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Should the Rangers be worried about Dan Girardi and Marc Staal’s form?

Can the Rangers rely on Dan Girardi? Photo: McIsaac/Getty

Can the Rangers rely on Dan Girardi? Photo: McIsaac/Getty

With a few exceptions the Rangers have been abysmal in their own end for almost the entire season. Whether it’s been the disruptions to the line up caused by the myriad of injuries or ‘a lack of desperation’ (says Rick Nash) or execution on any particular game night, it doesn’t matter. The Rangers have not been good enough.

The Rangers play a bad Flyers team Wednesday night. However they play a team that is loaded with offensive talent and given the Rangers’ struggles in their own end it is a game the Rangers could easily lose – particularly in their current state.

Consider the Rangers most senior blueliners for a moment. Dan Girardi is being paid like an elite defenseman. Marc Staal is expecting to be paid like an elite defenseman. Ryan McDonagh and Dan Boyle are being paid handsomely and even Kevin Klein is being paid better than most. Yet the Rangers defense has been appalling.

It’s unfair to expect miracles from a Matt Hunwick or Mike Kostka. Even less can be reasonably expected of Conor Allen and Dylan McIlrath. However, a significant portion of the blame needs to lie at the feet of Girardi and Staal. Their play causes significant concern moving forward.

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Musing the Rangers: Getting defensive

Should the Rangers play Boyle tonight? Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America

Should the Rangers play Boyle tonight? Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America

Fresh off a dominant victory over the offensive juggernaut that are the Pens, things appear slightly rosier in Rangerland. Tonight, the Rangers have to cope with another offensively skilled team when the Avalanche comes to town. Let’s discuss the goings-on in Rangerland.

What to do with Duclair? I know I’m in the minority but I think I would send Duclair back to juniors. I would rather see him playing 20 minutes a night in Junior and dominating. Once the Rangers are back to full strength I think a guy like Jesper Fast would be better suited to a bottom six role and help the Rangers return to their identity of being a difficult team to play against.

I have Rick Nash in both my fantasy teams. I am very happy about this.

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The Rangers’ Marc Staal dilemma

Marc Staal's future could have a huge influence on the Rangers competitiveness.

Marc Staal’s future could have a huge influence on the Rangers competitiveness.

It’s amazing the difference one dominant performance can make. Prior to the Pens game I was ready to criticise Marc Staal pretty heavily, and all of a sudden he turns out his best performance of the year. However, the point of this post remains. For now.

This year, on a consistent basis, the Rangers have been poor in their own end. Games where the Rangers have been acceptable defensively (such as the Pens game, where the team played well – for the most part – in front of Henrik Lundqvist) have been the exception rather than the rule. Some of this can certainly be attributed to the defensive unit being blown up by injury and suspension but there have been two constants in the line-up in Marc Staal and Girardi.

While Girardi has been inconsistent he has rebounded to some extent. Marc Staal however has been playing at an unacceptable level given his salary expectations and the standards we have come to expect. Make no mistake, Staal has had a few good games this season and really was more like his usual self against the Pens, and he remains a player with tremendous skill and size, but the Rangers need Staal to be much better consistently (key word).

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Are the Rangers prospects lacking opportunity?

via Blueshirts United

via Blueshirts United

When the Rangers get healthy in a couple of weeks their line-up will be set – barring a fresh injury or a dramatic loss of form. The Rangers will be dressing a veteran heavy line-up even though several regulars are still in the young category.

Meanwhile down in the AHL, the Hartford WolfPack has started the season strongly (7-2-1 as of Wednesday) and are being led offensively by a handful of prospects. Among others, Oscar Lindberg, Ryan Haggerty, Danny Kristo, J.T. Miller, Mat Bodie and Jesper Fast are all having productive seasons offensively. Including Haggerty (in his rookie pro season but still with six points in ten games) all of the above are playing consistent hockey and are close to a point per game.

This kind of collective form offers an organisation exactly the kind of problems they want. On the one hand the Rangers don’t have any space for prospects in New York – certainly not in positions where enough ice time is available – but on the other hand they want a steady stream of players knocking on the door putting pressure on the established core. However, a problem starting to develop in the Rangers organization is that several prospects may see their paths blocked in both the short and long term.

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Rangers place Ryan Malone on waivers – experiment over.

It appears the Ryan Malone experiment is over. With the Rangers needing to call up defensemen from Hartford to fill out their defense, 34 year old Malone has been placed on waivers with the intention of demoting him to Hartford if he clears. Malone has indicated he will report if he clears.

The idea of Malone was better than the real thing. Malone should have brought a combination of size, a physical edge, a scoring touch and a much needed net presence but it has been clear from the beginning of the year Alain Vigneault didn’t see him as a fit. He rarely got the ice time even when the Rangers were losing physical battles all over the ice and they were struggling to establish pressure in front of opposing goalies.

If Malone clears waivers it’s possible – if he plays hard in Hartford – that he could make it back to New York as he still has tools the Rangers lack but a return to New York for Ryan Malone seems unlikely at this stage. Whether Malone clears waivers won’t be known until Monday at noon.

