The Rangers have been a marvel to watch this season. After a significant upgrade at forward, the Rangers are steamrolling opponents to a top-three in the league 57% scoring-chances-for (SCF%) rating. The league leading 62 (as of this writing) goals scored are also pretty nice as well. But perhaps the biggest difference is the defensive zone play.
Last year, the Rangers hemorrhaged shots from all over the defensive zone, putting up some of the worst Corsi (quantity) and Scoring-Chance (quality) numbers against we’ve seen in a while. It was a two-part problem. The first was personnel, which was going to be almost impossible to fix. The second part was system based, which required an adjustment by Alain Vigneault, something many thought to be impossible based on the comments across the blog and Twitter.
Per Brett Cyrgalis, forward Chris Kreider is out tonight against the Oilers, and is not traveling with the team. I’d venture a guess that since he’s not with the club, then he is not playing on Tuesday night in Vancouver either. Obviously this is not a good sign for the winger, who had finally seemed to find his stride and was on pace for a career year.
Kreider had missed time early in October with neck spasms. No more details are available aside from the standard “upper body injury” at the moment, but being sent back to get more tests is never a good sign. Could be a precaution, as neck/back spasms stink something fierce. More to come, obviously.
Oscar Lindberg will get back into the lineup while Kreider is out.
After last night’s dismantling of the Calgary Flames, the Rangers travel to Edmonton to complete two sweeps. A win tonight in Edmonton would sweep the series against the Oilers, and also sweep the Alberta trip. The Oilers are not as bad as the Flames, as they have some serious offensive talent in their top-nine. That said, they lack defensive depth, and are 2-4-1 after their hot 7-1-0 start.
For the Rangers, they will look to build on the win last night, which came after a disheartening loss to the Canucks. A strong win against a potentially deadly offense represents another step in the right direction for a team that has proven to be dominant thus far this season. But to do that, they need to ensure they stop playing down to their opponents.
Utica Comets 3, Hartford Wolf Pack 2 (OT)
Utica, NY, November 12, 2016 – Darren Archibald’s second goal of the game at the 34-second mark of overtime sent the Utica Comets to a 3-2 win over the Hartford Wolf Pack Saturday night at the Utica Memorial Auditorium.
The Wolf Pack had four power plays in the third period, including two minutes of 5-on-3, but could not break a 2-2 tie against Comet rookie goaltender Thatcher Demko, who earned his first pro win with 29 saves.
Tanner Glass scored in the first period for the Wolf Pack, and Mat Bodie scored his first of the year on an early third-period power play, the Wolf Pack’s only goal on eight man advantages on the night. Curtis Valk had a goal and two assists for the Comets.
These western trips are killer. I didn’t watch the game at all last night. So here’s a Twitter breakdown of the game. I’ll get to some of tonight’s game, and maybe some of Tuesday’s. No promises though.
Dave's growing a goatee?
— Kevin (@Kpower90) November 13, 2016
No. No I’m not. Fine. I’ll go shave.
After laying an egg at home against the lowly Canucks, the Rangers hit the road for their annual trip through Western Canada. First stop on the trip is Calgary, where the Flames and their Vancouver-esque record await. This is another trap game for the Rangers, as Calgary is a pretty bad team as well.
The Flames have some top end skill, but haven’t found a consistent winger that fits with Johnny Hockey and Boring Monahan. It’s been a rotation for the first 15 games of the year for Calgary, and outside of those two and their top three blue liners, this team is a train wreck.
So yes, it’s a trap game.
Rochester Americans 5, Hartford Wolf Pack 2
Rochester, NY, November 11, 2016 – Defenseman Taylor Fedun had four points, with a goal and three assists, and Justin Kea scored twice Friday night at the Blue Cross Arena at the Rochester War Memorial, as the Rochester Americans defeated the Hartford Wolf Pack, 5-2.
“We definitely thought we had that one,” Brown said. “It should have been a win, and it was tough. We had too many big mistakes that cost us goals. We’ve got to sharpen up and be ready to play [Saturday].”
As the Rangers continue to dominate the opposition with their speed, skill, and depth, one forward has become a rather polarizing player lately. Derek Stepan has been on the receiving end of a tremendous amount of backlash this season, likely due to his one goal in 14 games to go with his $6.5 million cap hit.
What is conveniently ignored in these discussions is that Stepan has nine assists for a total of ten points. He leads the team in assists, is tied for third in points, and is tied for the team lead in powerplay points (4) and powerplay assists (4). Stepan is on pace for a line of 6-59-65 over a full 82 game season.
A bit late on this, but the Rangers shuffled their lines yesterday at practice. Perhaps more important is they shuffled the defense pairings as well:
The forward lines will change all year, such is life in the NHL. However the shift in the defense pairings represents something slightly more important. Brady Skjei has been the Rangers second best defenseman this season, and has been moved to the top-four. Nick Holden –who has been pretty bad so far– and Kevin Klein –who has been sneaky bad so far– are now the bottom pairing.
Despite the tough loss on Tuesday night, the Rangers are playing very good hockey lately. These wins are different from last year, as goaltending isn’t the sole reason for the run of wins. They are demolishing most of their opponents with good on-ice process. It’s refreshing to see. After 11 games, I’ve noticed a few things.
- The defensive zone play is significantly improved. There are a few reasons for this, but they can all be summed up by one word: Execution. Alain Vigneault’s hybrid zone/man style of play is complicated, and the Rangers were unable to execute last year, with forwards missing assignments and defensemen chasing their man all the way to the blue line. This year, the defensemen are sticking their man until the dots then releasing, as they should. It leaves the forwards able to overload the boards properly to force turnovers and start the transition. It’s been wonderful to see this executed properly.