Our top players need to be better

May 6, 2014, by
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

It’s always difficult to evaluate a player’s postseason performance. Stakes are high. Blood pressures are through the roof. Sample sizes are small. Right now opinions of our top forwards range from “hey their puck possession numbers are terrific, they’re just not scoring,” to “they **** suck, trade them!” As always, somewhere between apathy and empathy is where reality lies.

For me, I don’t think any of these guys deserve the vitriol they’re receiving, but that’s not to say they don’t need to play better. They need to step it up and if they do not, they shouldn’t be immune from criticism, so long as it’s constructive.

Right now, Rick Nash, Brad Richards, and to some extent Derek Stepan aren’t playing to their capabilities. And make no mistake, unless these guys go full throttle from here on out, we can kiss our Cup dreams goodbye.

The problem is I don’t see one consistent issue with all of these players. Everyone’s troubles seem a little different and that puts AV in a tough spot. And that’s not to suggest AV should get a pass. He’s wallpaper at this point, but that’s an article for another day.

Rick Nash’s issues are pretty straight forward. His battle level is just far too low for the postseason. He’s not driving to the net. He’s not forechecking. He’s not battling along the walls. All of which were the same issues last postseason.

In 24 career playoff games, he has just two goals. Sure his puck possession numbers are great, but what good are shot attempts if they’re being taken from 32 feet out? A dangerous shot by any goalie’s definition is one taken in the slot. Right now Nash is 13th among our forwards in shot distance. That’s not good enough. Especially considering Dominic Moore is half his size, gets a fraction of his icetime and is getting shots off within 22-23 feet and has two big goals to boot.

Richards is another perimeter player, but he was never billed as a powerforward so I can live with him avoiding dangerous areas of the ice. My concern with Richie is the powerplay. No one gets more icetime on the advantage than he does and no one has less to show for it. He’s 2nd in the league in PP time-on-ice and tied for 22nd with 40 other players in PP points.

Pundits spend a lot of time analyzing our PP and what’s wrong with it. However, the consistent piece over the past 3 years has been Richie running it. He is not a QB anymore and until we get a legit one or McD grows into that role, we won’t be better than mediocre on the advantage.

As for Derek Stepan, I was hoping he’d have a big postseason after such a lackluster regular season, but perhaps my hopes were too high. At this point he’s what four years into in his career? Regular season stats are good not great. Postseason stats are decent. I think he just is what he is at this point – a stop-gap first liner till someone better comes along. Any hopes of him being an elite center in this league and with it high expectations should be tempered. He’s not a 1C guy.

Finally, I’m giving Hank and McDonagh a pass. Hank is Hank and McDonagh has had his hands full defensively. Plus, there are rumors that he’s playing injured, so I can live with his lack of offensive production.

"Our top players need to be better", 5 out of 5 based on 1 ratings.


  1. Cerullo says:

    How about Richie just blowing a tire at the point for the Jokinen goal, and then just standing and watching? He needs to be off the PP.

    • Dave says:

      He dove to try and get to that awful pass from Zucc. Richards wasn’t the goat on that goal.

      • Chris A says:

        That goal was 100% on Zucc. I don’t care who was back there instead of Richards, no one was getting to that miserable pass and no was catching Jokinen coming out of the box.

        Zucc should know better there. At the end of a PP the puck only goes forward, never east-west, never back. Only to the net or behind the net. Anything else likely leads to a break for the guy coming out of the box.

        I know Zucc isn’t an idiot so I am going to chalk that mental mistake to complete mental fatigue.

        • Puck Luck @Centerman21 says:

          Who is the coach? Not Tortarella again I hope. AV doesn’t seem to play that game with his players. I see guys that just blew a coverage out 2 shifts later. He uses his bench according to the way the oppositions coach does. Kreider sat out in the game in Columbus because of his hand. Team said he’d been playing with it a few games but could have happened during that game against the Jackets.

