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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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Rangers’ superstars finally playing like superstars

The Rangers have been waiting for Rick Nash’s offensive explosion

If you’re still ignoring the #fancystats movement, you’re missing out on some awesome information that provides a lot of further insight to the game.  But one thing we don’t need advanced stats to tell us is that to succeed in the NHL you A) need good players, and B) need your good players to play well.

That was missing early in the season when the Rangers’ best players, Rick Nash and Henrik Lundqvist, were non-factors (Nash was hurt, Lundqvist was playing some of the worst hockey of his career).  However, over the past month both men have returned to their old superstar forms, and not coincidentally, New York has played its best hockey of the season.  The Rangers are 11-4-1 in their last 16 games dating back to December 22nd, and in that stretch, Nash has recorded 12 points (10 goals, two assists) while Lundqvist has a 1.97 GAA and a .933 SV%.

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How the 2013 free agent class has performed this season

David Clarkson’s contract looks like a disaster for Toronto

We’re just past the halfway mark of the 2013-2014 season and it’s a pretty safe time to evaluate how a player’s season has gone.  So with that in mind, let’s take a look back at the unrestricted free agent class of 2013 – specifically some forwards that could have been Ranger targets as they sought to bolster their offense.  Were these players money well spent?*

David Clarkson – seven years, $36.75 million

2013-2014 stats: 3 goals, 5 assists, 102 hits, 51 penalty minutes

Toronto would love a way out of this one already.  Clarkson has rarely been healthy, and he’s been ineffective when he has been on the ice.

Valtteri Filppula – five years, $25 million

2013-2014 stats: 18 goals, 18 assists, 12 power play points, 88 shots

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Where would the Rangers be without their power play?

Derick Brassard has been money on the power play lately

Encouraging signs have been far and few between for much of the 2013-2014 season, but somehow the Blueshirts remain a single point out of a playoff spot in the awful Metro Division.

One of the chief reasons New York has been able to hang around is its suddenly potent power play.  What was a team weakness for years has turned into a huge strength – and if the Rangers do end up making the playoffs in the spring, improved special teams might be the No. 1 reason.

At even strength, the Blueshirts have tumbled down the league rankings.  New York’s offense ranked 15th in the league last season, but is 24th this year.  The team’s once vaunted defense and goaltending allowed the fourth-fewest goals against last year, but is ranked just 15th during the current campaign.

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Rangers midseason grades: bottom-six forwards

When healthy, Derek Dorsett has been everything the Rangers hoped for

Like many parts of the 2013-2014 roster, the bottom-six forwards have struggled through long stretches of the season thus far.  Part of that can be attributed to players being used out of place and in unusual situations, but the team hasn’t gotten consistent play out of many of its depth forwards for most of the year.  That seems to be changing over the last few weeks, and has been as instrumental to the team’s mini turnaround as anything else.

Brian Boyle

Boyle will forever be a polarizing player amongst Ranger fans because he has hands of stone and doesn’t drive opponents through the boards with his massive size.  You can’t really judge Boyle fairly until you accept those two facts of life, which many refuse to do.  But Boyle is a very useful player in many other areas.  Though this hasn’t been his finest year, Boyle is still being relied on as the team’s top defensive forward, plays well on the penalty kill, is the best faceoff man on the team and drives possession.  He is guilty of being a passenger at times this season the same as nearly every player on the roster, but for the most part, Boyle has been use usual steady self.  Still, scoring just one goal all year is pretty hard to do.

Grade: B Read more »