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)

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Rangers Contracts: UFAs, RFAs + NTCs

From the moment the final buzzer sounded to end game 5 last Saturday afternoon, the assumption amongst Rangers fans and media was simple – change was coming. No one is expecting the team that left the ice that afternoon to be anywhere close to the one stepping on the ice at MSG in October.

But the question becomes what can change. I will do my usual “keep or dump” in the coming weeks (although I might take a different approach this year) but let’s look at the Rangers contract situations.

Unrestricted Free Agents

The Rangers have five unrestricted free agents. Defenseman Dan Boyle won’t be returning. The assumption is he will be retiring, as that is what he hinted at after his blowup at Brooks, but there hasn’t been any confirmation yet. Also probably not returning? Eric Staal and Dominic Moore.

Staal was never expected to return but I don’t think that was a slip up. As for Moore, his story was great but I think we can all agree it’s time to move on.

That leaves defenseman Keith Yandle and forward Viktor Stalberg. (Goaltender Antti Raanta was re-signed earlier this week.)

Personally, I think there are better options than Stalberg out there but if Vigneault likes him, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him return. I just see him as a player similar to Benoit Pouliot, who used one good year to get a long term contract he already isn’t living up to. And then there’s Yandle.

“It’s been nothing but amazing,” Yandle said of his time with the Rangers. “The way they treat their players, the way you come to the rink every day … it’s a pleasure to come to the rink and I can definitely see myself playing here and it’s one of those things — I have to weigh my options.”

My belief on Yandle has always been that he wants to go back “home” – either Boston or Arizona. His piece in the Players Tribune a few weeks ago made me think he might want to stay. But his quotes at break up day made me think he’s intrigued by free agency. Is he closing the door to returning? I doubt it. Do the Rangers want to keep him? Possibly. Is the money/term going to work? That’s the million dollar question (no pun intended).

Restricted Free Agents

RFAs have typically been where the fun is when it comes to contracts. This years’ candidates for last player to receive a deal are forwards Chris KreiderJ.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes along with defenseman Dylan McIlrath.

At the start of the year, if you asked any Rangers fan who of the three forwards would probably end up as the odd man out, they would’ve instantly said Miller. Now? He’s probably the first to be signed. Not many players should feel safe right now but odds are pretty high Miller will be remaining in blue.

Personally, I wouldn’t give up on Kreider yet either. If he spoke on breakup day, he didn’t say much as I saw no quotes from him. But if the team plans to keep Vigneault, they can’t get rid of their fastest player. As for Hayes, Vigneault was asked if he was in the organizations plans going forward and responded:

We’ll see if that remains the case in the next few weeks.

That leaves McIlrath. While Vigneault said the back end is where they need to look to change, I’m not sure moving the rookie is what he was implying. I said all season that McIlrath was a clear #7 when the others were playing to their capabilities and would be a regular next year. We’ll see if I’m right.

No Trade + No Move Clauses

Here comes the fun. If the Rangers really want to make changes, they will need to touch their long term contracts and most of those have some type of move clause attached to them.

The top three candidates are Rick Nash (limited no trade clause), Dan Girardi and Marc Staal (both no move clauses).

Nash, when asked, replied:

“It’s hard not to worry about it. I love the city, I love the organization, but the realistic side to it is that you don’t know what’s going to happen over the summer.”

Most assume he’s the most logical to move. It would be a big shake up as well as free up a bunch of space. But while he didn’t score this year, he was a 42 goal scorer last season and most assume he’s closer to that then the 15 goal scorer we saw this year.

As for the two defensemen, that’s where it gets interesting. Girardi has four years remaining while Staal has five years. Both would need to approve any move except a buyout. (Since they have a no move, they can request to skip the waiver period needed before the buyout period but if I am understanding the CBA correctly, they can still be bought out.)

Many have mentioned buying out Girardi. If the Rangers choose to, this would be the cap hit over the next eight years:

Girardi-numbers

From a business standpoint, I would rather have the option of the player than that hit for that length of time. Yes they save money next year but they really hurt themselves the following years. Staal’s numbers are even worse which is probably why very few have mentioned that for him.

Other options to move? Derick Brassard who currently has a modified no trade clause (terms are unknown), Mats Zuccarello who has a full no trade clause or maybe Derek Stepan, who unfortunately for him isn’t old enough to have a trade clause. (Players cannot have a clause added to their contract until they are in their UFA years. It is believed Stepan has one for the end of his contract.)

