It’s that horrible day, the one between games but the Rangers are heading into Friday with a 3-1 series lead. Life can’t get much sweeter as a Rangers fan right now. Let’s throw up a few random thoughts on Rangers goings on.
It appears Rick Nash will always divide opinion. Has Nash been dominant? No he hasn’t but he’s been damn good. Not just putting points up but always involved in the offense, Nash also continues to be one of the most defensively responsible ‘superstars’ in the game. Give me that kind of team first goal scorer any day. Star players on successful teams buy into a team first approach. The Red Wings of recent years always had superstars who could play a good two way game. That’s why they are always a contender. That’s what the Rangers have in Nash.
Understatement of the week: Derick Brassard’s new contract continues to look like a bargain. He has 21 points in 21 games against the Penguins. He has three goals in 4 playoff games. Brassard’s maturation into a quality, consistent center is complete. His enthusiasm for goals is infectious. Kudos to Glen Sather for taking a calculated risk by committing to Brassard for the long term.
If you want to explain to someone what Keith Yandle is all about, ask them to watch the Carl Hagelin breakaway goal from game three of the Rangers Pens playoff series, on Monday. Yandle’s pass to set up the goal was pin-point, crisp and defense splitting. Yandle’s pass was perfectly placed allowing Hagelin to race through on to Marc Andre Fleury and open the scoring. That’s what Yandle does and that’s what he has been doing increasingly as a Ranger, ever since Glen Sather made the bold trade to acquire the highly talented offensive defenseman.
Yandle has fit in well with the Rangers even if there was an initial adjustment period. Yandle started relatively slowly when he arrived in New York but that was to be expected. Coming from the hockey outpost that is Arizona and playing in a much different (and less speed orientated) system even the most talented players take time to adjust but adjust Yandle has.
Kevin Hayes has not hit the college rookie wall. Let’s clear that up straight away. To suggest that’s happened to Hayes – after just two subpar performances – would be a combination of lazy journalism and a kneejerk reaction. It’s just two games.
Hayes has struggled in the opening round thus far, not producing offensively and making bad decisions at both ends of the ice but Hayes is a rookie who is learning that the playoffs are a different season compared to the marathon that is the regular season.
Hayes was arguably the Rangers’ best forward over the last six weeks of the regular season and his elevated play helped accommodate Rick Nash’s cold stretch as well as the injuries the Rangers endured. What the big center is finding out now is that the intensity of the playoffs is unlike anything he has ever experienced. Right now, Hayes is going through another learning curve, just like he did last October.
Playoff hockey begins (for real) today. Forget about Wednesday, we’re all waiting for today and the Pens vs. Rangers series opener. Let’s have a muse to kick the playoffs off shall we?
Is it me or have an unusually high amount of teams got serious injury headaches this spring? The Rangers can consider themselves relatively lucky that they will enter the Pens series ‘only’ missing Kevin Klein. You look at an offensively shallow Montreal Canadiens squad missing their top scorer (Pacioretty) or the Penguins who are practically missing an entire D. The Rangers enter the playoffs healthy and that’s a huge bonus.
Player I’m rooting for: Martin St Louis. Has had a lot of criticism this year (some of it deservedly). He could be a huge difference maker for the Rangers.
There has been a lot of the pre-series talk on Rick Nash needing to score in the playoffs, stopping Sidney Crosby, and even the injuries on both sides approaching Thursday’s opening game. But not much talk has been made about which individual player the Rangers will need to step up in order to beat a depleted yet still incredibly talented Penguins side.
On talent alone, the Pens are the worst eighth seed there could be. Any team that boasts Crosby, Malkin and co. are uber-talented even without Kris Letang, Christian Ehrhoff, Olli Maata, and Pascal Dupuis. One position the Pens don’t have to worry about amid their injury crisis is center. To call them stacked is an understatement. Crosby is still the best in the game, while Malkin isn’t far behind even if he flits between center and wing.
Behind the two all world talents the Pens replaced a Staal with a Sutter, namely Brandon Sutter. Sutter quietly scored 21 goals this season (including the two playoff clinchers on the weekend) and wins more faceoffs than he loses. He’s a big body who can play both ends and against most teams gives the Pens an edge in depth at center. Enter Kevin Hayes.
Remember when there was all round angst about the lack of talent behind Henrik Lundqvist? Well as has been discussed countless times this season, it couldn’t be any more different right now. It’s a fair assumption to suggest that the Rangers goaltending situation – from top to bottom in the organisation – has never been better, even for an organisation founded in 1926.
