Once again, Mr. Dependable. Photo: McIsaac/Getty
Anyone watching the Rangers to begin the year wouldn’t have foreseen this (individual) turnaround. Anyone paying close attention to the Rangers’ popular no. 5 for most of last year wouldn’t have predicted this scenario either. However, without doubt – thanks to the impressive turnaround in his play – Dan Girardi has become an essential, can’t-be-allowed-to-leave piece of the Rangers puzzle.
Girardi was error prone throughout the Rangers indifferent start to the season. Rather than being part of the solution he was part of the problem. However, the past two months have seen Girardi return to being the indispensible, minute eating, shot blocking rock on the Rangers blueline. Over the past ten games, only three times has Girardi had less than 3 blocked shots. Only twice over the same period has Girardi not being credited with at least two hits. He’s back to his shutdown best.
Girardi’s return to his old form has coincided with the Rangers extended hot streak and has helped the Rangers really develop a core to match even the best teams in the league. With Henrik Lundqvist’s return to form, three capable offensive lines, strong special teams and a dominant top defensive pair (Girardi and Ryan McDonagh), the Rangers are becoming a team no one will want to face come playoff time. This all brings us to the already much discussed free agency and Girardi’s opportunity to cash in.
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Derek Dorsett could be a difference maker (Source: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images North America)
The Rangers facd the toughest possible opponent tonight. When an elite team like the Blues head to town fresh off a mauling, they will be conscious of stopping the rot before it starts. This will be a great benchmark game for the Rangers. Can they go toe to toe with a contender? Can they put behind them their own disappointing game? Tonight’s game is the definition of a character test.
Kevin Klein’s arrival meant the end of Michael Del Zotto, but does it also signal the end of Anton Stralman? Stralman is reported to be looking for $3 million plus at season’s end, despite being distinctly average for the most of this year. Would the Rangers be willing to lock up what are essentially two third pair guys for what would be $3 million each?
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Cam Talbot will want a starting opportunity if he keeps up his form. (Scott Levy, Getty Images)
The dilemma is always there: A franchise always wants to have strong goaltending and a strong, reliable back-up, but the threat of losing such a commodity to a club dangling a starting gig is constant. Cam Talbot may be approaching this kind of situation in his near future and the Rangers need to be ready to deal with it.
The Rangers have been lucky in recent times with backup goaltending thanks to Marty Biron and now – in spectacular style – Cam Talbot. With Talbot’s play – leading the league in save percentage and goals against average – Talbot will surely be an enticing prospect for several clubs this summer (the likes of Washington, Islanders, Calgary and perhaps even teams such as Winnipeg). Henrik Lundqvist’s backup still has a year left on his modest contract and with his performances, appealing size and (likely) desire not to remain a back-up long term, he’ll surely be open to offers.
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Photo credit: Christopher Pasatieri
Often it is the smaller, less heralded moves that make the difference in playoff races. So as the Rangers approach the trade deadline in good form, but still with flaws, should they make any additions? In most cases you have to give to receive, and if the Rangers want to make a real upgrade to their team they will need to consider moving a current piece of the roster.
One player who has quietly had a solid season – even during the dark, inept start laid down by the Rangers – is Brian Boyle. He’s also one player whose future in New York is unclear. We have discussed here numerous times the merits of Boyle’s defensive game, his face-off skills, and his underrated role on the Rangers. While his 21 goal season has proved to be the exception to the rule, even his 10 points so far this year have been welcome help.
All that said, it appears Boyle may be an ex-Ranger soon. Larry Brooks published negative sounding comments from Boyle regarding his future, and pointed out his regressing role as the Rangers have become increasingly disciplined on the ice. Would it make sense to move Boyle? Can the Rangers replace his PK prowess?
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After Tuesday’s disappointing and above all unnecessary loss to the Lightning, the Rangers take on Detroit tonight. Absolutely there for the taking, the Rangers need to avoid a let down game against the Wings who are depleted and not what they were a couple years back. Let’s hit the musings for the first time in a while shall we?
Careful what you wish for: For all the moaning and concerns about the Rangers start to the year, consider the state of the Wings franchise right now. A squad with a few core aging players (think Alfredsson, Kronwall, Bertuzzi, Samuelsson and Cleary) and not a huge amount coming through their system (relatively speaking, of course). The Rangers on the other hand are younger, with a pipeline that while not chock full of talent is far from empty. The Rangers could be in a lot worse shape compared to many teams in the league.
Just when you thought he’d turned a page, Michael Del Zotto has a major lapse in the Tampa loss. That’s why he is so frustrating; for all the good, there is always some bad just around the corner.
The Rangers MVP after the halfway mark? Ryan McDonagh. Undoubtedly without McDonagh, the defense – which has been in a state of flux all year anyway – would have been in big trouble. His offense is also developing quickly.
Talking contracts: How much can Ryan – I can’t stay healthy – Callahan really command and get come contract time? Is it possible that he demands more than the Rangers can offer?
