One of the bigger tasks on GM Jeff Gorton’s plate this summer was revamping the bottom six. The Rangers had just met a quick defeat at the hands of eventual Stanley Cup winning Pittsburgh Penguins and throughout the series (and much of the regular season, depending on the opponent) was that the Rangers depth players simply couldn’t match up against those of elite teams. I won’t beat a dead horse too much, but I will note that Tanner Glass saw significant minutes in the playoffs last year. Enough said.
Gorton rose to the occasion and made savvy acquisitions in the offseason, most notably Michael Grabner and Brandon Pirri, and later picked up Matt Puempel on waivers from Ottawa. While Grabner has obviously been the standout amongst this group the three of them, and call-up Marek Hrivik, have given the bottom six a whole new look. The Rangers’s bottom two lines are now primarily identifiable by their speed and puck handling ability, as opposed to their propensity to bleed shot attempts.
On this week’s Blue Seat Blogs-Cast we discuss the need for the Rangers to play three full periods of hockey on a nightly basis, the way in which injury relief may help them get to that point, and the Rangers’ outlook heading into the expansion draft. As always you can find us right here, on SoundCloud, and on iTunes.
What a game. If you had told me after 20 minutes that the Rangers would end up winning this game I wouldn’t have believed you. After a dreadful start to the game – it was all Columbus – the Rangers staged a daring comeback win in the third period, with the icing on the cake being Michael Grabner’s game winning goal on a breakaway with 16 seconds left. A win against the Blue Jackets is no joke either, with the team recently coming off of a historic win streak and sitting pretty at the top of the league standings. In second place of course are our very own New York Rangers, who picked up a big two points with tonight’s win.
On to the goals:
With the Columbus Blue Jackets having just wrapped up a historic win streak, former Rangers head coach and current Jackets skipper John Tortorella has been in the media lately talking about the character and identity of his team. As a bona fide nerd and believer in statistical analysis I’d typically be dismissive, even mockingly so, of Torts’ typical emphasis on things like “playing the game the right way”, but lately I’ve been reconsidering my stance.
The discussion around intangibles in hockey can be a polarizing one, and while I’m not sure I’m convinced that teams should pay premiums for the character of their players I’m by no means hesitant to say that these sort of things matter. Their on-ice impact is ephemeral and often over-stated, but even the most hardened spreadsheet fanalysts ascribe meaning to the game that ultimately can be tied back to qualities of character.
The Rangers’ biggest strength at the outset of the season was their depth at forward. Although their early scoring bonanza turned out to be unsustainable, it certainly showed us what four balanced scoring lines are capable of accomplishing – a complete style of play predicated on quick transitions and overwhelming offensive contributions.
Since then things have tapered off a bit, in large part due to the team’s unsustainable shooting percentage but also due to injuries. Missing Rick Nash, Pavel Buchnevich, and Mika Zibanejad has definitely altered the look of the Rangers lineup leading to a dependence on certain players to carry the team on any given night (think Derek Stepan against the Senators or Chris Kreider more recently against Colorado). Certainly when you consider that Matt Puempel is on the second powerplay unit (all due respect to Matt Puempel), it’s evident that the team’s forward depth has taken a hit.
So things are starting to look up as the Rangers’ three biggest injuries prepare to return to the ice, with Rick Nash all but ready and his latter two comrades skating in non-contact jerseys at practice of late.
At the end of last spring, it was fairly apparent to anyone who had watched the team, whether it was all year long or just the short time the Rangers spent in the post season, that the defense was an issue. Putting aside GM Jeff Gorton’s attempts to address this issue or lack thereof, a popular narrative began floating around that the squad’s worst two defenders, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal, would bounce back come October.
Although at the time this notion may have seemed plausible to some and wishful thinking to others, we’re at a point in the season where we can begin to evaluate whether or not that either player has truly bounced back. The Rangers have played enough games to get us to a point where statistical sample sizes are meaningful, and the body of work that we’ve seen on the ice is more than just a momentary flash in the pan.
On this week’s episode of the Blue Seat Blogs-cast we unpack the recent improvements in team defensive play, including what specific plays we’ve seen being done more regularly. We also discuss what Rick Nash’s new injury means to the team, and how he’s been under appreciated for a good part of his Rangers career. Plus a bonus segment where we go over our Rangers holiday wish lists.
The Rangers won the second game of their back to back set on Friday, with Nick Holden scoring the lone goal of the game in OT to cap it all off. Unfortunately I fell asleep for parts of the game but I did see a good portion of it, and I feel comfortable saying that the Rangers played a much better game than they did against Winnipeg, and a much better game than their recent form in general.
Although there were stretches of struggle for the Rangers during parts of the first and second period, with a couple of shifts in particular sticking out in my mind as areas for improvement, on the whole they carried more of the game than Chicago did. A few quick comments before I pass out:
- First of all, this game was solid evidence that a game does not necessarily need to be high-scoring to be exciting. Both goalies were back-ups and played out of their minds, with the two teams trading odd-man rushes at different points in the game. Overall just a great thing to see two goalies one-upping each other like that, although obviously Raanta was better n the end.
- No, these past two games does not mean there’s now a goalie controversy in New York. Hank is still the number one, and if you need convincing otherwise we’re probably going to disagree on a lot of stuff.
On this week’s Blue Seat Blogs-cast we discuss the improvement in special teams as compared to last year, the importance of concussion protocol, the comments by Patrick Maroon, inclusiveness in sports, and the Marek Hrivik call up.
As always you can find us right here, on SoundCloud, and on iTunes.
The Rangers are slipping. It’s no secret to anyone who’s watched the team these past couple of weeks. Poor defensive play and a lack of execution on the rush –and some teams figuring out how to stymie the Rangers’ game plan– mean that the team has either barely squeaked by when they’ve won games (Philly) or gotten totally hammered (Buffalo). Situations like this are always multifaceted in that there’s never one main issue with the team that, if fixed, would suddenly make them Stanley Cup contenders, but one issue that needs to be discussed at this point is the coaching.
Let me be clear: I am not advocating for the firing of Alain Vigneault. What I am suggesting however is that it’s time to be frank about his time as the New York Rangers head coach and take the good with the bad. Yes, he has gotten the team within a few games of a Stanley Cup, but coaches can’t only be evaluated on their achievements, they also need to be evaluated on their shortcomings.