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Taking stock of the Rangers at the 20 game mark

Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

About midway through October we asked everyone to have some patience after we started the season less than stellar. As I say every year — wait till the 20 game mark before planning a parade, trade, or handing out pink slips. Not every organization follows this advice of course, but most good ones do.

As expected, the Rangers have now made the full transition from playing Tortorella’s 2-1-2 spread forechecking system to AV’s more overload style of play. There’s still a fair amount of similarities between the two coaches though, definitely more than most would care to admit.

The Rangers still collapse in the slot and block a ton of shots, rather than pressuring the points. AV is also not afraid to shorten his bench if guys aren’t going. The zone-start/player deployment strategy (after a whistle) is pretty similar. Both regime’s penalty killing strategies are nearly identical. Though to be fair, most of these philosophies are fairly common in the NHL.

Where things get interesting though is for the players who haven’t yet made the transition. Obviously everyone learns at their own pace, but at some point the org has to start wondering about certain players and their adaptability.

Through 20 games, Girardi’s probably the most notable player who has had an uneasy transition. All of the defense struggled early on to the system change with missed assignments and poor decisions away from the puck. However, AV tweaked his d-zone strategy to include more of a collapsing defense, yet Girardi still hasn’t improved much. He seems to be fighting with when to purse vs. when to contain.

Offensively, he hasn’t contributed much either, just 1 point so far. His average shot distance this season is 58 feet from the net vs. 36 feet last season. So he’s not aggressive in his positioning either. Hopefully he turns it around. As one of two right handed shots on the blueline, his offense is needed.

Perhaps the biggest surprise has been the lackluster play of Derick Brassard. I figured he was tailor made for AV style hockey, but he’s been incredibly inconsistent. He seems to be the odd man out and is getting saddled on the 3rd line. During the playoffs Brass averaged a point per game and 18:54 of ice time. This season he has 7 points and is down to 15:43. Though to be fair, he’s been playing with Boyle and Benoit Pouliot, who is barley worthy of an NHL roster spot.

Speaking of Pouliot, signings like this never make sense to me. How many Wolski’s, Christensen’s, Lisin’s, Zherdev’s, Frolov’s, etc. can one man acquire? Does Sather not know what a flash in the pan is? Like all of the other aforementioned players, this kid makes no effort away from the puck. His stick handling skills are decent, but he has more offensive zone penalties than he does points, not exactly a recipe for success in the NHL.

If Pouliot doesn’t start maximizing his minutes, he is likely going to be another one of those soft ‘skill’ players who has nice fancy stats, but doesn’t bring much else to the table. My guess is he will likely be KHL bound come summer.

MDZ’s struggles are well documented on this site and I don’t want to be duplicative here. I will say, offensively, the only thing this kid is missing is the ability to find twine. He makes good reads on the rush and he seems to find open lanes that allow him good scoring chances, but the finish is not there. His average shot distance is typically in the 30’s, which is impressive for a defensemen, but the missed opportunities kill him. I don’t know how you fix his accuracy issues.

Finally, there’s JT Miller. I like the way this kid plays hockey. He has that same edge and nose for the net Dubinsky has, but is missing some of that playmaking ability. That’s something he isn’t going to learn playing on the 4th line. Hopefully the Rangers send him down to the AHL and give him top 6 minutes and PP time with the Wolfpack.

Overall, my guess is that Brassard and Girardi will find eventually find more game-to-game consistency. I think Del Zotto probably is what he is at this point. Unless we move him back to the left side and play him with a legit shutdown guy, I don’t really see him ever becoming a true offensive d-man/power play quarterback for the Rangers. Perhaps he’d shine brighter in a smaller market.

Fortunately the rest of this team has been playing pretty well. Even in losses, or at least recent ones, we are in every game. That’s what you look for when you’re not getting wins. Is our power play making better decisions? Does our top 6 have chemistry? Are we getting good defense and goaltending? Right now I’d say yes to all of those questions and that can only be a good thing despite a subpar 10-10 record.

28 Responses to “Taking stock of the Rangers at the 20 game mark”

  1. RangerMom says:

    Put Zucc with Brass and Boyle when Nash gets back. I think that will help both of them. Added bonus — send Pouliot to the press box (or better yet, packing).

    • Pete says:

      I wouldn’t rush to break up that line right now. Maybe put Nash with Brass when he comes back to get him going but Kreids-Step-Zucc have been too good to dismantle it. Beside, with that line of Zucc, Brass and Boyle who exactly is putting the puck in the net?

