The Rangers are in Columbus tonight to take on a white-hot Blue Jackets team that is fresh off an amazing 16 game winning streak. However this streak is not like the Flyers streak of ten in a row, where amazing shooting and goaltending masked some underlying issues with puck possession. The Blue Jackets have great possession numbers, playing an aggressive style and riding great special teams. This isn’t the Tortorella Rangers, this CBJ team is good.
As for the Rangers, they are literally limping in to the bye week. They have five injuries to deal with, four to key players. It’s tough to stay consistent when missing an entire top line. However the injury to Staal finally forced Alain Vigneault to juggle the defense pairings. It worked like a charm against the Flyers, as the one thing that remained static during inconsistent play was finally changed up. Perhaps this is the beginning of the much needed shakeup on defense.
Hartford Wolf Pack 2, Lehigh Valley Phantoms 1
By Chris Kohler
Hartford, CT, January 6, 2017 – Magnus Hellberg made 31 saves, and Pavel Buchnevich and Chris Brown scored goals 1:23 apart in the second period Friday night at the XL Center, to carry the Hartford Wolf Pack to a 2-1 win over the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
The victory snapped a season-high streak of four straight regulation losses for the Wolf Pack.
The Phantoms got off to an early lead just a little more than a quarter into the first period, after the Wolf Pack tested Phantom goalie Anthony Stolarz with several shots. Jordan Weal netted the game’s first goal for the Phantoms at 5:43, assisted by Danick Martel and T.J. Brennan.
The Rangers have assigned forward Pavel Buchnevich to the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL. Buchnevich put up eight points (four goals, four assists) in ten games with the Rangers, and has been out for the majority of the season with back issues. This is not a conditioning assignment. Buchnevich’s roster space and cap hit are removed from the books for now.
At first I was a bit surprised that this wasn’t a conditioning assignment, but it makes complete sense. Conditioning assignments are ten days. The Rangers have just five games in the next two weeks. So they likely want to keep him down there to play in games and get back into shape. A straight demotion allows them the flexibility to have him return on their terms when he is in shape.
Make no mistake, Buchnevich will be back. This is just a paperwork thing to get him back in shape.
During last night’s game against the Flyers, Darren Dreger came on the air and noted that like many teams, the Rangers are actively looking for a top-four defenseman between now and the trade deadline. This isn’t exactly Earth shattering news, as half the league is looking to add a top-four defenseman. After all, doesn’t a top-four defenseman make every team better?
Dreger did note that the Rangers are actively scouting and doing their homework though. It’s worth noting that we’ve heard the Rangers, particularly their front office staff, scouting the Ducks frequently this season. The Rangers likely don’t want a rental. So perhaps there’s a match, but the salary cap makes things tricky.
Apparently division rivals do wake up the Rangers. Looking to move past the previous night’s disaster against Buffalo, the Rangers and Henrik Lundqvist played a very physical game with the Flyers in the 5-2 win. More importantly, the Rangers used their superior speed and skill to best Steve Mason and the flawed Flyers defense multiple times.
The King returned to form last night, as he made multiple difficult saves to keep the Rangers in it early. And to be clear, he’s the reason why they were able to build the 3-0 lead. Mason, on the other hand, was strong early but couldn’t withstand the barrage from the Rangers. It wasn’t a perfect effort by any means, but it was a good rebound effort.
Process was much better for the Rangers in this game too. They had a good advantage in both quantity and quality of chances. It’s certainly a step in the right direction for a team that desperately needed it.
On to the goals:
A little late to the news here, but Rangers defenseman Marc Staal will miss at least the next two games with an upper body injury. There’s no indication of where this injury occurred, but it was obviously during last the loss to Buffalo Sabres. Staal has been significantly better this year, and has clicked with Nick Holden. His presence in the lineup may be missed over the next two games.
Adam Clendening will dress for the next two games while Staal is out. For tonight, he will skate on the left side –opening him up to offensive opportunities– with Kevin Klein. Brady Skjei will play with Ryan McDonagh on the top pair (!), while Dan Girardi will play with Holden on the third pair.
After winning three in a row against bad teams, the Rangers really laid an egg last night against Buffalo, another bad team. Luckily the Rangers are usually better on the second game of back-to-backs, and have a division rival coming to town to hopefully wake them up. The Rangers and Flyers always play each other tough, so maybe this is exactly what the Rangers need.
Waking up is one thing, but getting back to proper process is another. Even when they look awake, they aren’t playing great hockey. The Flyers, aside from the division rival aspect, represent a team that is over achieving based off expected goals (xG), in which they are bottom-five. Long story short, the bottom might be falling out of the Flyers soon, may as well try to take advantage of it.
After two wins against the worst two teams in the league, the Rangers faced the third worst team in the league looking to take advantage of the soft spot in their schedule. Instead the Rangers laid an egg, spotting the Sabres a 3-0 lead and eventually falling 4-1. There aren’t many good things to say about this game, except that Nick Holden continues to defy logic and reasoning with his career-best pace. He might be this year’s Kevin Klein.
Speaking of Klein, he and the defense had a horrific night. Two of Klein’s turnovers led directly to goals, and another by Ryan McDonagh led to a goal. It wasn’t much better for the forwards, who looked like they had cement in their skates. All 18 skates hung Henrik Lundqvist out to dry, providing little help. Hank wasn’t his elite self, but there wasn’t much he could do this game.
On to the goals:
After two wins against the worst teams in the Western Conference, the Rangers are back home tonight to take on the worst team in the Eastern Conference. What sets the Buffalo Sabres apart from the Colorado Avalanche and the Arizona Coyotes is that they’ve actually crossed over the 30 point barrier. While not statistically eliminated from the playoffs, they are going to be a lottery team this year, the third opponent in a row the Rangers will face.
Making matters worse for the Sabres is the injury to Ryan O’Reilly, one of their many skilled forwards. This is still a team that has the potential to score a ton, as their forwards have the skill and speed that can give the Rangers slow defense fits. Even so, this is another team that the Rangers should not only be beating, but dominating on the scoreboard and in overall process. But like the games out West, nothing in proper process is a given.
The Rangers have recalled forward Nicklas Jensen from the Hartford Wolf Pack. This will be Jensen’s second stint with the Rangers. He played four games in early December, playing solid if not unspectacular hockey. He was held off the score sheet in a primarily fourth line role.
It’s assumed that someone on the club has the flu or is banged up, although it is not known who. The call up also means that Rick Nash, despite practicing in full today, is not ready for tomorrow’s matchup against the struggling Buffalo Sabres.
Despite missing time with his call up, Jensen is still the Pack’s leading scorer with 14 goals and 10 assists in 29 games.