Rangers Player Reviews: Keep Or Dump, Part I

This year really is different. The past four years I have done this, it has been mid to late June and I have been in denial that I am doing it after another lost season. This year? Early May and I’ve been sitting watching hockey every night since the Rangers were eliminated. I really can’t explain it.

Anyway, for those who aren’t familiar with how I do my year end reviews, I write a small paragraph on each player and then say if I would “keep or dump” them. Last year I got every player correct except one…and I still defend my decision to “keep” Talbot even though I knew it wasn’t realistic. This year I’m going to do things slightly differently as I have no idea who should stay or go nor who I would keep or move if I were running the team. So instead I am going to give the odds that each player is back. Yes it is completely a cop out on picking what changes should be made to the team this year. At least I admit it.

First up, as usual, goaltenders and defense!

Lundqvist-benchHenrik Lundqvist (G, 35-21-7-4, 2.48 GAA, .920 SV%) – There’s no way to sugar coat it – that goals against average is ugly. But it’s fitting considering the mess the Rangers were this year. I’m not going to sit here and discuss Lundqvists’ season. We all know it wasn’t his best. Am I giving up on him? Absolutely not. But here’s the thing, what are the Rangers plans this summer? If they are blowing up the team like some expect does Lundqvist want out? I’ve always said the only reason he will ever leave is if he asks to be moved. Is this the year that happens? I’m skeptical but it’s a lot more of a possibility than it ever has been in the past … 95% to return

Antti Raanta (G, 11-6-2-1, 2.24 GAA, .919 SV%) – I admit this one might have been different if written two weeks ago but not by much. I have been a fan of Raanta since he broke into the NHL with the Blackhawks and he was exactly what I expected to get when the Rangers traded for him last June. While he will need to play more next season, he is still the perfect veteran backup. Yes he had a little hitch in February that made many worry the Rangers would need to find a goaltender at the trade deadline, but he bounced back and will only get better the more he works with Benoit Allaire. And now that he’s signed a new contract, it’s pretty safe to say he’s staying … 99% to return (This should probably be 100% but crazier things have happened)

Last year I ended this post by saying “There will come a time the back end will be the difficult part to figure out on this team but it won’t be any time soon.” Apparently it was sooner than I expected…

Ryan McDonagh (D, 73 games played, 9-25-34, +26) – Remember when everyone thought McDonagh would be a perennial Norris trophy candidate? I’m not saying he had a bad year but his name and the word “Norris” were never in the same sentence this season. (And saying he was the Rangers best defenseman this year wasn’t exactly a compliment.) I happened to watch McDonagh closely this year since many believed his defense partners had been dragging him down in the past. What did I notice? A player who once again was trying to do too much and who in many cases was the one out of position because of it. McDonagh is a phenomenal defenseman but I’m still not convinced he can carry the weight of the C. The guy before him who he’s been compared to couldn’t. That said, he isn’t losing it anytime soon. As for his spot on the team, I don’t expect him gone until March 2019 so we’ll put him at … 95% to return

Dan Girardi (D, 74 games played, 2-15-17, +18) – Oh Dan. This one hurts. Sigh, here it goes. I look at that number of games played and think it’s a mistake. I think about all the missed coverage and hot potato passes and wonder where my favorite defenseman went. While I try to keep personal feelings out of my writing, it’s no secret I’m a fan of Girardi’s. I just don’t know who was wearing his jersey this year. I refuse to believe he went from a guy who many believed deserved the extension he got to the one who looked like he fell off a cliff this year. That change doesn’t happen overnight. But he clearly took a step back and mix that with injury issues from the start (I will fight to the death that he was behind from day one) and you have the season we witnessed. No one is more angry about it than Girardi himself. Maybe I’m delusional (or extremely hopeful) but I think he can bounce back from it. Will he be the player who earned a write in vote for the All Star game a few years ago? No way. But he isn’t this bad and I think the Rangers know that which is why I think they give him another chance. Again, maybe it’s my heart over my head speaking but I expect him in Rangers blue in October … 85% to return