      • RangerMom says:

        Last week I’d agree with you, but their production has slowed down lately. They’ve got chemistry, but they aren’t putting the puck into the net. I’m thinking back to Kreider’s GWG from Nash in Game 5 vs. Boston last year, plus the way Step played with Nash all last season as a sign of things to come from that line combo. (And putting Zucc with Boyle and Brass would be an upgrade for that line. Might get Brass scoring again.)

        • Pete says:

          While that may be true you have to remember that 1. they are not going to kill it every game and 2. because of their success team are zeroing in more on that line. Once Nash gets back they are going to be that much harder to defend and will produce more in all likelihood.

          Brass is not a scorer and neither is Zucc, they are table setters making Boyle the scorer? yeah, I dont see that working at all. Now Nash with Brass, yeah, that could work.

    • Walt says:

      Dear Mom

      Don’t break up that line!!

      Put Nash with Brass, and Hags, who has had very good success with Nash in the past. BR, Callie, and Boyle would work, and then the 4th line would be Moore, Dorsett, and Miller. Now that is a decent line up.

      Pouliot, and Pyatt ride the pine until they are needed due to injuries!!

      • Rangers Fan in Boston says:

        Walt, I’m with you on putting Nash with Hagelin and Brassard.

        I’m with Suit on sending Miller back to Hartford, however. Put Boyle on the 4th with Moore and Dorsett, and let’s see what Pouliot can do with Cally and Richards. For what he brings, it seems to be a better fit with two more skilled forwards.

        • Walt says:

          I would like to sit Pouliot for a few games, and let him think about his NHL career.

          Let’s not forget that Miller is only 20, and is a part of our future, while Pouliot is only going to be a part of the chicken choking squard in the future! There is no need for him after this season, so let him get hungrey again, and maybe, just maybe he will hustle once back in the line up!!

  2. Pete says:

    There’s always surprises/disappointments every year. Having said that I will take a down year from Brass and MDZ for the impact Kreider is making (and going to make if he continues this style of play) right now. I mean the guy is playing kinda close to what everyone salivated for when he was drafted. So nice to see…

  3. SalMerc says:

    I would say that (at times) the offense is more creative than last year. That being said, I also feel the team needs to find a more creative way to enter the zone with the puck. Dump and chase is nice, but we do it too much. I would like to see the defense carry the puck more into neutral ice and then find a forward to carry the puck deep. When guys like Stall, Giradi, Stralman, etc have the puck in the neutral zone, the defenders might as well turn and go to the corners as that is where the puck always is. A surprise once in a while may catch teams off guard.

    • Rangers Fan in Boston says:

      These guys don’t have the necessary puck moving skills to be able do what you ask. Moore, MDZ and at times McDonagh/Staal are the capable puck movers.

      Other times, the Rangers need better breakouts and puck support to move the puck through the neutral zone and into the attacking zone.

      • The Suit says:

        It all depends on the caliber of talent you have on the back end. If you watch Detroit, their breakouts look a lot like everybody elses these days. But back when they had Lidstrom and Rafalski? Forget about it. They barely ever dumped the puck. We just don’t have that type of player.

  4. Frank Cerbone says:

    Give Rangers another 7 gms; at the 1/3 mark of the season (27 gms), should have another idea of where this team is headed. If we are still struggling, then Sather better decide which of his UFAs he is moving/signing. Otherwise, we lose a Callahan, Lundquist, Girardi, Stralman FOR NOTHING. REMEMBER, IT IS BETTER TO TRADE A GUY A YEAR EARLY THAN A YEAR TO LATE. What happens if Girardi & Stralman sign with other teams at end of season & MDZ gets signed to an offer sheet by another team. Rangers are doing their best to make MDZ run like hell from this team at end of season. Forget about UFA right handed defensemen next season. There are none out there we can get. Sather should have signed Girardi & Stralman to new contracts a while back. The ship be sinking.

  5. WilliamW says:

    Through 20 games there have been flashes of what this team can be. An aggressive defense, improved PP and diverse collection of goal scorers backed by a top goalie. This is what all fans were hoping for this summer and hopefully what will work in the playoffs

    Up front:
    Kreider has emerged now just needs to find the back of the net, Richards proved last year was a fluke, Callahan/Hagelin/Boyle/Dorsett provide good 2 way performance and Brass/Zuc have flashed offensive upside. Moore has been a strong 4C. Pouliot/Pyatt have been disappointing but they’re 3rd/4th liners so that’s nothing that will break a season.