          • flatbush says:

            Need a coach with half Torts approach and half AV style. This is not about a Coach!. Nor about blocking shots, which the rangers do just as much for AV as they did with Torts.Its about the players!
            Perfect example. Torts says,”we suck” after the relentless dumb questions at the press conference and AV says its his fault. Neither style changes the results until the players execute and adjust.

      • Leatherneckinlv says:

        You know what Suit, Even though that was an awful pass from Zuke, his intention I liked, It was effort, It was determination….he wanted to score…Those kind of mistakes I can live with

        • The Suit says:

          I agree and it was within the confines of their system which is to try to make a play.

          • Chris A says:

            Really Suit? I know I am repeating myself here, but you don’t think that Zucc’s back pass was a flat out mistake based on the fact that it was at the end of the PP?

            Honestly, if that was a regular season game I would expect him to sit for the rest of the period and possibly the game for such a horrendous mistake.

            • Ray says:

              I think McDonagh deserves some of the blame on this play. He isn’t involved, is at the blue line and a man is coming out of the box.He needs to retreat as the play is developing. Had the roles been reversed, Zuccarello would have done that and he isn’t even a defenseman.

              • The Suit says:

                I dunno Chris A. 2nd period down by a goal? I’d probably take that chance. Up by a goal in the 3rd period, I’d probably put it deep.

          • flatbush says:

            The pass had nothing to do with a system. It was a decision and if Richards reads Zuc and makes a play that results in a goal it will hailed brilliant. If you ask a player, at that time in the game the safe play would be to go low or around the boards unless your 100% sure Richards is with you- just like pinching. High risk- high reward. In this case a poor decision. Not complicated!

            • The Suit says:

              What type of play you make at a certain time of the game is part of a system. Their formation at the time of the play was a 1-3-1 and a formation is part of a system.

  2. joe719 says:

    Is it possible that what we are getting from Nash is all that we can expect? Could the concussion problems of the past have caused his game to deteriorate to this point. He barely goes to the net anymore; he comes over the line and veers to the outside trying to make a move, loses the puck, and any chance is over. Hes always looking to pass now. Its scary to think, but hes starting to resemble Lindros at the end. If there are no health problems, then that might be even scarier thought, considering the cost of acquiring him.

    • The Suit says:

      Hard to know either way. But his regular season production didn’t seem to indicate any issues. Seems like a stretch to me.

      • joe719 says:

        I’m not looking to give him an out, but he doesn’t resemble the type of player he’s been in the past. Don’t get me wrong, I would make that trade again in a heartbeat: if the Nash we were getting was the one that was advertised. Sadly, that guy doesn’t show up too often anymore.

        • The Suit says:

          Yea. he’s not a power forward. Not even close.

          • Walt says:

            That is the problem, he was sold as one! If it’s not the concussion, then he is heartless, won’t mix it up, and is playing with zero passion. In any case, he is damaged goods, and maybe he should be moved down a line or two, and give someone with heart, JT Miller a shot. What have we got to loose?????????? NOTHING!!

            • Chris. C says:

              Miller isn’t top Line material.

              • Walt says:

                Your right, but neither is Nash. He is just going through the motions, and that’s it!! I was trying to make a point, and you jump on it as if I was advocating such a move for real. Too many thin skinned people out there!!

    • Chris A says:

      If it makes you feel any better about the Nash trade, Dubi was likely a goner that summer no matter what. Much like Callahan, his cap hit had significantly surpassed his production.

      Tim Erixon seems to be quite a way from being a steady NHL contributor and of course, the first round pick would have been nice.

      For me, Artie was the big loss. Although, I may be biased. I always figured the Rangers were better off passing on Richards and just giving Anisimov the time to develop. AA is the same player Richards currently is, at a fraction of the cap hit and with the added benefit of being an excellent defensive player.

      • The Suit says:

        I love Arty and I agree he was a big loss. I don’t think he’s the same type of player as Richie, but that’s not important in the scheme of things.

        Richie is likely a goner at the end of the season and will hopefully be replaced by Stepan. 1C needs to be addressed at some point.

        • Chris A says:

          Yes, Richie is definitely gone this summer.