Staal-Klein-Ramsey-toastMarc Staal (D, 77 games played, 2-13-15, +2) – Sigh again. I don’t know where to start with this one. The good news was Staal had a relatively healthy year in comparison to earlier in his career. The bad news? Basically everything else. After the season ended, I saw someone mention that Staal was brought down by Boyle most of the year. I never really thought about it that way but it is true that pairing never really worked. But while I would love to blame it on that, that’s not really being honest about the year Staal had. I don’t know what it was but all year something just seemed off. So what do the Rangers do? I do think his contract is slightly more movable but not because he is the better of the two longest tenured defensemen. More because if the Rangers could get Carolina or wherever Eric signs to want two Staals instead of one, I think Marc would be willing to go. But it won’t be easy which is why I still think it’s unlikely … 75% to return

Kevin Klein (D, 69 games played, 9-17-26, +16) – Last year I predicted that Klein would be traded at this past trade deadline. It’s not that I wanted him gone, I just didn’t expect him to stay. With how much the rest of the defense struggled, Klein quietly stayed behind the scenes. I really don’t know what to say about him. He isn’t the top pairing defenseman many fans want him to be but he’s a solid 4/5 on any team. Will he be here in September? His low cap hit would be a reason to keep him. It would also make him easy trade bait. This one really could go either way … 50% to return

Keith Yandle (D, 82 games played, 5-42-47, -4) – Let me start by saying plus/minus is a useless stat they should probably get rid of. That said, we can all agree Girardi and Staal were horrible this year and yet both ended up with a plus next to their name at the end of the season while Yandle was somehow a minus-4. I honestly have no idea how that is even possible. I continually say Yandle is lost in the defensive zone but that takes talent. Anyway, so Yandle. It’s no secret I’m not he’s biggest fan but he played much better this year than I expected him to. Do I expect him back? This one is complicated. Personally, I don’t and haven’t since the day he signed. (I’m on record saying I expect him to go to Arizona or Boston.) But a recent premonition is tilting me the other way. I can’t explain it but let’s just say I have started to accept the fact I may not have seen Yandle play his last game as a Ranger. How will it be done? Not sure. But I think the Rangers are trying to do it … 65% to return (it’s a lot higher than I would’ve put it at the start of the month)

Dan Boyle (D, 74 games played, 10-14-24, even) – Every signing is a gamble. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. When they don’t, you hope the contract is only a year or two. In this case it was. I have nothing against Boyle. He tried. It just didn’t work. It’s a shame he was a healthy scratch in what was probably his last NHL game but it was fitting considering how his time with the Rangers went. I wish him well in the future and really do wish this had worked better … 0% to return

McIlrath-YandleDylan McIlrath (D, 34 games played, 2-2-4, +7) – I said it all year but will say it again – when the six other defensemen on this list played to their capabilities, McIlrath was clearly number seven. Yes, most of them didn’t this year. But Vigneault kept hoping they would. I had no problem with the year McIlrath had. Would it have been nice to get him a few more games? Absolutely. Did I expect it at the start of the season? Not at all. This year was a stepping stone for him, a chance to learn before getting thrown into the fire. Next season he will be a regular. Will that be with the Rangers? I’m hoping so and honestly would be surprised if he wasn’t but nothing is guaranteed right now. I’m still thinking he’s back … 85% to return

 

I know everyone is saying the changes need to start on defense but you need replacements for these guys and it’s not as easy as if we were playing a video game. The six definitely will look different. (For one, Brady Skjei will be included.) We’ll just have to wait and see how different. Next up, I attempt to guess which forwards will be returning.

 

(All photos: Melissa Andus)

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Change Is Coming As Rangers Breakup For Summer

Yesterday, the 2015-16 Rangers met up for the final time as they packed up their things and headed to their longest summer break in five years. While recently break up day quotes have been nothing more than players saying they will be better next year, this years’ final day had a different vibe. This year, things were a lot more questionable than definite.

Let’s start with the biggest news. Unless you had absolutely no internet access yesterday, you heard about the blow up from Dan Boyle directed at New York Post writers Larry Brooks and Brett Cyrgalis. While Cyrgalis wasn’t in attendance, Brooks was and things got a little heated. Of course there was video which you can see here. For those who don’t want to watch, the transcript can be found here.

I’m not going to rehash the entire thing as everyone has seen and heard it. Was Boyle out of line? Maybe that situation wasn’t the best place to completely lose his cool. But I’ve always been taught to treat others with the same respect you would want to be treated with. There is no question Boyle has received very little respect from many in the NY media so if he felt like returning the favor on his last day speaking to them, fine by me. Especially when one of the writers in question felt the need to respond and then apologize after he was called out by fans everywhere for his original response.