The Rangers come at you with a future Hall of fame, Vezina winning goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist, have a young NHL starting calibre goalie to back him up and have another young prospect already making serious waves in the pro ranks. With that said, let’s forget about the big boys in New York for a moment and have a quick look over the prospects below the NHL level.
We all know what Skapski did in his two NHL appearances. Yes, it was the Buffalo Sabres (ECHL edition) but Skapski came in and went 2-0-0, with a shutout and sported a .978 save percentage. He got better as he got more exposure and at 20, has a ton of time on his side. At the AHL level Skapski continues to play well. In 28 games played he is 15-8-3 with a .914 save percentage and three shutouts for a pretty young but solid WolfPack. What is perhaps most exciting however is how Skapski has taken the quick success at the pro level in his stride.
There used to be an obsession with team toughness and in some circles people connected to the Rangers (including some in the media) bemoaned the ‘vanilla’ Rangers. Well, this year’s Rangers are the President Trophy winners who are aiming for back to back Stanley Cup Final appearances and who are far from a physically intimidating or ‘tough’ opponent.
The Rangers lack an intimidating presence but the truth is, they don’t need it; basically it’s an outdated demand placed on teams (it’s also why Tanner Glass is even more unnecessary but we digress) by some in the media who conform to old stereotypes.
If you watch the Rangers closely the Rangers don’t back down from anyone, they’re more than happy to engage with physical opponents but this Rangers team have taken a different route to success. This year the Rangers are 24th overall in penalty minutes (699 at the last count), they are 24th in major penalties and 24th in fighting majors. This team isn’t a nasty team that visits the penalty box frequently but this team wins games. A lot of games.
Despite being lumbered with Tanner Glass as a linemate, Dominic Moore has once again provided the Rangers with a quality depth player, the kind of player who makes a difference in the playoffs. In the playoffs, games are traditionally much tighter affairs and it is often the role players that need to step up (think Mike Rupp for the Devils or Alec Martinez for the Kings last summer) and Moore is a player that always works hard and contributes in so many ways. Indeed, Moore has given the Rangers a little bit of everything this season.
On a team that struggles in the faceoff circle, Moore has been the Rangers best faceoff specialist with a 54.3% success rate (at time of writing), a number that’s also good for a top twenty ranking league wide (players with at least 500 faceoffs taken) and that skill has played a big part in helping Moore be a key part of the Rangers penalty kill which had risen to 7th in the league. Moore leads all Rangers forwards in shorthanded ice time and also has two SH goals to his name.
The Rangers gave away two points today. The Rangers self destructed in their own zone with countless turnovers, poor coverage and the third line aside, the first period can best be described as sloppy. While Henrik Lundqvist looked rusty to begin, the turnovers and general play in front of him left a lot to be desired all game long. Let’s get to the goal breakdowns. Dave’s at a wedding today so you’ll have to excuse me for the less detailed breakdown.
Bruins 1-0 Rangers
The first Bruins goal was a mix of atrocious NHL officiating and rotten luck on the Rangers part, and of course, some bad coverage. After a scramble in front of Lundqvist, from the right hand side Bruins center Patrice Bergeron simply threw the puck on net from a sharp angle and Lundqvist gave up a juicy rebound, pushing the puck out into the slot.
A streaking Milan Lucic, completely alone, appeared to change the angle of his foot to push the puck toward the goal. Was it a kicking motion? Before the puck got to the goal it took a wicked hop, up over Lundqvist and in to the net. Ryan McDonagh was caught watching the puck, as was Chris Kreider, and neither knew where Lucic was. That said, the goal should never have counted. The decision on the ice was no-goal but inexplicably overturned by Toronto.
People questioned the amount Glen Sather gave up for Marty St Louis, baulked at the cost of Rick Nash and panicked when Anthony Duclair was part of the Keith Yandle package. Move forward from each of those deals however and each star acquisition brought into the Rangers fold has made a tangible impact on the Rangers helping turn the organisation into an annual contender. (Of course, Keith Yandle’s true impact is still to be truly measured).
What has allowed Sather to make all these bold moves and show almost blatant disregard to the importance of early round draft picks is the way the Rangers roster has progressively become younger, more talented and well established. The Rangers have eight players who have scored at least 10 goals, five of which have only ever played for the Rangers, while Derick Brassard is just 27 and tied into the Rangers for the long term. That number of ten goal goalscorers doesn’t count JT Miller whose impact is now being felt consistently and who should hit double figures.