Vigneault right to put the onus on New York’s top players

It seems sacrilegious to call him out, but even Ryan Callahan must elevate his game

As is always the case when the Rangers are struggling, fans, players and the media alike are all searching for answers to the team’s woes.  And though everything from bad puck luck to injuries has been a factor, coach Alain Vigneault hit the nail on the head yesterday when he put much of the blame for the team’s poor start on its underperforming core members.

“If we are going to get some traction and get past that .500 level, we need our top players to consistently play like top players,” Vigneault told Andrew Gross. “Not a period in, a period out. Not a game in, a game out. We need that core group, the leaders of this group, to perform accordingly. And we have not done that on a consistent basis and on a game to game basis. Just look at our lineup, look at our core group and look at our key guys and there’s the answer.”

Vigneault couldn’t be more right in his assessment of the team 28 games into the year.  Because as much as fans like to argue about what Michael Del Zotto might fetch in a trade or which youngster should play a handful of minutes a game in place of Taylor Pyatt and Benoit Pouliot, it’s highly unlikely that any such substitution would have a major impact on the team.  Maybe J.T. Miller, Dylan McIlrath and Danny Kristo will re-join the Rangers this year and maybe not, but the Blueshirts certainly can’t count on any of the unproven prospects within the organization to arrive and turn the season around.  The team has already gotten a surprise shot in the arm from Chris Kreider, and even that hasn’t been enough. Read more »

Dan Girardi’s uncertain future could hold up a Michael Del Zotto trade

Dan Girardi’s struggles may extend Michael Del Zotto’s tenure in blue

Despite all the recent trade rumors swirling around Michael Del Zotto, the young D-man may remain a Ranger beyond this year.

I’ll spare you the argument that Del Zotto is still very young for a defenseman at just 23 years old, because frankly I don’t buy that as an excuse for his erratic play any more either.  But though Del Zotto hasn’t lived up to expectations, he is still pencilled in as a top-four defenseman in New York’s short- and long-term plans.

That matters because another key member of the top-four, Dan Girardi, is set to be an unrestricted free agent in July.  And the way things are going, Girardi might not be back.  Girardi has been better than Del Zotto this season, but not by much.  He’s coming off a down year under John Tortorella, so Girardi’s struggles can’t be blamed solely on the coaching change.  No, at 29 years old, it’s likely that we’ve already seen the best of Girardi, and quite possible that he’s begun his decline. Read more »

Time to demote J.T. Miller

Like Chris Kreider did, J.T. Miller needs more time in Hartford

With apologies to Taylor Pyatt, the forward roster last night finally resembled the one Ranger fans were so excited about over the summer.

The lineup didn’t include J.T. Miller, but coach Alain Vigneault insisted yesterday that Miller would be back on the ice with the Blueshirts soon.  But barring further injuries, the team’s top-six is clearly set, and Miller will likely be stuck with fourth-line minutes even when he does play.

In fact, Miller hasn’t played more than 9:14 in any of his last six games dating back to November 2, just after Carl Hagelin’s return.  In the nine games before that, Miller had averaged 13:17, a pretty big number for a young player.  But as Hagelin, Ryan Callahan, Dominic Moore and finally Rick Nash were reinserted into the lineup, Miller’s ice-time dipped lower and lower until he was finally sent to the press box. Read more »

Derek Dorsett’s quest to become Brandon Prust 2.0

It’s not fair that Derek Dorsett will always be compared with Brandon Prust, but he’s done a pretty good impersonation

That’s not really a fair title to Derek Dorsett, who could surely care less what Brandon Prust did in New York before Dorsett’s arrival.  But fair or not, “Brandon Prust 2.0″ is how Dorsett was billed when he arrived in the Marian Gaborik blockbuster last spring, so Prust is the player Dorsett will forever be compared to in the eyes of Rangers fans.

Prust’s game has changed a bit over the last two seasons due to injuries, but at his best with the Rangers he was relentless on the forecheck, a willing combatant, a reliable penalty killer and one of New York’s most important energy guys.

Dorsett has settled in nicely this year and has filled an almost identical role.  Like Prust, Dorsett has been a terrific forechecker, a dependable penalty killer, and a trusted player in his own end (just 38% of his shifts have started in the attack zone).  And if fighting is your thing, you’ll be pleased to know that Dorsett has five majors this season, second in the league.  Perhaps the greatest difference between the two is in the energy jolt they deliver to the lineup.  This is an extremely subjective observation, but it seems that even though Dorsett goes all out every night, he hasn’t yet displayed the same penchant for shaking his team awake that Prust once did.

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Debunking the Nail Yakupov “rumor”

Don’t expect Nail Yakupov to arrive on Broadway

As often happens in the Twitterverse and blogosphere, a pretty harmless tweet set off a frenzy among Rangers fans over the last 36 hours.