Is the organization actually thinking of moving any of those players? Who knows. But it’s probably safe to assume anything is possible when your coach says the following:

“I think we’re at the stage now that we need to look at some changes,” Vigneault said days after the crash-and-burn, five-game first-round defeat to the Penguins. “For any NHL team, status quo is not possible and it is not what’s needed.

“We want to bring in different players to add to the dynamic. The core guys have been together for a while. Certainly it’s time to look at what we can do to improve.”

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

Rangers Can’t Find Offense In 3-1 Loss

This series has been strange. Typically I can easily recap a playoff game. For the second time in three games, I can’t.

I can easily write about the third period and how the Rangers seemed to drift through the final twenty minutes as if a goal would just miraculously appear for the home team. I’m not sure the Penguins played much better but they did manage to stifle any offense the Rangers attempted to muster. (To be fair, there wasn’t a lot in the final frame.)

And then there was the game winner. As I watched Dan Boyle and Keith Yandle collide in the defense zone, I had no words. You expect miscommunication like that from two guys who haven’t really played together, not two guys who were paired for 19 playoff games last year. But they collided, Matt Cullen said thank you and even though there was plenty of time, no one had a feeling the home team would get the equalizer. And they didn’t.

I guess I’ll try to do this one backwards as that was basically the third period. In the middle frame, you could almost see where this was headed. The Rangers didn’t play a poor second period, but having only 13 shots through two periods against a rookie goaltender returning from injury and having had only one practice in almost two weeks was nothing short of pathetic.

The good news is they did get on the board first. (Well officially, but more on that in a moment.) Just 22 seconds into the period, Chris Kreider rubbed Hornqvist along the boards and was called for boarding. He questioned it, the fans questioned it but to the box he went. (To be honest, from my vantage point, it looked like a penalty that is called when officials are actually calling penalties but it was on my side of the ice so I didn’t have the best look.)

Just 17 seconds into the penalty, we had a goal…from Rick Nash. No really, Nash scored. Watch:

https://www.nhl.com/video/embed/nashs-shorthanded-goal/t-280310054/c-43611003?autostart=false

That was some shot and got the building alive. Surprisingly the Rangers were able to kill off the rest of the penalty after that. Not surprisingly, they weren’t able to build any momentum off of it.

The Rangers did have two power kills over the first half of the period but weren’t able to do anything with them. Then with one minute remaining, Marc Staal lost Carl Hagelin and took him down to the side of the Rangers net. Am I surprised Staal lost Hagelin? Not in the least and neither should anyone else who has watched the Rangers for years. The hook, as they called it, was a little light though and many believed the ex-Ranger took a little bit of a dive. Again, I just saw him go down so I’m guessing the official saw the same thing I did.

When you play with fire, you’re bound to get burned and the Rangers did as there was a goal 18 seconds in. This time it didn’t go to the team in the penalty box and we had a tie game.

But what about the first period?

Well neither team really came out flying but both had some chances. Then halfway through the period, Marc Staal took his first penalty of the game. With time winding down, Conor Sheary high-sticked Dominic Moore and drew blood leading to 4-on-4 and then an extended power play for the home team. (It was honestly the best thing Moore did all game. I usually don’t like to call out individual poor performances but Moore didn’t have a great game tonight.)

Shortly into the power play, Chris Kreider scored. He actually missed on his original shot but somehow found the rebound and buried it behind Murray to give the home team an early lead. Or so we all thought. Immediately Mike Sullivan was at the edge of his bench calling for the officials and I knew we were in trouble. The Penguins were challenging that the play was offside. It was and we were back to 0-0 and the Rangers proceeded to have over three minutes of power kill time.

Side note: I understand why these challenges were put in place and while I do want to get the calls right, I’m not sure these plays are what the league intended the rule to be. (It was the right call.) That said, the part that gets me is how many goals we’ve seen called back due to minute offside plays. How many past goals wouldn’t have been goals if this rule was in place before this season? And how many of these goals will still be goals when they change the rule next year?

Anyway, the Rangers killed the power play and the rest of the period which led to a scoreless game after one.

And now back to the end and a couple of stats that caught my eye:

17 shots. That’s how many pucks the Rangers put on rookie goaltender Matt Murray. I could probably write 1,000 words on why that is not good but let’s just say, that was not good.

