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Random thoughts as the playoffs approach

Photo: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Photo: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

As the playoffs approach, the Rangers have been one of the hotter teams of late, winning eight of ten games to solidify their spot in the playoffs. With five games remaining, their magic number to clinch a spot is three, while the magic number to clinch a non-wild card spot is down to seven. It seems almost a guarantee that the Rangers will make the playoffs.

The Rangers will go as far as Henrik Lundqvist takes them. They have the best goaltending in the Eastern Conference, and a hot Hank will spell doom for most of the opposition. Hank has shown he can steal a playoff series, mainly against Washington, and will likely need to do so at least once this year. The best part is that –Calgary clunker aside– Hank is playing some of his better hockey of late. When the All-World caliber goalie is starting to get hot, it’s a good sign.

As important as Hank is, injuries will play a significant role again. The Rangers are already having trouble replacing Chris Kreider in the lineup, with Dan Carcillo getting top-six minutes. J.T. Miller isn’t ready for The Show yet, and there aren’t many options in Hartford that appear ready. If Ryan McDonagh is out for an extended period of time, that means Justin Falk is getting 10-12 minutes a game. The injury depth isn’t there.

That said, if McDonagh’s injury isn’t too bad and Martin St. Louis can ride some of the momentum train after scoring his first goal the other night, the effect of Kreider’s absence will be minimal. Of course, guys like Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin, and Brad Richards need to continue producing as well.

One thing the Rangers have that most teams do not: A third line of Benoit Pouliot-Derick Brassard-Mats Zuccarello. This trio has reaped the benefits of the top-six drawing all the attention. If that top-six ever gets going on a consistent basis, then this team is capable of putting up one goal per line per game.

We’ve harped on the importance of avoiding a wild card spot, and the Rangers appear to have done so. The Penguins –with their shaky defense and always Fleury’d goaltending– aren’t too scary, but Boston is the only team that truly scares me in the playoffs. Well, that is aside from playing in Montreal, because Hank gets the willies when he plays there.

Speaking of avoiding the wild card, a first round matchup with the Flyers appears all but guaranteed at this stage of the season. The top two teams get the wild card spots, and #2 plays #3 in the division. In less than two weeks, the Rangers will either be hosting the Flyers or taking the train to Philly. Offensively, the Flyers are scary. Defensively, they are not.

Remember that atrocious start? The Rangers are now third in the conference in regulation/OT wins with 39, behind both Boston and Pittsburgh. That’s how hot this team was in January, and how hot this team continues to be as the playoffs approach.

Call it a hunch, I don’t think many teams, if any, want to see the Rangers in the first round.

"Random thoughts as the playoffs approach", 5 out of 5 based on 4 ratings.

33 Responses to “Random thoughts as the playoffs approach”

  1. Gary says:

    When you take out the first 1/8 of the season, they have been as good as any team. Yes Gary, but you can’t just take out 1/8 of the season. Well, I know. But factoring in that they were learning a new system (remember Girardi trying to get it?) while on an seemingly endless odyssey, it can be thrown out.

    The Rangers, warts and all are as good as any regular season team. Question now is toughness for the grind of the PO’s. One thing we know is they’ve fixed last season’s Achilles heel, a lack of depth. 3 O lines and a 4th D line that gets minutes and even produces points. It’s unique.

    Even the D has depth now assuming John Moore gets back. I like this Diaz.

    Now, get MSL going and not have Richards totally run out of gas and we can make some noise if we hold up to the grind (find a way to keep both Carcillo and Dorsett in the lineup) and if our King in net plays like it.

    On that final note, I still do not believe he is the best in the East. Price and Rask are as good. In the west, Quick is as good. Still say there are 4-5 goalies as good as or better than the King.

    • Gary says:

      …but by all means Hank, PROVE ME WRONG. I want a cup!

      • Puck Luck @Centerman21 says:

        None of those goalie have been as good for as long as Hank. Rask was a backup for most of his career until recently and Price was always inconsistent. He did say the East but Quick makes some real bad plays from time to time that Hank just doesn’t. Remember McDonaghs goal from the Defensive blue line. He does that now & again.
        Tho Hank does seem to get the Yips in Montreal. Like that Mets sinker ball pitcher Pelfrey years ago with 4 balks in an inning. Hello!

  2. SalMerc says:

    I fear we will not see McD in another regular season game. Not easy replacing your No. 1 defenseman, but this is where Stall needs to step up and Stralman needs to show he is worth more than $3M/year. May have to juggle 4th line as defensive “helper” to last pair on “D”. Moore is skating and Diaz has been a strong pickup as well. We can manage here.

