The Rangers begin their post All Star Game run tonight against Columbus, one of the few teams with a better record than the Rangers right now. The Blue Jackets are second in the Metro, five points ahead of the Rangers with a game in hand. In the world of three point games and loser points, it’s unlikely the Rangers catch them.
The Rangers aren’t drawing Sergei Bobrovsky tonight, so that’s always a good thing. But the Blue Jackets are skilled up and down the lineup and on the blue line. There’s a reason why they went on their run. This is a tough team to face.
With Jesper Fast and Marc Staal returning to the lineup tonight, coach Alain Vigneault has announced that Oscar Lindberg and Adam Clendening will be the healthy scratches. Antti Raanta is likely the backup tonight, as the Rangers have not recalled Magnus Hellberg.
Fresh off his two year contract extension, Vigneault has highlighted his main weakness, which is defensive evaluation. Clendening wasn’t perfect, but added an offensive flair to the back-end that the Rangers sorely needed. At this point, he’s no worse than Kevin Klein in the defensive zone, so adding puck moving is a critical need for this club.
In regards to the forwards, Lindberg was the likely odd-man out once the Rangers got healthy.
Per Larry Brooks, the Rangers have given head coach Alain Vigneault a two year extension. Vigneault, whose contract was set to expire after next season, is being rewarded for a pair of Conference Finals appearances, one Stanley Cup Finals appearance, and one President’s Trophy.
AV came under fire last year for his deployment of his so-called favorites, but has taken a step in the right direction this season. He is not the perfect coach, as anyone who watches his defense deployments will tell you, but he’s a solid hockey mind. He certainly has offensive strengths, even if he lacks defensive evaluation.
Vigneault has a solid record with the Rangers, at 175-97-23, good for a .632 win percentage. By the time the season is over, he will be fourth in franchise history in coaching wins. Love him or hate him, he’s had a good run.
As the prized offseason signing for the Rangers, Jimmy Vesey burst onto the scene in his first month of NHL action. The highly touted rookie put up a line of 6-3-9 in his first ten NHL games, as the Rangers blew teams away to start the season. But as the Rangers dealt with injuries and the scoring regressed to a more realistic pace, Vesey’s scoring has disappeared. In his past 38 games, Vesey has scored just five goals and five assists, a far cry from the near point-per-game pace.
The dip in scoring was to be expected. It’s rare you get rookies that can score at a point per game, and those kids are usually taken in the top-five picks. Vesey was a third rounder and not an elite talent like McDavid or Matthews. Beyond the expected drop off, this is also the most hockey Vesey has ever played. He has played 48 games thus far, and the last time he even touched 40 games was in 2011-2012.
Hartford Wolf Pack 4, Providence Bruins 3
By Chris Kohler
Hartford, CT, January 28, 2017 – Third-period goals by Philip McRae and Adam Tambellini, combined with Brandon Halverson’s 23 saves, helped the Hartford Wolf Pack past the Providence Bruins, 4-3, in front of a season-high crowd of 10,700 Saturday night at the XL Center.
McRae had two goals in the game, and Tambellini added an assist, as the Wolf Pack headed into the AHL’s All-Star break on a winning note.
The Bruins wasted no time against the Wolf Pack. Only 43 seconds into the contest, Wayne Simpson beat Halverson on a wraparound goal to draw first blood.
With the trade deadline approaching, it has been fairly obvious that the Rangers are in the market for a defenseman. That defenseman is likely to be on the right side, as the Rangers are pretty terrible there. That part we know. What we don’t know, though, is what the Rangers plan on doing to address this hole.
There are numerous options, most of which we’ve covered here. The Rangers can make a splash for a Kevin Shattenkirk. They can go for a rental like Cody Franson or Michael Stone. They can make a block buster deal for a young defenseman rumored to be dangled, like Jacob Trouba. But one area that hasn’t been discussed much is standing pat, and doing nothing. There’s a solid argument for this case too.
Bridgeport Sound Tigers 3, Hartford Wolf Pack 2 (SO)
Bridgeport, CT, January 27, 2017 – Matt Carey scored late in the third period to force overtime for the Hartford Wolf Pack Friday night at Webster Bank Arena, but the Bridgeport Sound Tigers recovered to win in a shootout, 3-2.
Josh Winquist scored both Sound Tiger goals in regulation, and Andrew Rowe and Michael Dal Colle scored for Bridgeport in the shootout. Jaroslav Halak made 21 saves and stopped three of four in the shootout.
As expected, the Rangers have returned goaltender Magnus Hellberg to the Hartford Wolf Pack. Hellberg made one appearance in his call up in relief of Henrik Lundqvist, making four saves on four shots.
Hellberg’s return does not necessarily mean Antti Raanta is ready to go. There has been no update on his status. Hellberg was returned to stay fresh through the All Star break, and may be called back up if Raanta is not ready to go.
Hershey Bears 5, Hartford Wolf Pack 4
By Chris Kohler
Hartford, CT, January 25, 2017 – The Hartford Wolf Pack battled back from 1-0, 2-1 and 4-2 deficits against the Hershey Bears Wednesday night at the XL Center, but a Paul Carey goal with 3:01 remaining in the third period proved decisive in a 5-4 Hershey win.
Mat Bodie had a goal and two assists for the Wolf Pack. Vitek Vanecek stopped 30 shots in the Bear net.
Hershey’s captain, Garrett Mitchell, scored the first goal of the game at 5:21 of the first period, with a shot past the stick side of Wolf Pack goaltender Mackenzie Skapski, who saved seven of eight shots in the period.
During last night’s broadcast, Bob McKenzie shared his thoughts of the Rangers needs and plans for the trade deadline. He didn’t shed any light on their needs, as they are still targeting a top-four right handed defenseman. The problem is that the rest of the league is looking for the same thing.
McKenzie also provided some insight as to the Rangers’ approach, which is to not sacrifice any of the core they’ve assembled thus far. That is the open-ended statement that can be interpreted many different ways. What defines the Rangers core? What are the Rangers willing to part with from the roster?