          He just got too old. At the start of the season and the start of the playoffs he was on fire but he couldn’t keep it up for more than a few games. That tells me he’s shot. He tries, he says the right things, he can still make the occasional nice play, but his body is no longer willing even if his heart still is.

        • Leatherneckinlv says:

          I certainly hope Nash is a goner too…I can not stand watching him for another 4 years

      • Hatrick Swayze says:

        Dubinsky was the best player traded away in that trade. He just inked a 4 yr 4.2 mil per deal which is what had everybody jumping ship on him because of his low low low production the first year in that deal.

        In spite of that, he has bounced back nicely in Columbus… should have been NY. He was sand-papery and a gamer…remember him jumping into the scrum after Chris Neil jumped Boyle in round 1 of the 11-12 playoffs? He is a gritty player who shows up when it counts…. did you see him almost will the Blue Jackets to victory over the Pens last round? He also has more skill than most give him credit for….again, I refer to the Jackets/Pens series in round 1.

        In short, Dubinsky is the man, was the best player traded away for Nash and although I agree that we ‘needed’ to make (or at least should have made) the trade for Nash I am just disappointed that Dubi was part of the package.

  3. RangerMom says:

    Good write-up as usual, Suit. I agree with everything you said (although I’m a little harsher w/Stepan. He’s really an anchor on that top line. Not his fault. He is what he is. Not a #1 center.)

    Anyway, question: What about St. Louis? Yes, he had a good start in the Philly series (so did Nash), but he’s been pretty quiet in this series, no? Wasn’t he brought in at the trade deadline as our “missing piece?”

    • Chris A says:

      I agree on Stepan, he has been pretty bad these playoffs. Seeing how often he has been flubbing his shots makes me think he has a broken hand/damaged wrist.

      • The Suit says:

        St. Louis gets a pass from me for now. The stats aren’t where we want them to be, but I like the way he’s been playing.

        He’s going to the dirty areas, he’s creating chances, he’s nailed a few posts, working the PK, just think he’s having some tough luck. The effort is there though IMO.

        • Walt says:

          I hate to agree with you on this, because I wasn’t a fan of the trade, but MSL is playing with emotion, Nash looks like a cadaver out there.

  4. AD says:

    What’s the plan if “Win Now” doesn’t work?

    What’s the plan, period?

  5. Sally says:

    Mike Milbury and Keith Jones were saying that Rick Nash was still playing regular season hockey and this was playoff time and he had to take it to the next level. But as you said yourself Suit, he has not done so the last two playoffs. If he hasn’t done so in two playoff seasons, why do you think he going to do so now?

  6. SalMerc says:

    Remember that salary and heart and goals are not all complimentary. Some guys wear the jersey with pride while some will wear any Jersey for the ca$h. We can’t give a talented guy like Nash the heart of D. Moore or give Nash’s size to MSL. Each individual needs to look themselves in the mirror and ask if they have done all they can do. If so, then we are truly over our heads here. But, if they feel that they are letting their teammates down and that they can work harder, hit more and be more responsible, then maybe we make it to Game 6 or 7.
    For those who remember, Stepan is reminding me of Jean Ratelle (if you know what I mean).

    • Walt says:


      Stepan can’t carry Ratelle’s jock strap. The man was head, and shoulders better than this kid willl ever be!! Step would make a good 2nd line center, or even third, but never a first line guy!!

  7. SoCal Ranger says:

    Sorry, but I disagree. I think the Rangers are being the best that they can be. They really aren’t a team that’s built to contend with heavyweights like the Pens or the Bruins. They certainly don’t have the talent to compete with Pittsburgh and they don’t seem at all willing to fight to possess the puck with the same killer instinct that Crosby and company display.

    Without a major overhaul and a complete change in philosophy, our Rangers, I fear, won’t be drinking from The Cup any time soon . . . and by major overhaul I mean, getting rid of all the soft guys like Nash and all the small guys and all the slow guys . . . and, while we’re at it . . . a new GM might help, too.