Somewhere, John Tortorella read about what happened and smiled.

**********

Moving on, the next player to speak was Dan Girardi who confirmed what anyone who had any common sense had already figured out – he missed three games during the playoffs due to injury. What was that injury? A concussion stemming from the hit he received from Brian Boyle.

To me, it was clear as day that was the injury and I was actually shocked to see him back for game 1. After seeing how that game went, it was no surprise when Girardi admitted he didn’t feel right as the game went on and that the symptoms returned after the game. I’m still not sure how he was able to come back for game 5 but he did say he felt fine during and after the game so hopefully the concussion issues are behind him. But you never know with head injuries. (I’ll save that rant for another time.)

Girardi also confirmed what many had suspected – that the crack in his knee never fully healed.

“If I could go back, I’d probably try and take more time off, but a lot of you guys know I’m not that guy who’s just not going to play. Missing whatever I did — six games — was already a lot for me.”

I plan to hold him to that quote next year when he inevitably tries to play through another injury received early in the season. Speaking of next year, Girardi told reporters he was confident this year was a one-time thing and that he can and will be much better next season. When asked if he thought that would be with the Rangers, his response was “Well, I think so.”

And that seemed to be the trend in the quotes I saw coming out of the room. Everyone saying “I think so”. Reading between the lines, you could tell the players aren’t sure what to think but are aware changes are coming.

For instance, when Henrik Lundqvist was asked if the team could contend again next year, he replied “I think so”. Lundqvist has been the most vocal saying while he knows change is coming, the organization shouldn’t “overreact”.

Lundqvist-tweets

If there is anyone who will take the way the season ended the hardest, it is Lundqvist. And if there is as much change as everyone is assuming, he might be the only one untouchable (assuming he doesn’t ask for a trade himself).

Returning to injuries for a moment, Lundqvist said that there was no lingering issues from his eye injury, although he almost wished there was so he could blame his performance on that. All due respect, I would prefer to accept he played bad then be worried about his eyesight. Rangers fans already have to deal with that with another player.

Captain Ryan McDonagh finally admitted what his “mysterious upper body injury” was – he broke his right pointer finger. I actually thought it was a lot worse than that but I guess that explains why he was able to come back as quickly as he did. He won’t need surgery but the finger does need a few more weeks to completely heal.

Actually, for the first time in years, no one needs surgery unless there will be random injuries coming about in the following weeks.

Also for the first time in years? Rangers players are eligible to play at the World Championships and three will be going – Brady Skjei will be representing the Americans, Derick Brassard is joining Team Canada and Mats Zuccarello is expected to join Norway’s team. (As of this writing, I don’t believe that is official but it sounds like he is going.)

Everyone else is headed home. Will they back next year? Individually they want to think so. But since Vigneault said even the coaching staff isn’t guaranteed to be the same, I think the players know that this year, no one is safe.

 

(Photo: 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)

Lundqvist Hurt As Rangers Drop Game 1

There are games, especially in the playoffs, where I know exactly what I’m going to write as soon as the game ends. It’s been almost 12 hours since the final horn and I still have no idea what to think about last nights’ game one.

Seeing Jeff Zatkoff come onto the ice for warmups with Tristan Jarry as the backup both excited and scared me. The Rangers should have been able to take full advantage of that but we all know how the Rangers play against backups and backups to the backup. Surprisingly, they tried. And these didn’t look like typical Rangers shots where everyone knew they weren’t going in. But, because the Rangers have no luck against backups, Zatkoff saved everything. Then disaster struck.

And this is where I don’t know how to judge this game. Antti Raanta was not the reason the Rangers lost game one. But losing Henrik Lundqvist is never a good thing. And once again, he was taken out by friendly fire.

I have nicknamed Ryan McDonagh “Captain Murder” because he (accidentally) hurt two of his own teammates. So I guess Marc Staal is now “Assistant Captain Murder”? I don’t know, I just know that the injury looked really bad and I’m just glad he was able to get up and attempt to stay in the game. Although I think we can all agree he shouldn’t have.