The Rangers round-up

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America

Dan Boyle should really help the PP when he returns. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America

There’s been quite a gap between the Rangers’ games this week, with the wild comeback against the Wild feeling like an eternity ago. Quite a bit has happened in Rangerland since so let’s take a look around at some of the goings on.

Veterans to the rescue

Derek Stepan and Dan Boyle resume skating. The Rangers cannot get these two players back fast enough. Stepan’s absence had destroyed team depth at center and the Rangers’ issues on defense have been well documented. With the Rangers powerplay needing help, Boyle and Stepan could be the perfect tonic to a unit that has been – at best – underwhelming to this point.

Is the Rangers goaltending pipeline improving?

The Rangers have tried to remedy the lack of depth behind Henrik Lundqvist recently and there’s a few intriguing prospects worth a keeping an eye on. Brandon Halverson typifies the modern goaltender, being a big man at 6’4, and he’s off to a strong start in junior winning 7 games in his first ten appearances although his peripherals (GAA 3.15, S% .904) aren’t exciting. Reports are he’s playing well though.

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Derek Stepan’s return raises Rangers line-up questions

Stepan's return will have a major impact on the Rangers line-up. AP Photo/Bruce Bennett, Pool

Stepan’s return will have a major impact on the Rangers line-up. AP Photo/Bruce Bennett, Pool

As Derek Stepan has finally hit the ice with his team mates (albeit in a non contact jersey) the questions will now begin to focus more on where rather than when will Stepan play. Following the excellent instant chemistry Rick Nash has shown with Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello the logical thinking will be to try and keep that trio in tact in the short term. Of course, given Nash’s not so pretty possession numbers perhaps Alain Vigneault will consider reuniting Stepan with the Rangers best and hottest forward.

Questions will be raised about Stepan’s match readiness. Will Stepan need to be eased back in? And can Nash be a spark for Stepan the way he appears to have been for Zuccarello and Brassard? The options for Stepan are numerous at this stage. With Stepan’s return almost certainly meaning the end of the Marty St Louis at center experiment, the chances are that Stepan will be paired with St Louis and Kreider, (finally) giving the Rangers two legitimate scoring lines for the first time this season.

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Amid Rangers’ team wide struggles, Nash needs to be the catalyst.

Going to the dirty areas, scoring more goals. (Photo: Adam Hunger/USA Today)

Going to the dirty areas, scoring more goals. (Photo: Adam Hunger/USA Today)

Right now, outside of Anaheim, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more confident and in-form goal scorer than Rick Nash. Other than the Ducks’ Corey Perry, Nash has been the best the league has to offer as October draws to a close but unlike Perry, Nash has had very little (consistent) support to this point of the season.

While they’re different players, the start to the year Nash has enjoyed has been reminiscent of how Jaromir Jagr put his Rangers team on his back and carried them all season long on his way to that historic 54 goal season a few years back. Right now, the Rangers need Nash not only to generate the offense that he has, but to help kick start other players into life. It appeared that this additional part of Nash’s job description started in earnest against the Wild.

Prior to Monday night Mats Zuccarello had struggled mightily – much like his start to last year. Derick Brassard had also been inconsistent but both players came up with huge efforts when lined up with Nash Monday night. Looking back to the start of the year and Chris Kreider has also had his most effective games with Nash as a running mate.

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The Rangers have had too many passengers

Marc Staal needs to be better. Especially if he wants to cash in.

Marc Staal needs to be better. Especially if he wants to cash in.

Marc Staal quite frankly has been awful, Henrik Lundqvist has been inconsistent, Martin St Louis has been on the periphery, and core players such as Mats Zuccarello have either been invisible or terrible, depending on how forgiving you are as a fan. Throughout the Rangers line-up too many players haven’t kicked into gear yet or shown nearly enough consistency.

Almost the entire roster has Rick Nash (and to a lesser extent Chris Kreider) to thank that the record isn’t a lot uglier than 4-4, eight games in. Fancy stats to one side, this team hasn’t passed the good old fashioned eye test. A lot has been made of the Rangers ‘big three’ on defense not playing well so far, and that is certainly true (McDonagh and Staal were both particularly poor in Montreal) but better contributions are required all over the line-up.

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What’s best for Kevin Hayes?

Bill Kostroun/AP

Bill Kostroun/AP

With Derek Stepan only three compulsory games away from a return to the Rangers lineup and Derick Brassard firmly entrenched as the Rangers second line center, questions have already begun to surface about what will be best for Kevin Hayes’ development.

Hayes has had a fairly promising start to his NHL career amid difficult circumstances. Asked to start his big league career in a position that isn’t his best and in the Rangers’ weakest position, Hayes has struggled in the face-off circle winning a feeble 24.6% of his draws. On the flip side, Hayes has shown excellent skill on the puck, a willingness to play both ends of the rink and composure on the puck that isn’t seen from most rookies.

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