    Just sayin

  8. Rockdog says:

    Nice write up, as usual Suit. Very tough couple of games, lets hope the forwards figure things out in a hurry.

    • The Suit says:

      Thanks. I hope so too. If we have to go down, I hope we go out swinging like Columbus did.

  9. Snake says:

    I for one shall patiently await the piece that looks in depth at The Wallpaper Coach.

  10. Chris F says:

    The Rangers woes are all hinged on execution of our top lines.

    Most teams would kill for the assets that the Rangers have, that being a top-4 defensive corps that that could be top pair on any team, an elite goaltender, and depth right down to the 4th line.

    All the auxiliary components are there. And, quite frankly, with Nash, St. Louis, Richards, *Kreider, and Stepan, the primary pieces are there. Add in the Pouliot-Brassard-Zuccarello line, and speedsters such as Hagelin, and this should be one of the best teams in the League.

    There’s so much to be hopeful about, so much that warrants optimism and high expectations. And yet, here we stand.

    The Rangers are down 2-1 in this series for a couple of reasons:

    1) A PP unit that insists upon being largely immobile and soft in pursuit of the puck. Personnel is there, execution is not.
    2) A condensed, grueling schedule that has the Rangers playing more games in a shorter period of time than any playoff team in decades. This affects execution.
    3) A damn good opponent with 2 of the League’s top 5 snipers, and a handful of the League’s better offensive forwards.
    4) An injured Krieder who brings a physical doggedness and snarl that is sorely lacking in the Rangers top-9.

    You can’t change the Kreider injury, you cant change the schedule, and you cant choose your opponent, so that leaves execution, especially on the PP, as the only problem that the Rangers can really target in this short amount of time. That falls on AV to get the motivation in place.

    But, make no mistakes, the circumstances do matter. The injuries, the fatigue due to schedule, the Pens being a great team… these things are going to also impact execution.

    This team is down, but not out. They need to believe in themselves, and look at all the positives they have in their lineup, all the positives that they’ve done, especially last night, which I believe was actually a very well played game by the Rangers.

    Hopefully they have more heart than the majority of Rangers fans do, because that’s what this series is going to come down to. And for all the derision being tossed at the Blueshirts today, I didn’t see a whole lot of passion from the Pens last night either. They played stifling, clogging D, but they didn’t strike much fear in me.

    Rangers can come back in this thing.

    • The Suit says:

      I agree with all of that, but there’s still something missing with this team. They have a good team on paper, but they lack…call it heart, call it killer instinct whatever.

      They don’t dictate. They counter. And when there aren’t mistakes to capitalize on, it’s not there. It’s why I picked them to lose this series which was not a popular opinion on this site.

      I hope they prove me wrong, but this postseason hasn’t given me much faith.

    • Hatrick Swayze says:

      Chris F, you get full marks for that comment. Where do I sign?

  11. Paul says:

    It’s a bit disappointing to see Stepan not coming into role he was billed for. Def. seems like his is indeed a ‘stop-gap’ 1c right now.
    Obviously you want your power fwd, star player (i.e. Nash) to drive the net and get shots from the slot area, and perhaps even score! If he can make the Pens play him 2-1 and open ice for his linemates, i can see the argument that he’s playing well enough. Unfortunately, well enough isn’t going to cut it at this point.

    one more thing on Stepan- his battle level seems to be declining with his hair count IMO.

  12. Leatherneckinlv says:

    On Stepan’s behalf, you can see he has lost confidence in Nash and in turn himself. Partially the downfall of Stepan goes to Nash. A couple of games I saw the WTF on Stepan’s face going to the bench because I will speculate of what Nash didn’t do. Kreider will help if he gets in.

    I have been studying the roster and this team doesn’t need an overhaul. A few changes are needed. We need grit in a big way. McIlrath should help the D. Richards and Nash or St Louis have to go. We will need one of Nash or St Louis but not both. Kreider and say St Louis for scoring help, the entire Brassard line for secondary scoring, Diaz as the 7th D and Mac Truck will be a good start.