The first goal, to me, looked like miscommunication. I don’t know if Lundqvist couldn’t see it or was afraid to try and leave the net cause of the eye issue but Dan Girardi didn’t seem to expect what Lundqvist did. That led to a scramble and a few seconds later what felt like a back-breaking goal.

But it wasn’t as the Rangers didn’t wilt in the second period, which was a pleasant surprise to see. Of course things are never easy so again with time winding down, a flubbed point shot led to a breakaway by the Penguins captain and Raanta had no chance. (I would say he was the only one you wouldn’t want in that situation but with the Penguins, I can probably list a few others.) That was probably the back breaker.

And then our old friend Carl Hagelin tried to help us out. He really tried as early in the third period, he decided to swing his stick at the face of Kevin Hayes and in doing so, drew blood. (I’ve always joked Swedish blood brings the Rangers luck because in past playoff series, when Hagelin has drawn a double minor, the Rangers always score on the ensuing power play so just hoped the opposite worked as well.) At the same time that happened, Ian Cole felt the need to cross check Eric Staal in front of the net. Somehow, although after seeing the other calls in the game I have no idea how, the referees caught both and the Rangers had a full two minute 5-on-3 plus an additional two minutes of 5-on-4.

(Side note: The first two calls of the game against Viktor Stalberg were atrocious. The first Penguins penalty might have been worse. There is no way that wasn’t a make up call as I still have no idea what they called Eric Fehr for.)

Anyway, back to the power play. That was the game. And by some miracle, the Rangers scored on the 5-on-3 when Dan Boyle found a wide open Derek Stepan to get the Rangers on the board. They still had 2:58 of power play time remaining at that point. Get one more and we have a game. Instead a complete brain fart by Miller, Boyle, Yandle, Nash and Eric Staal led to a shorthanded goal against and the game was over. (Honestly, calling it a brain fart is putting it nicely. Even Vigneault commented after the game how bad the play was.)

I can sit here and say the team pushed to get back in the game. They didn’t not try but almost everyone knew it was over. I say almost everyone as Derek Stepan tried to will his team to victory by getting his second of the game with nine minutes remaining. But there was only so much Stepan could do and game one went to the Penguins.

Am I worried? I’m worried about Lundqvist. I’m not sure the Rangers have a chance in this series but they will have even less of one if he is out. The only positive I see now? In the past six series between these two teams, the team that won game one as won the series. That has to change at some point, right? And considering since 2012 the Rangers are 2-2 when losing game one of a series, now is as good a time as any for that to happen.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

Rangers Lose Isles + Penguins In One Sweep

It almost looked staged, as if the Rangers agreed with the fans and some of the media that they should intentionally fail so they could fall into fourth place. One period of evenly played hockey resulting in no goals. More than half of another period with great chances but “unable to solve” the opposing goaltender. A shot going ten feet wide “accidentally” deflected into their own net, two more quick ones after that and then going through the motions in the final twenty. Honestly, it couldn’t have been written any better if they wanted to fail without making it obvious.

Do I think that’s what happened? Not really. But in losing yet again to the Islanders, the Rangers not only were swept for the first time in franchise history by their rivals but they also probably lost third place in the Metro and a trip to Pittsburgh next week. It’s not the worst thing in the world…minus the fact the youthful ignorance mixed with a couple of savvy veterans on the Panthers could be the worst match up of all for anyone in the playoffs. Guess we’ll find out soon enough.

I could recap the game but that first paragraph basically says it all so let’s discuss everything else that happened today.

First, the newest injury update. While no one would’ve been completely surprised to see Dan Girardi somehow on the ice for practice this morning, it wasn’t all that shocking he wasn’t. After practice, Vigneault gave some possible good news:

I agree with Larry Brooks when he said there is no reason for Girardi to play on Saturday but the fact they are saying “day to day” instead of “out indefinitely” could be a good sign. I say could because you have to take all injury updates with a grain of salt during this time of year. Remember, we all thought there was a chance Zuccarello would play again last season and later found out there was no way that was happening. But let’s hope the iron man is well enough to be on the ice for the post game events on Saturday afternoon.

And in even better injury related news, no one got hurt against the Islanders tonight. There were close calls but to everyone’s knowledge, the team thankfully came out in one piece.

In other news, a couple of team awards were announced today.

Earlier in the day, the team announced that Henrik Lundqvist had been voted as Team MVP by the media while the players voted for Jesper Fast as the Player’s Player award.

