Returning tonight. Sweet.
With the news of Chris Kreider’s imminent return to the Rangers line-up (likely tonight), it’s fair to say the sooner the talented winger is back in the line-up the better the Rangers chances are to overcome the Penguins. The fact that a rookie – who has had a solid yet unspectacular first full season with the Rangers – is almost seen as a saviour for the offense can be seen as an indirect criticism of most if not all of the Rangers big name offensive players up front, most notably Rick Nash.
How Chris Kreider fares in this year’s playoffs and the start of next season will have a direct impact on the future of Rick Nash. Many Rangers fans have already begun to jump off the Nash bandwagon amid his distinct lack of playoff production. If Kreider could come back and become the consistent scorer everyone thinks he could be it could spell danger for Nash’s Rangers future.
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Photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images North America
So far in the playoffs (a few hiccups aside) and after every additional game, Anton Stralman is getting more expensive for the New York Rangers to retain. As such, the team should already be considering moving on from the solid yet unspectacular blueliner.
If rumours are true that Stralman rejected a three year, $9 million dollar deal from the Rangers back in March, then he’s already auditioning for July’s free agency. Over the past few months Stralman’s value certainly won’t have lessened and Stralman’s agent will also know about the general lack of quality blueliners available this summer. It should certainly be a seller’s market (and another reason the Rangers need to handle Marc Staal’s contract situation as a matter of priority).
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Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America
Note: Goal breakdown will be up this afternoon. Sorry about the delay.
The Rangers won in impressive style in Pittsburgh on Friday night. Impressive because they were hard on the puck, they were opportunistic but most importantly when they lost their lead, they didn’t panic and worked their way back in to a solid position. They handled – at least for game one – the surges that eventually came from Pittsburgh over the final two periods. The Rangers were around Fleury all night which resulted in the game winning goal but which also begs the question; why can’t the powerplay convert?
We’ve mentioned it before but Benoit Pouliot (surely the recipient of a shiny new deal from the Rangers this summer) goes hard to the net and he gets rewarded. The Rangers best line of Zuccarello – Brassard – Pouliot are consistently a creative force and something that is missing from the powerplay, their line is always moving, always busy and always looking for the puck. The fact is, game one of this series would have been won well before overtime had the Rangers managed to convert on the powerplay. The talent is there, the execution isn’t.
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As Rangers fans bask in the glory of a scrappy but successful series victory over the Flyers there’s not much time to look ahead to the Pens series. With that said, we thought we’d share a few thoughts on the Rangers so far.
Benoit Pouliot coming on strong
Pouliot has taken costly penalties and is anything but a complete player, but as the year has gone on Pouliot has developed into a core Ranger. As part of the Rangers’ best line for most of the season Pouliot has to be retained. His goal against the Flyers was a great example of why the Rangers need him. Pouliot drove to the net and was rewarded after a great pass from Zuccarello. It’s a simple concept but not enough Rangers get to the dangerous areas, Pouliot did and was rewarded. He should (and surely will be) rewarded with a new deal.
Stralman was immense in Game 7 against the Flyers. Games like that are why the Rangers should find a way to keep him, but those types of all action performances aren’t quite frequent enough to warrant the money Stralman will likely demand. When he’s on his game he can make a good first pass, he’s a good skater, he is willing to throw his body in front of pucks and is a pretty smart hockey player to boot. It’s a shame he can’t put all those aspects together consistently.
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Zuccarello’s here to stay
It goes without saying that the Rangers – barring unforeseen circumstances – will be offering leading scorer Mats Zuccarello a new deal in the summer. Zuccarello was a creative spark when he returned from the KHL last year and has been a stunning surprise this year – no one foresaw Zuccarello leading the Rangers offensively. With all that said, has Zuccarello done enough to warrant a long term commitment from the Rangers?
As a restricted free agent, Zuccarello doesn’t have a significant amount of leverage but sometimes numbers do speak for themselves. Zuccarello established career highs in every meaningful offensive statistic while his line with Derick Brassard and Benoit Pouliot was the Rangers most consistent all season long. On an inconsistent powerplay Zuccarello was one of the few constants.
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If a trade was judged purely on previous production there would have been a lot more complaints the day the Rangers traded away Michael Del Zotto for Kevin Klein. Luckily, the Ranger fan base is (on the whole) more informed than that.