    Kreider is another story. I believe he makes it back for the first round. If he does not, asking Carcillo for more top 6 minutes will backfire.

  3. Chris F says:

    Dave,

    Isn’t Moore back from injury and playing tonight?

    If McDonagh is down long term, why would Falk be needed, consider it we have Moore and Diaz for the bottom pairing?

  4. Rangers Fan in Boston says:

    Dave,

    Interesting thoughts, and while I agree with most, I still think you have to give the goaltending nod to the Boston Bruins. Tuukka Rask has been the more consistent goalie this season (Vezina front-runner) and has had more recent playoff success, especially with how that team plays in front of him.

    Also, McDonagh’s injury is bad, but does not mean Falk will getting those minutes. Those would go to John Moore who is coming back from injury. Raphael Diaz was the depth pickup to replace any non-McDonagh/Girardi injuries (injuries to those two in the playoffs would cripple the Rangers).

    • Hatrick Swayze says:

      RFiB…on fire. Both points are on point. Keep it commin’

      • Chris A says:

        You’re right that Moore will help eat some of McD’s minutes if need be.

        The bigger question is, are you confident that Moore can handle more minutes and tougher competition? I hope he can but I don’t feel great about it.

        • Hatrick Swayze says:

          The real effect would be trickle down. Most likely, Staal would slot up to the left side on the first pairing with Girardi.

          Then our bottom pairings would be some combination of Klein / Stralman on the right side with Diaz / Moore on the left. At the end of the day Moore would probably still be seeing 3rd pairing competition with the actual pairs potentially shaking out to be:

          Staal / Girardi
          Diaz / Klein
          Moore / Stralman

          or if people like the idea of keeping Klein and More together (since they seemed to click pretty well before Moore’s injury), then we would have:

          Staal / Girardi
          Diaz / Stralman
          Moore / Klein

          That last configuration would work out rather nicely if Diaz is apt enough to slot into Staal’s normal 2nd pairing vacancy left after he gets bumped up to top pairing. If Diaz can handle those minutes / competition, then I think there’s a good chance we see this configuration tonight.

          • Chris A says:

            Yeah, I should have added that I am not too crazy with Diaz getting second pair minutes either.

            I imagine in a close game the Rangers would just shorten the bench and play Klein/Stralman as a pair and rotate in Moore and Diaz to give someone a blow.

            • Chris F says:

              Yea as much as like Diaz, he seems a little shaky on the point. He’s a little risky with the puck and I could see odd man rushes develop too frequently if he’s getting top-4 minutes.

  5. joe719 says:

    I see the yo-yo has been sent down again. I really don’t see much of a future here for Miller. One mistake and hes in the doghouse. I know that this is not the time of the year to put up with rookie miscues; but this has gone on all year long. He’ll probably be packaged for something over the summer. Hopefully someone to replace the bought out Brad Richards.

    • Hatrick Swayze says:

      I don’t think that is a fair conclusion. Look no further than Kreider last year… yoyo machine. This year…. he’s been a staple on our top line.

      BSB had a good write up this year or last on the origination doing it with many different players, Callahan included. Early career woes are often overcome and the Rangers have a good track record of staying with their top round draft picks until they are able to put it together.

      • joe719 says:

        The whole Kreider deal had to do more with Torts than anything else, IMO. At least he got some top line minutes; Miller gets nothing. This is starting to remind me of the Marc Savard situation. Id hate to see him prosper somewhere else, and we’re left holding the bag.

        • Chris A says:

          Sorry Joe, I don’t agree.

          Kreider was playing like a headless chicken last year. He’s still poor defensively but at least this year he figured out how to use his speed to play North-South and pound the opposition D.

          JT is also lost on D and he has a propensity for killer turnovers. I like the kid and he has some skill, but it’s not his time yet. Carcillo has terrible hands but at least he can position himself correctly in all three zones.

          Finally, the reason you haven’t seen JT in NY most of the season is that there hasn’t been a need for him. Since the first month of season the Rangers have been a reasonably healthy team.