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Pouliot: Riding recent success to a new deal? Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Image
Inconsistent, journeyman pro, never sticks with one team, will never live up to his draft status. The list of criticisms labelled at Benoit Pouliot is a long one, and by and large most criticisms and assumptions about the Rangers winger have been or are true. Pouliot will never live up to being 4th overall in 2005, nor is he particularly consistent, but in recent weeks something inside of the highly skilled, big winger may have clicked.
We wrote pre-season with excitement at the potential steal the Rangers may have signed when they took on Pouliot. We then watched Pouliot stumble through the first 25 or so games of the season, as he looked like a free agent mistake. In the past month or so, Pouliot has been one of the Rangers better players and may even manage to stick with a club beyond one season for the first time since the club that drafted him (the Wild). Of course, this if he can continue his great recent form.
At 6’3 and 200 lbs Pouliot is big, can skate well, is very skilled, and works hard. He’s not a defensive liability either, but it always appeared something was missing. All of a sudden (at least recently) Pouliot is consistent and, above all, dangerous. Using the breakaway against Dallas as an example, he doesn’t give up on plays. In short, Pouliot is working his butt off to stick with the Rangers or at least prolong his NHL career.
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If Del Zotto finds form, can the Rangers afford to let him go?
With Michael Del Zotto back in the line-up consistently and finally cobbling together some consistent form the likely trade suitors will increase as Del Zotto starts to rack up the assists (3 in his last 4 games). Of course, with Del Zotto improving in recent weeks (as has most of the roster) the Rangers stand to benefit. Here’s the dilemma: if Del Zotto is playing well, it might make him more attractive to other teams but all of a sudden the Rangers can’t afford to deal him.
In theory, Del Zotto should thrive in Alain Vigneault’s system. It’s been his decision making that has let him down. Vigneault encourages defenseman to step up into the play, play aggressively and try and keep plays alive in the offensive zone. All those theories fit with Del Zotto’s skill set. When Del Zotto is playing well he is still a unique player on this roster.
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The Rangers are thankful for Lundqvist’s improved form (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Perhaps the most encouraging part of watching the Rangers during their recent upturn in form is seeing several core players begin to find some much needed form. Any club will only go as far as their best players take them and it’s no coincidence that now that the spine of the Rangers are collectively finding their games, the team has found some level of consistency and are beginning to show evidence of creating an identity.
Rick Nash has started to find his offensive game and it’s no coincidence that he has started to score a few goals and be harder to deal with as he has (finally) started to go the dangerous parts of the ice. Nash’s game winner against the Stars came as he was falling, looking to crash the night. With his size and ability Nash has to be around the puck more, not stay on the perimeter and he simply has to go to the net. It’s not easy to move a man of his size. Simple hockey theory.
As Dave discussed this week, Dan Girardi’s improved form has given the Rangers more consistency on the back end, helped reduce the errors in front of Lundqvist and generally made the Rangers harder to play against. Girardi is not one of the Rangers more talented players but whsomeone plays as many minutes as Girardi does and matches up against the opponent’s best forwards, if he’s on his game it will usually bode well.
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Does Brassard’s future lie in New York?
With the Rangers roster facing significant change in the near future, one player’s situation that is a difficult one to predict is Derick Brassard’s. A player of immense natural ability, Brassard started his New York career in brilliant style as a game changing, point per game force last season. His performance left players such as Rick Nash in his shadow during the playoffs.
This season however has been a different story. As he was in Columbus, Brassard has been (until recently) maddeningly inconsistent. His game has been littered with defensive mistakes, careless passing that reminded many of Brad Richards last season, and several times Brassard simply went missing from games. Then there’s the other side of Brassard’s game that excites so many.
Brassard is a great playmaker, with soft hands and vision not often matched by his teammates. In fact, apart from Richards (surely a goner after this season) only Mats Zuccarello and Derek Stepan have the same level of vision as Brassard. It’s his offensive skills that the Rangers sorely need; especially with a general lack of top end skill on the roster.
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Rarity: Chris Kreider is one of few that represent value this year. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Who gets the blame; the General Manager? The coaching staff? Or perhaps the players themselves? When you look at the Rangers’ disappointing position in the standings and general up and down performances from a game to game basis, one thing that may go unnoticed is how the Rangers are not getting value for money from their roster. In the cap era, getting good return from your investments is critical and is something found on almost every successful roster.
With New York it obviously begins with Rick Nash ($7.8 million) , Brad Richards ($6.667 million) and yes, Henrik Lundqvist (at present, $6.875 million). When judging the financial returns solely on this season, none of the critical trio named are giving the Rangers acceptable production. Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, and in fact almost every Ranger player on a sizeable cap hit hasn’t produced.
Whatever the mitigating circumstances, the underwhelming returns continue with Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan, Michael Del Zotto and, until recently, Derick Brassard. No ‘core player’ has produced as anticipated. Considering cap hits of $2 million dollars and above, it can be argued only Ryan McDonagh and Mats Zuccarello have produced above expectations. When you consider, from a financial perspective, almost an entire roster hasn’t lived up to its billing it’s a huge area for concern.
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