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Examining the teams in the race for the final playoff spots

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 11.03.19 PMOn Monday, Dave pointed out that though things have seemed a little hairy lately, the team’s playoff chances were still at 94.4% according to SportsClubStats.  Those odds improved to 97.9% after New York beat Phoenix in overtime and Philadelphia lost in regulation to Los Angeles on Monday night, and St. Louis beat Toronto, the Capitals lost to the Kings in a shootout and the Blue Jackets beat the Red Wings on Tuesday.

In other words, barring a monumental collapse, the Rangers will be in the postseason.  Of course, we’re still inclined to worry about the supposed 2.1% chance that does happen, so I figured we ought to check in on the teams that could ruin New York’s spring.

Philadelphia Flyers

If you thought the Rangers had a bad start to the year, then what would you say about the Flyers, who fired their coach after just three games?  But the Flyers have really been among the league’s better teams for several months.  Claude Giroux leads the way for Philly, averaging over a point per game, but the Flyers also have six other players with 15+ goals on the year.  As always, Philly has a high-powered offense, but – and this won’t surprise you – the Flyers’ Achilles heel is their goaltending and team defense.  Steve Mason and Ray Emery have combined to give up an average over 2.8 goals per game.  Philadelphia will visit the Blueshirts tonight in a game with huge implications, and the Flyers still have tough games left against Boston (twice), St. Louis and Pittsburgh.

Points: 83 Games remaining: 11 Home/road split: 5/6

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Rangers double up on Senators in defensive nightmare

Derick Brassard broke an eight-game point-less drought with two goals and an assist

Boy, did I pick the wrong night to do a goal breakdown. Both teams played atrocious defense in this game, but at least the Rangers broke out of the offensive slump that saw them score just six goals in their last four games. Oh yeah, and Henrik Lundqvist became the team’s all-time winningest goaltender with career victory No. 302. Better yet, New York picked up two extremely important points while Columbus lost in regulation. Most of it wasn’t pretty, but a win’s a win at this point. You guys will have to forgive me – my DVR couldn’t keep up with all the scoring, so some of these aren’t quite as detailed as the others. On to the goals:

Senators 1, Rangers 0

Brian Boyle is a great defensive forward, but this was not a smart defensive play (a pattern that was repeated throughout the night). Boyle tried to send a long pass across the neutral zone, which Ottawa quickly turned the other way. A couple of quick passes later and winger Mike Hoffman beat Lundqvist high glove-side from the blueline to give the Senators an early lead. There were two Rangers obstructing Lundqvist’s vision, so it’s hard to fault him for this one.

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The reasons for keeping Cam Talbot beyond this year are adding up

Talbot’s cap hit is just $565,500 next season

When Henrik Lundqvist re-signed with the Rangers for seven years, $59.5 million on December 4, one of the possible dominoes was the team trading backup goalie Cam Talbot this summer.

Talbot has produced at probably an unsustainable level. With just one season separating the 26-year-old from unrestricted free agency, you have to assume Talbot is eyeing a chance to compete for a starting job.  Recouping some value by dealing a blossoming netminder still in his prime years for a draft pick seemed like it could be sensible since Talbot would never be able to assume the crown in New York.

However, the reasons in favor of keeping Talbot keep adding up.

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The aftermath of the Ryan Callahan/Marty St. Louis blockbuster

It’s sad to see Callahan go, but St. Louis is a special talent

The Ryan Callahan saga finally drew to a close yesterday in dramatic fashion. Boomer Esiason’s report from two weeks ago proved true as the Blueshirts dealt their captain, a 2015 first-round pick and a conditional 2014 second-round pick to the Lightning for Martin St. Louis. Despite plenty of rumors, the move came as quite a shock. It seemed like Callahan was inching closer to an extension with New York and that Tampa Bay was intent on hanging onto St. Louis until the offseason, but the deal quickly became a reality on Wednesday.  There’s a lot to cover here, so let’s get to it.

- Even though we started discussing this possibility a long time ago, it was impossible to prepare for a Callahan trade. It will be very difficult to see him in another uniform. Callahan’s contract demands were much too high, but he was the heart and soul of this team for years and beloved by Rangers fans. It’s a real shame it had to come to this.

- That said, St. Louis and Callahan are on different levels as players. Callahan has exhibited more skill than many give him credit for, but he’s still really a second-line winger (and maybe a third-liner before long). St. Louis, on the other hand, is one of the elite players in the world, even as a 38-year-old. He led the league in scoring last season and is having another great year. Since Callahan entered the league, he has put up 254 points, while St. Louis has notched 622. It’s no contest. So despite how great Callahan was, you can’t help but be happy with the acquisition of St. Louis.

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Rangers 2, Blackhawks 1: Postgame thoughts

Cam Talbot narrowly missed a shutout

- This was a pretty impressive victory considering: 1) the Rangers played without their best forward 2) started their backup goalie 4) are facing plenty of distractions 4) were returning from a long Olympic break and 5) were up against the defending Stanley Cup champions. But New York pulled out a 2-1 win to improve to 2-0-0 against Chicago this season. Better still, the Blueshirts have held the league’s best offense to just three goals in two games.