12:56. That was the amount of ice time Marc Staal received, least amongst defensemen. I understand he hasn’t been great in the series and was having another iffy game but that’s ridiculous. Somehow Crosby was still invisible most of the night.

71. The number of hits in this game with the Rangers once again having the edge, 41-30. It’s no secret these two teams hate each other but if this series somehow goes the distance, the Capitals will be saying thank you.

2-1. That’s the hole the Rangers now face. Is it insurmountable? No. And that’s what they said after the game. They didn’t play poorly tonight, at least not in the sense of what we’ve seen from them this year. But they need to play better. They need to get that playoff intensity and play with it every night. We saw them have it game two. Here’s to hoping they find it in game four.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

Rangers Blow Chance To Clinch

Three years ago, the Rangers entered a late season game in Carolina with a chance to clinch a playoff spot. That game was also an important one for the Staal family as Jared Staal had just been called up by the Hurricanes. Tonight was similar, the Rangers had a chance to clinch while the Staal family had another milestone – Eric Staal playing his first game in Carolina as a visitor. Unfortunately the clinching scenario went better the last time they were there.

The highlight of the first period (honestly the highlight of the evening and not just because of the emotion behind it) was the video tribute to Eric during the first TV timeout:

Beautifully done and you could tell it hit the ex-Canes captain hard. Too bad the rest of his teammates couldn’t use that as motivation, as they were outshot 13-4 (with two of those shots coming in the last minute) over the first twenty. Sometimes the shots on goal don’t tell the entire story. They don’t here as the Rangers played worse than a team that managed four shots on net.

I’m not sure if the Rangers were screamed at during intermission or finally found their legs but it was a completely different team in the second period, where the tables turned and the visitors outshot the home team 13-4. (Yes, the exact same shot total.) Unfortunately 20 minutes doesn’t win you a hockey game, which is sad since there were plenty of highlights during the middle frame.

It started less than two minutes in when Derek Stepan found Mats Zuccarello at the doorstep to tie the game at one and give the Norwegian his 200th career NHL point. Three and a half minutes later, Rick Nash did this:

https://www.nhl.com/video/embed/nashs-goal-ties-the-game-at-1/t-279690074/c-43121003?autostart=false

Who is that guy wearing #61 and is there any chance the Rangers can keep him? That was a typical Rick Nash goal and we can only hope that means he is coming around at the absolute best possible time. Speaking of guys coming around, the Rangers other big power forward pulled this move late in the period:

https://www.nhl.com/video/embed/kreider-uses-speed-for-ppg/t-279690074/c-43122903?autostart=false

Of course the Canes had gotten one in between those goals but if you want any positives from tonight, the goals by Nash and Chris Kreider definitely qualify as two of them. (Probably the only two, as even Henrik Lundqvist had another bad night, but they are pretty big ones.)

The Rangers kept that lead until intermission. I’m not sure what happened during those 17-18 minutes but the second period Rangers disappeared and were replaced by the first period Rangers as the Canes dominated the period. They also dominated the scoreboard getting two goals to the Rangers none giving the Rangers their second regulation loss of the year when leading after 40 minutes. Their second in the same season after going the prior four or five seasons without losing one of those games. It also prevented the Rangers from clinching a playoff spot (and we won’t even discuss the damage it did in the standings).

There’s no way to sugar coat it – this is a game the Rangers should have won. No, Carolina isn’t a pushover. They are closer to a playoff team than having a chance at a number one draft pick. But if the Rangers want to be taken seriously, they need to beat the teams not in playoff position. There’s no excuses at this point in the season. These aren’t “must wins”, these are games contenders don’t come close to losing. And the Rangers handed it away.

You come here for recaps but there really is nothing else to say about this game. It happened, it shouldn’t have and that has happened way too many times this season. Am I giving up on the boys? No. I’ve supported them for better or worse all year so I won’t give up now. Will I be surprised if I’m writing a eulogy instead of a game recap in a month? Sadly I’m starting to think no. But there is no way I’m writing that eulogy until the lockers are cleaned out.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

Rangers Get Job Done Vs. Panthers

It’s an hour after the game and I’m trying to figure out what the biggest miracle of the night was – Rick Nash scoring, Tanner Glass scoring or the fact the Rangers actually got two points in this game without giving any to the Panthers? It’s a close race.