  13. Sauce Life says:

    MSL doesn’t get a pass after 40 games on Broadway. Yes, Cally was gone, but we gave up big time picks.

    I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the better buy out is Nash, at least Richards is a big time locker room leader (not “a guy trying too hard to be a leader,” as the Suit will have you believe! And with all due respect to Anisimov…that’s not exactly a bullet on his resume).

    Maybe Slats needs to tell Nash that’s his fate if he doesn’t find an extra gear, because there should be no patience for a 6’4 210 pounder with 11 regular season hits. This town loved the Black & Blueshirts; I’m ok playing up-tempo hockey, but this guy has been the opposite of the heart and soul Ranger fans crave.

    • Walt says:

      Every time I say something along the lines you did, all hell breaks loose, but your spot on, the man has no back bone. There should be some takers out there for his services!!!!!!!

      Wayne Simmons, tough as nails, out scored our so called super star, comes to play every day. Gets in the greasy areas, scores garbage goals, and will give you a pounding if you dare drop the gloves with him. Is there a clone of him???????

    • dapowl says:

      Why would you buyout a guy with 1) a managable contract ( not like Richie’s) 2) that if you need to just can trade for some nice pieces ?

  14. Chris F says:

    AV said that Kreider is meeting with the doctors again, and they should know his status in a day or two.

    Seems like an indication that he could be available for game 5 potentially.

    • Sally says:

      Not to rain on your parade, but it took Zuccs a while to get back into form after breaking his hand.

      • Chris F says:

        Zukes also was only out 9 days, so maybe he rushed back a bit. Kreider has been out over a month. I’m hoping when he comes back, he’s ready.

    • AD says:

      Is this now the third year in a row we are looking for Kreider to come into a playoff series and rescue this team?

      Houston, we have a problem….

      • Chris F says:


        In his debut, in 2012, no one expected him to rescue the team. His NCAA championship just wrapped up and the Rangers opted to insert him into the line-up. No one, I don’t think, thought he’d come in and do what he did. But he did. Kudos to him.

        In 2013, maybe people had hopes of a repeat of 2012, but again, I don’t think anyone thought of him a savior. I think the Brassard / Clowe combination was where most people hung their hopes after that tear they went on post-trade deadline.

        Now, we all saw the season Kreider had and know the impact he brings. He’s undeniably a huge part of this team’s identity and success. Of course everyone wants him back for this series.

        If you don’t, then I guess you’re more cynical than I thought.

  15. Chris F says:

    I just want to say…. f@ck the Pens!

    I feel better now.

  16. STANK says:

    All this team needs is one damn goal. With the amount of shots in game 3 (granted they weren’t great shots), a lot of it is just bad luck at this point. If they can score a damn goal and relax and bit keeping the crowd into it, i’m confident they will be fine tonight.

  17. roadrider says:

    Yeah, there has been an intensity level that’s been missing. I do think the compressed schedule has something to do with it but its not the entire story as we saw the same thing in the Philly series where two of the worst games they played were after having two days off!

    The Rangers aren’t doing anything to turn the tide when things go against them. A big hit, a strong fore check, bodies in front of the net. Sure they can pile up meaningless puck possession stats while making nothing out of their possession other than one-and-done perimeter shots or quick turnovers but that isn’t getting it done.

    I don’t know what to say about Nash and Stepan but I think Nash has been playing a lot better than Stepan who has been a ghost in this series. Remember the same barbs were hurled at Gaborik who is scoring quite well for LA now. He was just buried in a system that didn’t suit him and while AV’s system should be good for Nash maybe its the guys he’s playing with. If they aren’t enough of a threat then defenses can collapse around Nash. He’s not blameless and needs to do more but he’s not getting much help either.

  18. NY to NC says:

    I don’t understand the “to some extent” comment regarding Stepan. He has been their worst forward and is slow and in a daze, even going back to the Philly series. One of his goals was a open net gift pass from Ricahrds that I could have buried.
    Why does the media lay off this guy so much…he has been terrible.