Lundqvist being MVP is no surprise – when there is no clear MVP, just go with the goaltender. I’m going to assume that was the thinking of most of the writers who voted for that. But Fast being the players pick was a nice surprise. Vigneault has said that players like playing with him and he honestly was my MVP vote for the season. It’s just nice to see him get the recognition.

Speaking of the fans’ MVP vote, before tonight’s game Steven McDonald was on-hand to award the Extra Effort award. It’s always a highlight of the season as the ex-police officer always leaves the team and fans with words of wisdom. Tonight he started by asking “Are we ready to chase Lord Stanley’s Cup?”. The fans are, I just hope the players are as well.

He then went on to say that we all know “…there are no easy victories. That’s how they play the game. That’s how we live our lives. That’s how we like it.” Rangers fans probably don’t like it but we know there are no easy victories, and I expect that to be written on top of the Stanley Cup puzzle placed in the locker room next week.

As I previously stated, my vote had been for Fast. Since there was no clear cut favorite, the fans went with a fan favorite meaning it was no surprise to see Mats Zuccarello take the award again. I can’t really argue with the pick as he’s had a good year.

While the entire ceremony wasn’t as inspiring as previous years, the one thing that stuck with me was how he repeated there were no easy victories. The players know this all too well and learned it again tonight. Hopefully they will be able to gut out 16 more wins starting next week.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

Rangers End California Roadtrip With Dud

It’s very rare you see a losing goalie who got pulled in the third period be a star of a game. But then again most goalies in this league aren’t Henrik Lundqvist. One day he will lose it and murder one of his teammates. And there won’t be a single person who will bat an eye before defending him for doing it.

I’m just going to get right to it if for some reason you want to re-live this game.

So what did we learn in the first period? If you put your hand over the puck in the defensive zone, it will be ignored by the referee standing right next to the play but called by the referee further away from the infraction. But if you crosscheck a player in the head or send him face first into the boards, neither referee sees anything. I guess after watching the Rangers power kill on the play that was actually called, I should be glad the referees ignored the other two infractions. Also fortunate that both Dominic Moore and Dan Girardi, respectively, appeared to be okay.

As for the second, we learned the Rangers need to learn how to count.

Just six minutes in, an awful line change led to too many men on the ice against one of the best power plays in the league. It ended as you would expect. The surprising part was it took the Sharks almost the full two minutes to get the goal.

That goal would really wake the Sharks up and the barrage would start, as the home team had 21 shots on net in the middle frame. Since we know the Rangers can’t count, by my math that’s more than a shot per minute. Someone might want to tell them that isn’t good. Of course it won’t be the MSG crew who apparently had their brains fried by the California sun. Not only did Sam and Joe think that number of shots was generously high (it wasn’t) but they also kept repeating how well the Rangers were playing. Henrik Lundqvist was playing phenomenally. The rest of the Rangers? Not even close. I guess the two “numbers” combined equals playing well? Only in Rangertown math.

But somehow with how badly the Rangers were being outplayed, they managed to get out of the period tied when Derick Brassard found a streaking Dan Boyle for the backhand tap in with two and half minutes remaining in the period. It was actually quite the goal:

https://www.nhl.com/video/embed/boyle-finishes-two-on-one/t-279358618/c-42712803?autostart=false

Of course that was the last happy moment for the team as we learned in the third period the Rangers still know how to give away a game.

Just 19 seconds into the third, Marc Staal put the puck over the glass. Somehow, the Rangers killed that. They must have thought that would guarantee them the win because over the next seven minutes, the Sharks made it 4-1 and Henrik Lundqvist finally got put out of the misery of having to play behind the lackluster effort his team brought today.

I guess we should’ve seen it coming. Not because it was the last game of the road trip or the third game in technically three and a half days. But because it was an afternoon game. The game started at 1pm local time. The Rangers never play well in afternoon games.

Anyway, a road trip that couldn’t have started better turns into one that couldn’t have ended worse. I will never complain about this years’ Rangers taking three out of six points. But they needed more. They needed at least four. Especially with the teams behind them holding games in hand and continuing to win.