I’ve said it a lot the past few weeks, that every point is valuable. The Rangers got two tonight so you won’t hear a complaint from me. (Remember my favorite saying, never critique a win.) Plus we all know every win isn’t pretty.

The first period…okay, I’m not going to say it happened. I think it happened? Honestly I was pretty sure we were all in for a long night after the first ten minutes. Then with less than nine minutes remaining, Viktor Stalberg stole the puck from Jaromir Jagr leading to a 2-on-1 with Dominic Moore. I will fully admit I thought they passed one time too many and watching replay, I’m actually surprised they didn’t pass it one more time before putting it on net. But Stalberg elected to shoot and managed to slip it right under Montoya for the 1-0 lead.

I’m pretty sure that was the only thing to happen in the first period.

Two and a half minutes into the second, the Rangers were given the first power play of the game. To no one’s surprise, the initial draw was lost and the puck was down the ice. As the boys attempted to bring it back in, they lost it and the puck headed right back towards Lundqvist. To say I wasn’t hopeful would be an understatement. But they proved me wrong as they finally did set up and then passed and passed and passed some more. Then randomly, Mats Zuccarello quickly snapped a Derick Brassard pass and the score was 2-0. I still have no idea how he managed to get that just inside the top corner. I’m convinced during some of the Rangers lulls this season, that puck would’ve gone ten feet wide.

With nine minutes remaining, Steven Kampfer caught Tanner Glass with his head down in center ice and got him with a hard, clean hit. For some reason, Derick Brassard decided he didn’t like the hit so went to kind of challenge Kampfer. He didn’t really challenge him and the two ended up hugging for about ten seconds before the referees broke it up and sent both to the box. So easy two minutes each for either roughing or unsportsmanlike conduct, right? Apparently not. Instead the referees called:

Capture

You can’t make that up. The crowd chuckled in disbelief when the referee announced the call. MSG’s Joe Tolleson was having trouble not laughing as he announced it. I mean, sure, I guess they did technically delay the game because they caused the whistle to be blown. But I have never seen that called like that.

With a little over three minutes remaining, a horrible turnover by Marc Staal led to a scramble in front of the Rangers net. The referee had a perfect view to make the call since he was standing in the crease behind Henrik Lundqvist. (He actually jumped over Lundqvist at one point.) I have no idea what he was doing there but he was and fortunately the puck stayed out of the net and the Rangers took a 2-0 lead into the third period.

Now most people will say the Rangers went into their usual defensive shell with 20 minutes to go. I’m not going to give them that credit. Instead, I’m going to go on the theory the Panthers finally woke up leading to their early domination.

It looked like the visitors were on the board just two and a half minutes in when the puck did find the back of the net, but apparently off the high stick of a Panther. Kevin Hayes, standing right next to the net and not doing much to stop the play, immediately had his hands up to say high stick. The referee in the corner apparently immediately waived it off (something I only realized on replay). They went to review and the play was ruled inconclusive so original call stood. Basically the Rangers dodged a huge bullet.

Of course that didn’t wake them up and just four and a half minutes later, the Panthers did cut the deficit in half. Dan Girardi put a perfect, low shot on net that Montoya saved and then the puck headed up the ice. Keith Yandle lost Trocheck, who managed to tip a pass (that probably shouldn’t have gotten through) past Lundqvist to make the score 2-1.

Two and a half minutes later, the Rangers drew another power play. They didn’t score during those two minutes but right as the power play ended, this happened:

https://www.nhl.com/video/embed/nash-beats-montoya-five-hole/t-279358878/c-42784803?autostart=false

Yes, that is a Rick Nash goal. One can only hope that means he is headed for a hot streak. The Rangers sure could use that right now. I also love that he appeared as if he didn’t know how to react to scoring a goal.

That gave the Rangers a little bit of breathing room but there was still plenty of time left. They managed to get to 2:01 remaining in the game before taking their first non-coincidental penalty as Viktor Stalberg was called for a trip. It surprisingly took the Panthers almost a minute and a half to get the goal but of course they got it.

Then all the Rangers had to do was kill 35.7 seconds. They almost didn’t. Kevin Klein would take the puck on his backhand right in front of Lundqvist and then pass it up to Tanner Glass who would get the empty net goal and seal the victory. I understand what Klein was trying to do but he is extremely lucky it worked. One bad bounce of the puck or a Panther close enough to poke check it and we had a tie game.

