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The Rangers lack an intimidating presence but the truth is, they don’t need it; basically it’s an outdated demand placed on teams (it’s also why Tanner Glass is even more unnecessary but we digress) by some in the media who conform to old stereotypes.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.
As the New York Rangers continue to struggle for offense and as Martin St Louis remains sidelined, prospect Oscar Lindberg has continued to play well for the Hartford WolfPack at both ends of the rink. Lindberg scored another two points Friday night, including his twentieth goal of the season as the ‘Pack won their Friday night game against Leigh Valley, 3-2.
Lindberg did all his damage on the powerplay last night (take note Rangers special teamers…) and has really developed his offense at the AHL level. He has reached the 20 goal plateau for the first time, scoring two more goals than last year but in 13 games less, while he should pass his career high of 44 points imminently. Like JT Miller, it appears Lindberg is outgrowing the AHL.
Lindberg has played consistently well all season for the Pack. His style and skill set should fit seamlessly in to New York and with the Rangers relying on depth for offense Lindberg should be getting a look given that cap space is available and they have enough transactions available to make a move.
The Rangers are in a scoring funk. It’s probably is a mere statistical regression and no long term concern but it’s certainly noteworthy. On the back of a shutout loss to the Blackhawks Wednesday there’s plenty to talk about. So let us muse.
How ridiculous is it to begin this post with a complaint? The Rangers have a ridiculously good record, have been almost impossibly consistent in harvesting points, so a tight loss to fellow contender isn’t a huge issue but this team does need a kick start offensively.
Apparently Henrik Lundqvist will be rusty when he returns? He’s recognized as being a slow starter in recent seasons but I’m not concerned about his readiness. While there’s no replacement for game time he’s been on the ice and his focus will surely be where it needs to be midseason.
I really feel for JT Miller. He’s working hard and getting chances but like the top six, he’s snakebitten.
The next two weeks may tell us a lot more about JT Miller’s future. With Marty St Louis out injured for up to eight games the opportunity for JT Miller to really show his worth to Alain Vigneault has never been greater. Whether Miller gets moved up to the second line or Kevin Hayes goes from third line center to second line wing, it appears more ice time and responsibility will fall on the two young forwards.
While Kevin Hayes has recently been flavour of the month (to an extent deservedly so) and has begun to prove his ability at the NHL level, Miller is still very much in the prove-it stage of his development. That said, even Miller has started to earn praise from Vigneault recently and now is the time Miller can really establish himself as a Ranger moving forward.
Right now, the Rangers are struggling to score and it’s largely thanks to their defensive play but particularly their goaltending that they’re still winning in bunches. With a stretch of difficult games ahead (Chicago, Anaheim and a hot Ottawa amongst others), Miller’s ability to come through offensively wouldn’t go unnoticed. The third line (so Hagelin – Hayes – Miller) has been one of the Rangers more reliable units in recent weeks but it’s expected the unit will be broken up with St Louis unavailable.
In a season where the Rangers, from top to bottom, have done almost everything right the decision to insert Matt Hunwick straight into the line-up is the sign of a missed opportunity. When Henrik Lundqvist went down with an injury the team turned to Cam Talbot. Slowly but surely Talbot has turned himself into a legitimate NHL starter – at worst a high end backup – and moving forward, has developed into an asset for the franchise.
When Lundqvist eventually returns the embarrassment of riches in goal will be a huge advantage for the Rangers. On top of that the team has identified a young netminder in Mackenzie Skapski who may also have a future with the big club. In injury, opportunities lie or so they say.
While Talbot’s form was critical to the Rangers pursuing a high seed and playoff position, there is less pressure (to an extent) on Klein’s replacement in the line-up. Barring a collapse of the most epic of proportions the Rangers have a playoff spot sown up and barring a slightly less but still epic collapse they have a high seed in the bag too. The timing of Kevin Klein’s injury should represent an opportunity to test one of the younger Hartford blueliner’s.
Who else wants to bask in the glory of the Rangers ripping off a bunch of wins against the league’s best? For once, the Rangers aren’t playing and as it’s Thursday let’s muse.
Kevin Hayes – rookie beast extraordinaire. Hayes has literally grown up right in front of our eyes. His patience on the puck is remarkable for a rookie; his strength on the puck undeniable and his decision making has improved immeasurably.
What’s not discussed much is the impact of the college ‘rookie wall’. Hayes has surely (barring a sudden, out of nowhere loss of form) put to bed this theory for the time being. He is literally playing his best hockey as a pro right now and is seemingly getting better every game.
At times, Hayes’ line with Hagelin and Miller has actually carried the Rangers in recent weeks and given that this is a Cup contending roster that’s one hell of a compliment. With a bit of luck Hayes could reach 40 points in his rookie year and given that he’s played out of his natural position, on a depth line, that’s very impressive.