    DZ has underwhelmed expectations but he is settling in as a 3rd pair D with some offensive skills. Which is fine, so long as the cost matches the production

    Girardi is the bigger issue. He was arguably a #1 Dman over the past few years and is a RHD to boot. I hope he’ll stabilize and find his footing over the year as he will be an important part alongside McD

    A bit of a tangent but with Nash on the verge of returning, it should theoretically balance the forward lines even more. Nash is clearly the best offensive forward so he’ll slot in alongside 2 of Stepan, Hagelin, Richards, Callahan, Kreider, Brassard and Zuc. I’d like to see Miller given 3rd line minutes to round out the top 9 or down alongside Kristo/Hrivik in Hartford. While Pouliot/Pyatt rotate in that spot. I concur with just about everybody who feels he is wasted playing 8mins per night

    This will allow Boyle to move down alongside Moore and Dorsett for a true shutdown line. I’d like to see the lines as follows

    Hagelin-Rich-Nash
    Kreider-Stepan-Zuc
    Miller-Brassard-Callahan
    Boyle-Moore-Dorsett

    • Walt says:

      William

      I agree with 95% of what you suggest, I’d put Brass with Nash, and BR with Callie and Miller!! BR and Callie have skated together in the past, and this would give us 3 good scoring lines, that can also play two way hockey!

      Just my thinking??????

      • WilliamW says:

        Can see the argument for that. AV seems like to Brassard in a more defensive role than Richards so with Nash getting most O zone face offs seemed logical BR is there too

        • Walt says:

          Hay, either way they form good lines, and can’t really go wrong!! Nice to see we have options!!

    • MBN says:

      WilliamW;

      Perfect line combos. I would go with those for 3-4 straight games, no shifting, and let’s see what happens.

  6. Frank Cerbone says:

    Mikeyyy
    William W

    What happens when Nash returns & Rangers start playing Boston, Toronto, Phila?

    Who will come to Nash’s defense when they start running Nash?

    Mashinter (on the bench)?
    McIlrath (in Hartford)?

    Who is more valuable to Rangers?
    Mashinter for 6 minutes a game?
    McIlrath for 6 minutes a game?
    Pyatt for 6 minutes a game?
    Dominic Moore for 6 minutes a game?

    DID SOMEONE NAMED TEDDY ROOSEVELT ONCE SAY “WALK SOFTLY & CARRY A BIG STICK”????

    • WilliamW says:

      D Moore by a mile

      Neither Mashinter nor McIlrath would deter someone from making a hard hit and playing physical. Having “fighters” to fight another team’s fighters is pointless

      If McIlrath was a better skater and could be trusted with the minutes he’d be more valuable however

      • FrankCerbone says:

        William W

        If you missed some of my earlier posts,

        McIlrath has been in a few fights because people hit Bourque soon after his concusion & he’s only 5’9″

        People went after 5’9″ Christian Thomas after he tried to throw a bodycheck behind the opposing team’s goal. Remember Rupp beating up Kopecky after he sucker punched MDZ with his glove on? Rupp waited like 2 seconds after MDZ was hit before he started pounding on Kopecky. He didn’t wait for no line change.

        McIlrath understands his role very well-just like Fotiu,Domi,Rupp, & Haley. Go after one of our guys & right then & there or the NEXT SHIFT shift we are coming after you.

    • Kevin says:

      Dominic Moore because he’s not entirely useless

  7. Craig says:

    Every time the Rangers play a bigger and stronger team, they have trouble
    This team lacks physicality and moxy(nastiness). When your star player(or any players) are deliberately run at and intimidated by NHL bullies there must be a deterrent. Like the cold war, a balance of power. This team stood by and did nothing when Nash was injured deliberately. It was sickening to watch. Mashinter(though not that skilled) was not given enough ice time and is needed just for a physical presence who will stand up for his team-mates. They send down their only potential heavyweight they have? Watch the Bruins beat them up and the other big nasty teams they play. Is the management really that stupid and naïve? To many wusses and soft players on one team

  8. bernmeister says:

    No on Miller send down.

    Expedite his development at NHL level.
    Increase minutes, responsibility higher 2nd line
    Kreider Miller Cally

    exploits he is only super speed C we have, makes Kreider even more effective.

    Will be some growing pains here and there.
    Screw it.
    THIS is best/fastest in long run.
    Will get really useful Miller by end of year.