The Rangers return home with only ten games remaining before they really count. I want to believe this team will turn it on once the playoffs begin. I’m not giving up but it’s getting harder and harder to think that is realistic.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

Rangers Only Trip To Detroit Not A Pleasant One

After a couple days off, the Rangers started another grueling stretch with a trip to Detroit. More than halfway through the game, it looked like there was going to be two goals total between these two teams in the two games they’ve played so far this year. Instead, the Rangers sloppy play finally caught up to them in the third. I wish the Rangers could decline afternoon games.

First, some pregame news as there is light at the end of the tunnel in regards to our daily injury updates. The good news? Henrik Lundqvist (neck spasms), Rick Nash (“bone bruise”) and Marc Staal (back spasms) all returned to the lineup. There’s been no question what Lundqvist’s injury is and I think everyone had given up guessing what really happened to Nash. As for Marc, the New York Post quoted him as explaining his injury as:

Staal said it stemmed from his spine being “a little out of line, and something happens where it’s a way it doesn’t want me to move, it just spasms up on me. The muscles just lock up, and I can’t put my socks on anymore.”

Apparently getting the flu didn’t help (which makes sense to me) but that sounds even more miserable than I originally thought. Hopefully he’s correct in saying it’s behind him.

Of course the Rangers can’t have a complete lineup so Derick Brassard stayed in New York with the flu. There is a chance he plays tomorrow. Personally, I would allow him to get completely healthy but that’s just me. (And Dylan McIlrath is still out but he wouldn’t have been playing anyway with the other six healthy.)

Speaking of staying in New York, it looked like most of the team was with Brassard. Actually, after being outshot 15-6 through 19 minutes, I think it’s safe to say Henrik Lundqvist was the only Rangers player in Detroit.

But this is the Rangers so of course their seventh shot of the period, taken with 49 seconds to go, actually ended up in the net to give the visitors a lead they absolutely didn’t deserve. (Honestly trying to figure out how that was their seventh shot since the entire period was played in their zone.) Chris Kreider attempted a pass to Derek Stepan that bounced over his stick. Somehow Stepan got the puck back and put it towards the net. After a scramble in front, the puck bounced back to Stepan who put it in the wide open net. If anyone wants to know what puck luck is, watch that goal.

Then came the second period. It was twenty minutes that…happened. There were penalties (mostly bad ones by both teams) and a few chances but otherwise nothing of note, which is probably a good thing considering the way the Rangers have played second periods recently.

But that left the Rangers clinging to a one goal lead against a Red Wings team who had dominated most of the play through the first forty. That lead lasted all of 4:28 before the Wings finally got on the board.

Somehow the game remained tied for the next ten minutes. Then, with a number of Rangers completely gassed Abdelkader decided to help them out by taking an extremely stupid goaltender interference penalty. (When I say completely gassed, I mean two guys had been stuck out there for over a minute and a half because of a horrible change by the other three.) And then a miracle, as the Rangers took advantage and regained the lead on the power play:

https://www.nhl.com/video/embed/kreiders-tip-in-on-power-play/t-279241234/c-42480903?autostart=false

It all started with a phenomenal keep-in by Derek Stepan to keep the play alive. The puck then makes it’s way to the net as Chris Kreider perfectly deflects the shot by Keith Yandle to regain the lead.

That left the Rangers four and a half minutes to kill to get the victory. Instead, with 2:05 to go, Eric Staal returned the favor for the Wings by holding Larkin in front of the Rangers net. (Sometimes those penalties have to be taken. This one didn’t.) The sad part is the Rangers almost killed it. After a couple of loose clears, they remembered they could shoot for the empty net and started blasting the puck down whenever they could. But they couldn’t hit it and with 32 seconds remaining, we had a tie game.

Actually, the sad part was I wasn’t confident it was headed to overtime at that point and it almost didn’t as the Wings got a golden chance in the dying seconds that fortunately Lundqvist saved to salvage a point. But he couldn’t salvage the second as the Wings finally capitalized on the Rangers numerous turnovers to take the victory. (Let’s be honest, I’m pretty sure most knew it was over when they saw the Rangers put out Hayes, Miller and Yandle even with the face-off in the Wings zone. That shift lasted exactly 15 seconds.)

As I’ve said in previous recaps, points are points and the Rangers will take them any way they can get them. Did they deserve two points tonight? Henrik Lundqvist did. The rest? Not so much. So take the point, say thank you and somehow find a way to be ready to play another game in roughly 18 hours.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)