Instead, the Rangers got a much needed two points. I won’t believe the message from Saturday got across to the team until I see what they do on Wednesday. To me, that game is even more important than tonight’s was.

 

(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)

Rangers Practice Brings Lots Of Updates

With nine days to go before the trade deadline, it’s safe to assume that you can never assume what updates will come out of an off day practice. For instance, I’m sure no one expected the Rangers to place Dan Paille on waivers today. But they did, meaning that the wingers run with the Rangers is over after 12 games.

Is that really news? I guess. The Rangers signing of Paille was basically a no-risk tryout. If it worked, great. If it didn’t, they would send him back to the AHL which is where he was before they signed him. No harm, no foul and I don’t blame them one bit for giving it a try. It didn’t work and so we move on.

The question becomes who will be playing on the fourth line tomorrow night if it isn’t Paille. After practice, Vigneault said that Jeff Gorton and Scott Arniel will be at Hartford’s game tonight to make a decision on who the call up will be. The belief among the beat writers seems to be that it won’t be Jayson Megna but instead either Marek Hrivik or Ryan Bourque. The fact that all of them are saying that tells me they know more then they are letting on but we’ll see tomorrow who it is.

Two other players who won’t be on the ice tomorrow night against the Red Wings are Rick Nash and Ryan McDonagh. Neither is really a surprise.

In regards to Nash, they said there is no update and then admitted he has been working out in the gym on his own. That’s a start since the last we heard he had been shut down. I’m still not expecting to see him until some time in March. Although if it’s early March, that could be one great (and cheap, since they are already paying him) “deadline acquisition”.

As for McDonagh, there was good news and bad news:

The Rangers are insisting that is all and that he did not suffer a second concussion. To me, neck spasms are whiplash which usually coincides with concussions. But the captain went through protocol both on Thursday in Toronto and again today, passing the tests both times. If he did manage to escape a second concussion, that is huge. But it would be foolish to rush him back after two hits to the jaw in less than a two week span. At the moment, the Rangers are saying he’s day-to-day.

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In other news, when speaking about Paille being waived, Vigneault discussed the entire fourth line. Per Andrew Gross:

“I think it’s safe to say our expectations of that line is a little bit higher than what we’re getting at this time,” Vigneault said. “The only player really that I want to (say we’re) satisfied with what he’s bringing is Tanner. I know what he’s going to bring, that physicality to the game. Dan, I thought, was all right in that he brings us depth. I think we’re looking for a little upgrade there and Dom’s play needs to be better, there’s no doubt – faceoffs and penalty killing aspect, the defensive aspect, all areas that he’s done better in the past, he’s not doing as well right now. We’ve talked to him about it and we’re hoping he’s going to get his game together. There’s more to it than just the faceoffs. In Dom’s case there’s puck decisions and reads when we don’t have the puck. We’ve tried different players on that line. We’re still looking for a combination that will make us a more effective four-line team. We’ve still got a little bit of time to figure it out and that’s what we’re going to try and do.”

Look, I never like to see players called out but sometimes it has to happen and I’m glad Vigneault is mentioning the recent play of Dominic Moore. I know a lot of people will blame his linemates but his decisions recently with and without the puck have nothing to do with who is on the ice with him. To prove that point, he’s made bad ones at even strength, during the penalty kill and during the last minutes of play in the past couple of games. He has different linemates in each of those situations.

(On a separate note, I know a lot of people say the Rangers have missed a few past players on the penalty kill. My response is they are right – we are missing Moore and Jesper Fast. Watch the two of them attempt to kill penalties and you’ll see what I mean.)

The other part of that quote that I found interesting was him mentioning the play of Tanner Glass. Honestly, Glass has been fine. He is what he is and he hasn’t been a liability since, well since his call up from Hartford. He hasn’t. But if he’s the best player on the fourth line, that means we have a serious problem with the fourth line. Removing Paille is fine but that isn’t solving the problem.

Which brings us back to the date – February 20th. Nine days until the trade deadline. In the past it’s been clear by now what area the Rangers are expected to address. This year, I couldn’t even begin to guess. It’s one reason a lot of people believe the team isn’t a contender. I still don’t buy that but I expect it to be an extremely interesting nine days. The team will do something because they always do. Only time will tell if it’s something of significance.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)