- Though Derick Brassard and Benoit Pouliot were missing their usual linemate, Mats Zuccarello, J.T. Miller filled in nicely and the third line played a very strong game. Brassard extended his point streak to seven games with the game’s first goal and Pouliot was great on the board all night. Miller’s tremendous forecheck led to Brassard’s goal after he amazingly picked Jonathan Toews’ pocket. Miller was very engaged all night and played easily his best game of the season.

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The lines Alain Vigneault found success with are about to be changed, probably for good

The return of Derek Dorsett plus the call up of J.T. Miller minus Mats Zuccarello and maybe Ryan Callahan equals…?

I still can’t get used to Alain Vigneault’s steady line combinations after four years of John Tortorella’s incessant juggling, but Vigneault has stuck with the same combinations for quite some time now.  It’s worth nothing that the Rangers finally turned a corner this season thanks in no small part to the team’s balance and chemistry up front.  Mats Zuccarello has been the team’s best forward so far this season and a key cog in Vigneault’s formula, but with him lost for likely another week or two (not to mention the upcoming trade deadline), Vigneault will be forced to rejigger his preferred trios.

Throw in the fact that winger Derek Dorsett is ready to return from a broken fibula and 20-year-old J.T. Miller, who has been dominant in the AHL, was recalled last night, and it’s tough to predict what Vigneault will end up with.  It’s probably most likely that Vigneault will be forced to try several different new looks – which might not be settled by the trade deadline in three games, throwing us back to square one.

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A rare book review – 99: Gretzky: His Game, His Story

99: Gretzky: His Game, His Story

The best thing I can say about Al Strachan’s 99: Gretzky: His Game, His Story is that it’s different than any other Wayne Gretzky book I’ve read before. That’s not meant to be a small compliment – I’ve gobbled up what feels like a million magazine clippings, biographies and articles online about Gretzky’s life, from his youth in Brantford, Ontario to the big trade with the Kings (if you’re interested in that, check this book out), and finally to the conclusion of Gretzky’s career with the Rangers. Most of them feel very similar.

Strachan writes his book from the point of view of Gretzky’s friend, which is a weakness at times – Strachan goes over the top to defend Gretzky’s reputation – but also a strength due to the personal experiences Strachan has witnessed firsthand and heard about from The Great One himself.

The second chapter hooked me right in as Strachan describes Gretzky’s time with the Blueshirts. There are great little anecdotes about Gretzky’s crisis of confidence in his first season with the team (can you imagine that?) and the back injury that may have ended his career prematurely. Strachan also mentions New York’s efforts to acquire sniper Pavel Bure during the 1996-1997 season to pair with Gretzky, and even the club’s offer to trade The Great One to any other team in the league if he wanted to continue playing elsewhere.

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Stats to chew on: Olympic break edition

Mats Zuccarello has been money against Metro Division rivals

- Only five players have more game-winning goals than Rick Nash (6).

- Only Alex Ovechkin is averaging more shots per game than Rick Nash (4.1).

- Only nine players have more points against their own division than Mats Zuccarello’s 21.

- Only eight players have more penalty minutes on home ice than Chris Kreider (53).  Only Dallas’s Antoine Roussel has actually committed more penalties on home ice than Kreider (20).

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Why can’t the Rangers come out of the East?

The Rangers probably won’t win the Stanley Cup this year – but their chances would go from slim to almost none without Ryan Callahan

Unfortunately, we were not able to get the goal breakdown last night since Dave was traveling for work, Chris was traveling for pleasure, Suit had a hockey game, Becky was working late, etc, etc. Check back later this afternoon for an abbreviated recap.

One of the chief arguments for trading Ryan Callahan and/or Dan Girardi is that the Rangers aren’t a contender this year even with those veterans on board, so the team should trade one or both to set itself up for the future.

The organization has made it very clear that winning now is the goal, a philosophy many pessimistic fans don’t agree with because they don’t see the roster as talented enough to take home the ultimate prize.  To me, that’s the wrong way of looking at it.

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Cam Fowler isn’t a Ranger – get over it

The Dylan McIlrath pick was a mistake, but can we please move on?

After Michael Del Zotto was traded last week, many folks in the Ranger Twittersphere turned again to the decision to draft Dylan McIlrath over Cam Fowler as a franchise-crippling blow.  Many believe that the Rangers passed on drafting Fowler because they thought they already had a very similar player in Del Zotto and Fowler would have been redundant.  Meanwhile, McIlrath was a very unusual commodity that could fill a long-standing hole, so the team happily selected him at No. 10.  Of course, Del Zotto never met expectations in New York and Fowler is enjoying a breakout year in his fourth NHL season, so Rangers fans are filled with regret.

The 2010 draft has become one of the biggest gripes among Ranger fans in recent years, but it’s time to let it go.  Whether you believe McIlrath will turn into a second-pairing D-man or not, it’s hard to argue at this point that the Blueshirts’ brass didn’t make a mistake.  So did many other teams that year, so do many teams every other year.

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