Back eastNovember 18, 2016, by
The Rangers return to a more civilized time zone tonight, after a massively successful western Canadian swing. After an embarrassing loss to the Canucks the week before, the Rangers bore down for the victory to close out the trip, despite some of their depth being tested. Tonight, they will be back east to see our old buddy Torts and the predictably mediocre Blue Jackets.
This begins another difficult stretch for the Rangers, with seven games in twelve days to close out the month, including a home and home against the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins. The Blueshirts deal with a significant amount of schedule congestion this month and for December, with January seeing only eleven games in thirty-one days. This is the toughest stretch of the season.
This will also be an interesting period for analyzing a team that is in a somewhat unprecedented place. The way this Rangers team is built is a new beast to the modern game. Never has a team boasted so much speed and scoring depth in the salary cap NHL. It is fairly apparent the deficiencies on the back end, but the Rangers are doubling down on the philosophy that if you roll four skilled, speed lines and receive excellent goaltending, you can mask most defensive issues.
What this stretch will not do is help injuries. With Chris Kreider and Buchnevich in and out of the lineup with various ailments, they won’t be given much time to heal. The Wolfpack does provide some quality depth in the form of Nieves, Hrivik and Jensen, in the event the big club needs some bodies, but the hope is those two highly productive wingers can rejoin the lineup for good.
If the Rangers continue to play well, we can hopefully start to see some separation in the standings. Despite their blazing hot start, they are only four points up on the Capitals and Penguins, and only five on the Devils. All three teams have a game in hand on the Rangers. Such is life in a league with the loser point, I suppose. The Blueshirts are tied atop the league with Montreal, with thirteen regulation wins, which helps, but it would be nice to see some of those clubs fade a little farther back in the rearview.
What this stretch should also do is to allow for a meaningful sample on how best to handle the defense leading up to the deadline. I have a feeling with the expansion draft looming that this deadline should be one of considerable activity, with some non-traditional transactions taking place. This would also potentially allow for opportunistic GM’s to find market inefficiencies in field. Would someone like Nick Holden have surplus value to a team that needs another defenseman to expose?
With Brady Skjei proving to be a revelation thus far, anyone short of him and McDonagh should be in play to upgrade the back end. Clendening has proven in a small sample to be a capable bottom pairing guy, but the Rangers have too many of those players. If you can get value for Klein or Holden to obtain a mid-pairing defensemen who fits the current mold of today’s game, it needs to be considered.
The current level of play has been analyzed very thoroughly, both here and at other quality sites. Despite some inflated production from Michael Grabner and Jimmy Vesey, the rest of the team is playing what appears to be relatively sustainable hockey. Sure, the shooting percentage is going to drop and maybe those 5-2 games become 3-1 games, but the formula for winning still exists.
When this stretch through the end of 2016 concludes, the Rangers will have played thirty-nine games, which is almost half the season. By that time, we should have a much better ideal of who exactly this team is and what they are capable of. This will go a long way to determine deadline strategy and if we should really be considering this team a true contender come spring. From what I have observed, I think this team is most definitely a contender, but we won’t have to wait long to find out."Back east",