Looking back at Glen Sather’s acquisition of Kevin Klein, it would be easy to assume Sather gave up on Del Zotto (which was true to an extent) but a more appropriate way of looking at it would be how Sather was able to BETTER balance his defense when he brought Klein on board.
While Klein’s 6 points, +4 rating and 36 hits are not jaw dropping numbers the good ol’ fashioned eye test helps to review his game. Klein has generally impressed with his decision making and ability to make a solid defensive play consistently. His positioning has been consistently good and his ability under pressure has been strong. Klein has no problem taking a hit to make a play and has been a solid addition for the Rangers. No longer do Ranger fans hold their collective breath like they did when Del Zotto wandered around his own zone.
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The signs were there at the end of the regular season as Martin St. Louis began to look like the player the Rangers hoped they had acquired. It continued on Thursday night. St. Louis, while not registering a shot, was engaged, around the puck and around the net all night long and came up with two huge assists as the Rangers put down the Flyers 4-1.
Brad Richards may have played his best ever game for the Rangers Thursday night. The veteran center had a huge powerplay goal, two crucial assists, playing an energetic game while being physically and defensively committed all night long. He was there when it mattered.
Then there’s Rick Nash. Nash looked to test Ray Emery at every opportunity (given he was shaky to begin, it was the right thing to do) and as the game developed Nash looked to go to the net with more frequency and could have scored as he cut to the net from the left. Nash also got an assist, as reward for his consistent performance on the night. If Nash drives to the net with more regularity the Rangers will be that much more dangerous.
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RMcD = MVP? Photo Credit: LoHud
Today is the day a rivalry gets renewed. The Rangers entertain the Flyers tonight in a much anticipated series. Let’s throw a few musings up.
The series against the Flyers represents a no-win situation for the Rangers. In all honesty, there is not a huge amount separating the two teams but yet everyone expects the Rangers to win. The Flyers have a ton of talent but are very flawed. That said, it wouldn’t be the greatest of shocks if they beat the Rangers but it would cause serious fall-out in New York.
Is there a single Ranger forward you wouldn’t swap for Claude Giroux?
Beyond the obvious (Hank, McD, Nash), who holds they key to the second round for the Rangers? Mats Zuccarello. He has been the Rangers best powerplay forward all year and you have to assume the Flyers will take more penalties than the Rangers. If the Rangers can stay out of the box and Zuccarello can work some PP magic that may be the decisive factor.
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Not a single team currently ranked lower than the Rangers in face-off percentage this year will be in the playoffs. The last four Stanley Cup Champions (Chicago (twice), LA and Boston) rank 5th, 3rd and 8th respectively in face-off success. All three of the Rangers centers relied on for their offense – Derick Brassard, Derek Stepan and Brad Richards (so, not Dom Moore and Brian Boyle) – have less than a 50% success rate, with Stepan winning a paltry 45.2% of his face offs. Can you see the point we’re trying to make?
When Brad Richards leaves the Rangers this summer, the team must ensure his replacement(s) count face-off ability among their skill sets. Face-off weakness is also one why reason why Derick Brassard being retained isn’t a guarantee. Aside from resolving Marc Staal’s contract situation this summer, perhaps the biggest focus for the Rangers needs to be acquiring proven face-off centermen.
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Is Sather learning?
Can old dogs learn new tricks? Everyone will agree that Glen Sather’s approach to the Lundqvist, Girardi and especially Callahan contract situations over the last year adversely impacted the Rangers this season. It almost certainly cost the Rangers their captain (even if Callahan’s demands were excessive).
News of Pouliot and the Rangers having a ‘mutual interest’ in extending the talented winger’s stay in New York may be premature to draw any conclusions from, but alternatively it may be a sign that the Rangers – Sather in particular – may be learning from the trials and tribulations of the past twelve months.
The Rangers have a few major contract situations creeping up on them that could really impact the competitiveness of their roster, long term. The major contract situation is of course Marc Staal’s, who is close to being back to his best and who gives the Rangers an elite defenseman on their second pair – a rare luxury in a cap driven league. With Staal’s situation likely to be a complicated one, getting the contract situations of the likes of Pouliot, Mats Zuccarello and other core roster players resolved early will allow the Rangers to know exactly what they can or can’t afford with regard to Staal.
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