed that goal needed to be scored but he barely even celebrated what turned out to be the game winner.

Two minutes later, the Rangers were given another power play. Yes, I called this one a power play. Why? Because the boys did this:

http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/embed?playlist=2015020726-604-ingame-h

Even Mats Zuccarello knew how good that pass from Derek Stepan was. I’m not sure what was better – the fact the Rangers bounced back and regained their two goal lead or the fact the power play scored. Actually the best part was the fact the Rangers didn’t blow this two goal lead. They would add an empty netter in the last minute and take the 6-3 victory heading into all star break.

Was it pretty? Absolutely not. But you don’t get points for style. You get points for wins. And it was a win, which is all the boys needed after yesterday’s debacle. Now they can enjoy their break and hopefully come back ready to be the team we know they are for the stretch run.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

Rangers Lose Another As Third Period Woes Continue

Down by only one going into the third period, this game was there for the taking. But as with so many games we’ve seen recently, the Rangers chose instead to just hand it away.

While the Rangers probably enjoyed having an extra day or two to their break, the negative was the fact the Predators had already played a game coming into tonight’s contest. And it showed in the first period as the home team had their legs and the visitors just tried to survive. And they almost did, even though they were outshot 14-6 through the first 18 and a half minutes.

But then, with just 90 seconds to go, Derick Brassard took his stupid penalty of the night. It’s been a while since he’s taken one so I almost want to give him a pass. But it took the Predators 23 seconds to score and then he had the audacity to argue the call with the referee before heading off the ice for intermission. Should it have been a penalty? I don’t know, there are probably other things the guys in stripes should be focusing on. Did Brassard wrap his arms around a Predator and drag him to the ice? Yes he did, and that’s called every time. Next time instead of arguing, don’t do it in the first place.

I wasn’t sure how the boys would react to the late goal against but it appeared twenty minutes was all they needed to find their legs. They got a number of chances in first few minutes and finally tied the game seven minutes in when Jesper Fast perfectly deflected a Dan Girardi shot.

The Rangers would keep pushing after that but like Lundqvist in the first period, Rinne was up to the task. Less than two minutes after the goal, Barrett Jackman would be hit hard by a shot and go down. Since the Rangers kept control of the puck, the referees didn’t blow the whistle even though Jackman took forever to even attempt to stand up. For those who aren’t aware, that was the right call as that is the rule. I just think it’s a dumb rule. He didn’t play the rest of the period but somehow came back for the third. I wasn’t expecting that as it really didn’t look good.

Anyway, the Rangers took advantage and absolutely controlled play for the next five minutes, minus a drop pass here and there. But they couldn’t get the go-ahead goal and when Kevin Hayes lost the puck in his skates and went down, you just knew how the rush the other way would end. I can’t even say it’s the Rangers as that happens to every team.

I saw some mention that the Rangers should have been given a power play a little before the goal as Brassard was slashed. The broadcast mentioned he pleaded to the referees but to no avail. This is why you don’t argue an obvious penalty, especially early in the game. Wrong or right, referees remember. That said, I didn’t see the play so I have no idea if it should’ve been a penalty or if the referees really did miss it.

Both teams had chances over the last six minutes but the score remained at 2-1 through forty. But it was pretty clear there would be an early goal in the third that would swing momentum one way or the other. And there was, kind of.

Just five minutes into the period, Nashville scored to make it three one. Immediately Henrik Lundqvist went nuts saying that Craig Smith interfered with him making the stop. Here was the play in question:

http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/embed?playlist=913087

Personally, I thought Dominic Moore did more to stop Lundqvist from making the stop then Smith did but the Rangers thought otherwise and challenged it. Somehow, the referees agreed and the goal was disallowed.

Did the Rangers take advantage of that? Absolutely not as it took only two minutes for the Predators to get the goal back. Lundqvist wanted to challenge that one as well but he didn’t have an argument that time. To be fair, the Predators were pissed the goal was disallowed and used it as motivation to get it back. Honestly the Rangers might have been better off with that goal being allowed as the wheels completely came off after they called it back.

Moore would take a penalty a minute after the Predators actual third goal, giving them their second power play goal of the game. Two minutes later, it was 5-1 and Lundqvist was on the bench. Pretty sure the Rangers had no intention of putting Antti Raanta into a game anytime soon and definitely not tonight.

I wish I could understand it. Before the break I kept seeing mention of the team being fragile but I didn’t want to believe it. I think I have to now. I had no confidence when they went into the third down 2-1 and it was clear they didn’t either. Sure they had a few chances in the first five minutes but as soon as the Predators scored, you could see their shoulders slump and you just knew it was over.

The Rangers would get two more over the last seven minutes to make it a respectable looking 5-3 but those goals were meaningless.

I keep saying I would prefer the slump now rather than in April or May but they really need to snap out of this soon. Problem is it doesn’t get any easier as they head to their nemesis in Tampa (for a nationally shown game, no less), then it’s the Atlantic division leading Panthers and then they come home to play the best team in the league, the Dallas Stars. Tonight was the night they had to get points and they blew it again in the third period. I really don’t get it.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)