          • joe719 says:

            Torts believed that Kreider was immature in his game to play consistent minutes in the NHL. In other words, his defensive skills are lacking, and he wasn’t physical enuf for the coach’s liking.(I strongly disagree that he was woefully inept in his defensive game). Just because hes a big guy doesn’t mean hes an automatic hitting machine. That was the thing, IMO that Torts just couldn’t tolerate; and I believe led to his firing. Just like it will in Van. Constant reassigning of a player, when really, he hasn’t been given a fair shot to show his stuff, can only do harm. Sather wants this team to be creative. I think, given some time, Miller can be that type of player. Hes shown it in spurts. As for Carcillo, hes there for his toughness. Any added talent he might bring is a huge bonus.
            I disagree that Miller wasn’t needed this year. When Brassard was struggling, and Boyle couldn’t get out of his own way, given a fair chance, Miller night have seized that opportunity. But when you’re always looking over your shoulder worry about mistakes, how can you do anything. Hopefully he gets a shot next season, and he grabs it. If not, then I don’t see him here too much longer.

        • Rangers Fan in Boston says:

          I wouldn’t worry about that. Miller is one of the few close to NHL ready prospects to fill in for CAP saving short money in the next two seasons.

    • Dave says:

      Dude, Miller can’t even legally drink yet. There’s time.

  6. bill_goldthorpe says:

    i tend to think that Miller is actually ready for consistent NHL minutes, if given the opportunity. subject to small sample size, but his possession/WOWY #’s aren’t indicative of a guy who clearly isn’t ready.

  7. Walt says:

    I’ll await the return of McD before saying what we will, or will not do!!

    I would rather not play the Flyers in the first round, but eventually, we would have to, so be it.

    They are tough to play, great offense, and their D is playing much better. The other night they took the Blues to a SO, and lost 1-0, so they can play D. They play a physical game, and may try to intimidate the Rangers with their style. If we are smart, let them take the cheap shots, turn our backs, skate away, and kill then on the PP, as they did to the Pens a few years ago.

    The only thing I want to see is MSL, BR line start clicking, start scoring, and take the pressure off of the other 3 lines. If they can contribute, then we are sitting pretty, if not, we are SOL!!!!!

  8. Snake says:

    The positive thing for the Rangers vs the past couple few seasons is that no one expects them to win anything. Ever since their disastrous start the bar was set so low that even if they get bounced in the first round, the only ones to take the blame will be Torts and Henrik.

    Sadly, to say the Rangers will go as far as Lundquist will take them absolves everyone else in the organization from doing their job. It may be 100% true, but it still ain’t right. In my opinion, the lack of accountability results in the kind of inconsistent play we have seen all season. The Rangers have been prone to breakdowns during games and for stretches of games all season. No one’s job is on the line and it shows.

    Bottom line, the pressure is off for everyone not named Hank. If the Rangers get bounced in the first round it changes nothing. Richards is still gone. AV and Sather will still have jobs. As for the rest of the players, the playoffs can only help them get re-signed, get raises or get signed elsewhere. Win or lose, the storyline will be how Hank succeeded or failed. In NY there is always a scapegoat.

  9. supermaz says:

    I think JT Miller deserves to play and has earned the right to play. Rookie mistakes? I watch every game and I see at least half the roster making “rookie mistakes”. I wish people would stop looking at his game under a microscope. Let the kid play without looking over his shoulder.

    • Chris A says:

      It doesn’t work like that. All players have to play within the team’s concept otherwise the team turns into a circus like Ottawa or Edmonton.

      JT just turned 21 you need to be patient with him. His time will come and he will figure it out. He still makes miserable turnovers and still overstays his shift. Eventually, he will break the bad habits that he was able to get away with in Juniors by virtue of being a superior talent. In the NHL he is just another forward. Once he figures that out he will thrive.

  10. Ray says:

    The only critical player on the Rangers is McDonagh. The Rangers have the depth on D to still play six solid defensemen in his absence, but the excellence will be sorely missed.

    Unfortunately, Rask is head and shoulders above Lundqvist. It is not yet clear how Talbot compares to either of the two, though certainly he has been the best this year. Years ago, Eddie Giacomin shared playoff duties with Gilles Villemure – would be really nice to see that again.

    • Rangers Fan in Boston says:

      Split goaltending duties in the playoffs? Not a recipe for success.

  11. Erixon20 says:

    I agree Rask has had a better season. But at the top of their respective games, I give Hank a slight edge so it’s almost a wash. As for JT, I like what he brings but he is simply not ready. The playoffs are not the place for him to learn how to play in his own zone. I can’t think of a top 9 player I’d chose JT over at this point – for this season. Next year I’d like to see him on the team out of camp. When Kreider gets back either Dorsett or Carcillo will sit.

    • Rangers Fan in Boston says:

      You say “when” like you are expecting Kreider back this season. Are the Rangers?