Unless you’re blind, you’ve noticed that the Rangers have a huge issue on defense. It doesn’t matter what you think about Henrik Lundqvist’s future, it’s painfully obvious that for the Rangers to be a better team and have a legitimate shot at a Stanley Cup, they need to make drastic changes on the blue line. This is beyond deployment, it’s personnel based, and the need is dire.
There are some quick fixes that can be done to make the Rangers into more of a contending team. This would mean giving up a young top-nine forward for a young top-four defenseman and then making a separate deal for a solid bottom pairing defenseman. That, at the very least, is what is needed to turn the current version of the Rangers into a true Cup contender this season. They need not one, but two defensemen.
With the Rangers sputtering, anticipation is quickly building for the March 1 trade deadline. Unlike in past years, New York is set up front, so it’s hard to fathom a deal for another forward. But it’s no secret that the Rangers desperately need help on defense and have been searching for a top-four blueliner for much of the season.
The options are limited, but one name that appears likely to be on the move is Arizona’s Michael Stone. He wouldn’t be the sexy acquisition many crave, but the pending free agent might help fortify the back-end.
Stone, 26, broke out last season with 36 points (six goals, 30 assists) including 14 power play assists. That performance helped him earn a new $4 million contract for this season, but Stone has struggled to match that production.
The Rangers played one of their worst defensive games in years last night, and still found a way to make it exciting. The defense hung Henrik Lundqvist out to dry for five goals, and Hank helped them out by letting in one bad goal and another questionable goal. The first two periods were some of the worst hockey I’ve ever seen from a playoff team. The story by most will be about the comeback, but the Rangers were just putrid. Awful. Terrible.
But then the third period happened, and the Rangers scored three goals early to make the game exciting. Magnus Hellberg made a few good saves to preserve the momentum, but the Rangers still came up short. For those keeping track, this team put up four on Carey Price and lost, then six on the Stars and lost. If that doesn’t scream “defense stinks,” then I don’t know what does.
As an aside, you idiot fans giving Hank a Bronx cheer should just give me your tickets. I can’t afford $200 a ticket on the secondary market, and I would love to get to a game this year. You people are a disgrace. Even the harshest Girardi critics gave him two seasons before really getting on him.
On to the goals:
After going 0-2 in their Ontario stretch, and playing relatively poor hockey to boot, the Rangers are back in action tonight to take on the struggling yet potent Dallas Stars. The Stars have a ton of scoring depth, but inconsistent defense and goaltending has plagued them all year. When you factor in that the potent offense is more bark than bite right now, you get a team that should make the playoffs currently on the outside looking in.
As for the Rangers, they are finally healthy up front. Mika Zibanejad makes his return tonight after recovering from a broken leg. The forwards are finally healthy, and likely will look like this going forward. This is the same group that lit up the entire league in October. Hopefully it won’t take them long to get reacquainted and find that scoring touch again. The team could surely use it.
One of the major storylines this season is the apparent decline of Henrik Lundqvist. At 34 years old (35 in March), Lundqvist is at the age where goalies tend to decline, and it seems that goalies do this relatively quickly. It’s fair to expect some level of decline from Hank, but there is a section of vocal fans that think Lundqvist is done.
Let’s be clear: Lundqvist is not having a good season by his standards. His .907 SV% is well off his career average of .920, his medium danger SV% is in the toilet, and Steve Valliquette mentioned on a recent broadcast that he’s letting in unscreened shots through at a much higher rate (I think it was 1-in-23 this year, as opposed to 1-in-40). However there is a difference between “bad” and “not Lundqvist.”
Here are your updates regarding the lineup for tonight’s game. Some of these came yesterday, so I’m a bit delayed:
- Mika Zibanejad will return tonight. Oscar Lindberg will be the healthy scratch. It was either him or Brandon Pirri. Since Pirri scored the other night, Lindberg was the logical choice.
- Marek Hrivik cleared waivers, and has been assigned to the Hartford Wolf Pack. I’m not surprised he cleared, his baseline numbers weren’t sexy.
- Antti Raanta will be out for 7-10 days. Magnus Hellberg was called up, but expect Lundqvist to play all games during that span.
- Matt Puempel and Marc Staal skated, but will not play tonight.
It seems like ages ago that New York and Vancouver took part in a Coach Swap, something each team needed. Long tenures are tricky because coaching flaws can begin to show. If the coach isn’t willing to adapt, their future with that team looks murky.
It’s how they create reputations and the reason that so many get hired, as is evidenced by that Rangers wife-swapped squad; tired of the aggression and hard-nose, “gritty” hockey, the Rangers opted to hire the offense-minded Vigneault who had come very close to Stanley Cup glory in the Northwest.
Hellberg has played to a .905 SV% and a 2.91 GAA this year with the Pack. Those numbers are way down from his prior years, likely due to a weaker Pack team.
No update on Raanta yet. But this recall doesn’t bode well.
Much of the discussion this season has been on the defensive issues, Henrik Lundqvist’s inconsistencies, and what the team needs to do to be a true contender in the Eastern Conference. Lost in all this, however, is the season being had by Chris Kreider. Kreider has been a beast this year, and appears to finally be having that breakout season we all expected over the past few years.
Kreider already has 17 goals and 31 points in 38 games this season, and would likely be slightly higher had he not missed a few games with back spasms. Increased production on the powerplay (4-4-8 already) has played a role in Kreider’s breakout season, but it’s the consistency that seems to be the major change this year. Through the first half of the season, Kreider hasn’t gone through one of his traditional long slumps without scoring.
St. John’s IceCaps 4, Hartford Wolf Pack 2
St. John’s, Newfoundland, January 14, 2017 – Late third-period goals for the St. John’s IceCaps 1:29 apart, by David Broll and Anthony Camara, sent the Hartford Wolf Pack to a 4-2 defeat Saturday night at Mile One Centre, in the second of back-to-back games between the two teams.
The Wolf Pack had defeated the IceCaps the night before, winning 2-1 in overtime.
Steven Kampfer and Nicklas Jensen scored power-play goals for the Wolf Pack Saturday, and Brandon Halverson made 30 saves. Max Friberg and Alexandre Ranger had the other St. John’s goals, and Tom Parisi added two assists. Former Wolf Pack Yann Danis was the winner in net, with 24 stops.