A few writers noted that Edmonton president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe, GM Craig MacTavish and special adviser Mark Messier(!) were in attendance for New York’s 2-1 loss to the Ducks on Monday night.  Rangers fans immediately began to wonder which Oilers might interest the Rangers.  Larry Brooks fed the embers gasoline with a column debating if trading for Nail Yakupov or Ales Hemsky would appeal to Rangers GM Glen Sather.  Stemming off Brooks’ post, the Edmonton Journal ran a series of articles about the possibility of a Yakupov to New York blockbuster and discussed possible packages that might interest the Oilers including the likes of Chris Kreider and Michael Del Zotto.  And the rumormongers took it from there.

Sure, it’s probably pretty likely that Sather and other members of the Rangers brass have talked about how great it would be to have a young goal-scoring talent like Yakupov, especially with New York’s offense struggling.  Sather may have even mentioned that to the Oilers contingent in attendance.  But a deal is almost certainly not going to happen.

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Eventually Rangers’ shooting luck will turn around

Eventually some of Derek Stepan’s shots will find the back of the net

Despite the abominations Rangers fans witnessed earlier this season against San Jose and Anaheim, there have been plenty of reasons to expect a turnaround in the team’s fortunes.  An extremely difficult early-season road schedule, several injuries to key players and an expected adjustment period to a new coach have all contributed to the team’s struggles.  All of those things issues seem to be slowly righting themselves and as a result New York has won two of its last three games.  But there’s another simple reason the team’s 4-7-0 record isn’t indicative of its performance the rest of the way: luck.

Sure, it sounds silly to think that luck can play such a major role in a professional sport where athletes are paid millions of dollars to use their top-notch skills to eliminate such variables, but luck is indeed as much a factor in the NHL as it is in your beer league game, when sometimes your team has 25 scoring chances in a game and still can’t put one by the opposing goaltender.

And any way you look at it, the Rangers have had absolutely miserable luck this season all over the ice.  Well, all except one player – Brad Richards – who, ironically, felt like the team’s unluckiest player a year ago.

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Evaluating Alain Vigneault seven games in

Don’t jump to any conclusions after seven games

Before the already numerous Alain Vigneault haters get their tail feathers ruffled, remember that we are only SEVEN games into the season, so none of this means a whole lot yet.  However, Vigneault was brought in to implement widespread changes to the team’s tactics and approach to the game, so we are understandably keeping a close eye on the new bench boss in the early going.  So without further ado, here are several of the things we expected from Vigneault when he was hired, and how they’ve actually turned out in the infancy of the 2013-2014 campaign.

Less line juggling - Not so much.  To be fair, Vigneault would be much better able to keep his preferred combinations together if the Rangers hadn’t been ravaged by the injury bug, but so far Vigneault has shifted his players around as much as John Tortorella ever did.  Taylor Pyatt on the first line?  Come on. Read more »

Waiting on one more key ingredient: Carl Hagelin

Carl Hagelin’s  speed is unmatched

It’s far too early in the season to make any fair assessment of the 2013-2014 Rangers, but already several things have become apparent – chief among them that the Blueshirts have impressive depth this season.

The return of the team’s heart and soul, Ryan Callahan, on Monday night provided a huge boost against the L.A. Kings and further solidified New York’s top-nine.  The one key piece that remains out of the lineup is 25-year-old LW Carl Hagelin, who underwent surgery on a torn shoulder labrum last spring but is on a slightly slower recovery path than Callahan.

Of course, an extended injury to Rick Nash would put a big dent in the depth, but we are optimistic that it won’t be a lingering injury.

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Improved depth may be the most important change this year

Darroll Powe is one of many options the Rangers have in Hartford

Though the Rangers certainly can’t replace core players like Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin flawlessly, the organization does have substantially more quality depth this year.  Whereas last season New York was forced to call-up the likes of Kris Newbury, Benn Ferriero and Brandon Segal when AHL reinforcements were needed, the 2013-2014 Blueshirts have as many as 10 decent substitute options.  Emergency fill-ins like Micheal Haley and Brandon Mashinter – who both played several games last season – are still available, but they’ve been joined by a host of near NHL-ready prospects and a surplus of proven veteran depth forwards.

The delayed re-signing of Derek Stepan, the ongoing negotiation stalemate with Henrik Lundqvist, the new coaching staff and the impressive play of top prospects got more attention during training camp, but improved depth may prove to be the story of the season.

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Rangers announce final cuts

Jesper Fast and J.T. Miller made the roster, while Chris Kreider, Oscar Lindberg and Marek Hrivik were assigned to Hartford

The Rangers announced their final roster cuts this morning, assigning Chris Kreider, Oscar Lindberg, Marek Hrivik, Darroll Powe, Brandon Mashinter, Stu Bickel and Conor Allen to the Hartford Wolfpack.  Powe, Mashinter and Bickel must all clear waivers.

The following players made the opening night roster:

Forwards: Arron Asham, Brian Boyle, Derick Brassard, Ryan Callahan, Derek Dorsett, Jesper Fast, Carl Hagelin, J.T. Miller, Dominic Moore, Rick Nash, Benoit Pouliot, Taylor Pyatt, Brad Richards, Derek Stepan, Mats Zuccarello

Defensemen: Michael Del Zotto, Justin Falk, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, John Moore, Marc Staal, Anton Stralman

Goalies: Henrik Lundqvist, Marty Biron

Read more »