First thoughts of 2017January 6, 2017, by
Happy 2017, BSB faithful! Now that that the dumpster fire that was 2016 is in the books, time to get back to business. The Rangers have had something of an interesting week; a horrific showing against Buffalo, a nice bounce back win against Philly, some defensive adjustments and a looming matchup with the red-hot Blue Jackets. Unfortunately, the Caps bludgeoned Columbus last night, so we won’t get to see our potentially record breaking showdown, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have some thoughts…
1) Since the back-to-back shellacking’s against Minnesota and Pittsburgh, the Rangers have had a very soft schedule, and for the most part, have taken advantage. There were some suspect performances along the way, but you could do a whole lot worse than 4-1 through that stretch.
2) I liked the look of Brady Skjei as McDonagh’s partner. Obviously, it is an exceedingly small sample, but I don’t see any reason not to see what you have there. It’s a bit awkward for the rookie playing on his off side, but I think he acquitted himself well. Considering the current structure of the defense, I say let it ride until there is a serious issue.
3) I also liked Adam Clendening’s game against Philly. He made some very smart plays to transition the puck out of the zone and showed a knack for understanding how to support the transition game when the forwards flew the zone a bit prematurely. He is not the upgrade the blue line needs by any stretch, but incremental improvement is still improvement considering the issues the defense has had.
4) What I like most, though, is that the Staal injury has forced some adjustments. The forwards have been tinkered with all season, but the defense has remained relatively static. Let’s shake it up and see if we like where the pieces land any better. Sheltering Girardi was a big step in the right direction.
5) I still don’t like Nick Holden’s game at all, but I am willing to give the guy credit for a run of strong play. He is putting up points at a pace I never expected to see when that trade went down. Maybe the Rangers can put this Klein-like streak of offensive output to good use on the trade market, especially with the expansion draft looming.
6) As for the forward group, I’m still reserving judgment until Nash, Buchnevich and Zibanjad are ready to return and set the depth back in place.
7) I will this say about the forwards, has Chris Kreider been a beast or what? How convinced are you that he is finally putting it all together?
8) I thought Hank had a much needed return to form against the Flyers. He had his typically slow start and found himself a bit upended by the red hot play of Antti Raanta. I don’t think he ever found the opportunity to get into a groove, and then the ridiculous schedule compression happened. I’m not trying to make excuses, but trying to cite reasons. With the schedule relaxing a bit, I think you can get Hank a consistent run of games, while still giving him the requisite rest. The Rangers need him at his best this spring.
9) There is no question this has been a down year for the King. However, he is rounding back into form and still has a half season to turn his numbers around. As it stands today, Lundvist has a 2.49 GAA and a .913 save percentage. Regular readers here know I hate those stats, but as a quick reference, I think Hank still ends up around his typical .920 save percentage when all is said and done. The guy is a human metronome.
10) Man, is the top of the metro a tight race, or what? The Rangers would be in first place in every other division in hockey. I’m not convinced the Blue Jackets can keep up a President’s Trophy pace, but they have clearly cemented themselves as a playoff team. It would not be surprising to see five teams make the playoffs out of the Metro division. Scary stuff.
11) Speaking of playoffs, if the regular season ended today, the Rangers would secure themselves another date with the Penguins in the first round. The Penguins high powered offense and the Rangers porous defense have not made for good bedfellows in recent years. Between the Blue Jackets and Caps, there aren’t many soft spots in the other potential playoff matchups, either.
12) After heading to Columbus tomorrow, the Rangers have six (!) days off before a back-to-back set with Toronto and Montreal. If this isn’t a reason to leave everything on the ice tomorrow, I don’t know what is. The big break should hopefully allow guys to get a little closer to returning and let the coaching staff tinker with video and some line combinations in extended practice time.
I know the other guys tend to give you some questions towards the end of their musings, but I only have one: What is your best explanation as to why Jimmy Vesey shouldn’t be the most expendable forward in taking about a meaningful defensive upgrade?
Have a great weekend everyone. Happy New Year!"First thoughts of 2017",