Archive for Game Thread
After an exciting comeback that was quickly followed by a crushing defeat, the Rangers are back in action tonight against the Bruins. The Bruins are barely holding on to a playoff spot right now and are dealing with an injury to David Krejci that seriously guts their center depth. But the Bruins are never truly out of any game with Tuukka Rask in net.
This is another test for the Rangers in their toughest stretch of schedule to date. They are playing much better lately and starting to do more of the right things on the ice. They only have a .500 record to show for it of late, but that’s an improvement over their horrid December. As the process improves, results will come.
After a feel good win against Dallas on Tuesday, where the Rangers played extremely well against a very talented team, the Washington Capitals come to town on an 8-1-1 streak in their last ten games. This team is white-hot right now and not showing any signs of slowing down. They are deep defensively, even without John Carlson today, are getting great goaltending from Braden Holtby, and have one of the more potent offenses in the league.
One of the storylines today will be Alex Ovechkin’s quest to get to 500 goals. He’s at 497 right now, and while it is unlikely he puts up a hat trick against Henrik Lundqvist, crazier things have happened. Even if the Rangers tame him, the Caps have oodles of weapons they can throw at their opponents. The stellar defensive game put forth on Tuesday night will need to become the rule, not the exception, for the Rangers to cool the Caps.
There’s also the fact that Washington absolutely dominated the first two games this season. Poor goaltending did the Caps in the first time, but they controlled that game from start to finish. They got better goaltending the second time, and embarrassed the Rangers thoroughly. Keeping it close would be nice.
After a strong win in Tampa Bay, the Rangers failed to show up in Florida and were dealt a 3-0 shutout loss by the surprising Panthers. Now they are back in New York to take on the Dallas Stars who basically score at will. They have 144 goals this season, and the next closest team is Washington at 121. That’s simply amazing. This team is talented, deep, and really friggin good.
Although Dallas scores a lot, they also allow a ton of goals. Their goaltending is average at best, as the Kari Lehtonen/Antti Niemi duo has been porous. They’ve allowed 107 goals thus far, and it’s mostly on the goaltending at this point, since neither has a .920 SV% (Niemi is best at a .918 SV%). The Stars can be beat, but it requires a magnificent defensive effort to do so.
The Rangers played possibly their best game of the season on Wednesday, beating the Tampa Bay Lightning by a score of 5-2. They played solid defense, the goaltending was there, they had sustained offense, and they beat a solid team. The Rangers need to build on that performance tonight in Sunrise against a surprising Florida Panthers club that is second in the Atlantic.
The Panthers are getting solid goaltending from Roberto Luongo. They are also deep offensively, with six guys at the 20 point mark already (comparatively to the Rangers, who have just four players with 20 points). They are led by the ageless Jaromir Jagr, who at 95 years old is the team leader in goals (11) and points (26). He and Alex Barkov form a solid duo on the top line. Suffice it to say, this is not your typical bad Panthers team. They are for real, and will provide another solid test for the Rangers.
What have they done lately?
We are at the tipping point in Rangerland as the year comes to a close. The Rangers have not played well at all in December. Their possession numbers are getting better, but that’s largely due to playing from behind so much. The defensive play has been woeful up and down the lineup. It’s fun to constantly blame Dan Girardi and Marc Staal because, well, that’s actually become a bit of a narrative, but it’s every single person in the lineup.
Tampa Bay, meanwhile, is a team that will crush the Rangers if they don’t tighten up. This is a team that will burn most of the elite defensive teams in the league, let alone a team that is slow and struggling. But asking the Rangers to tighten up defensively seems to be a tall order lately.
What have they done lately?
Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein are returning for the Rangers tonight as they take on a very strong Nashville Predators club. Nashville completely dominated the first outing at MSG, but Henrik Lundqvist stood on his head and the Rangers came away with a victory. That was also the last victory before the Rangers entered their current tailspin. The Rangers have had better possession process lately, but their defense has been atrocious all year. Getting Klein back will certainly help though.
As for Nashville, they have easily the best blue line in hockey. Pekka Rinne is a solid goalie. But the Preds lack the depth at center needed to put them over the edge. Mike Ribeiro is not a top line center, but he is being asked to be that guy. It’s that lack of center depth that is costing them dearly in the bloodbath that is the Central Division. They will make the playoffs, but that is a big hole the Rangers need to exploit.
What have they done lately?
The Rangers are in a complete free fall, but luck out as the woeful Ducks come to town. Anaheim can’t score, which is odd considering all that talent. They are shooting 4.5%, which probably has a lot to do with it. This is another one of those games where the Rangers really need to get back to proper process. They haven’t been playing the right way all year.
Tonight also marks the return of Carl Hagelin to MSG. Hagelin, drafted by the Rangers in the sixth round of the 2007 draft, played four seasons in New York before being the first major cap casualty for the Rangers. Hagelin was sent to Anaheim at the draft for Emerson Etem, a deal which saw the Rangers save $3 million in cap space. It was a necessary evil of the cap era.
Hagelin’s return will be the story, but the Rangers need to get a win before the holiday break.
The Rangers are home to host the Metro Division leading Washington Capitals tonight in a game that could get out of hand pretty quickly. That statement isn’t singling out anything specific, it’s just an observation based on how well the Caps have played lately and how poorly the Rangers have played. If the Rangers don’t get their collective acts together on defense, it will get ugly fast. The Caps will basically score at will with those kinds of breakdowns.
Aside from how the Rangers are playing lately, which has been documented fairly often around here, the Caps are probably going to run away with the division pretty soon. They are talented, deep, strong on defense, and strong in net. They are a very well balanced team that is coached by one of the better coaches in the game.
If there is any opponent that can wake the Rangers up, it’s Washington. They always seem to show up against them. So, let’s see how things go.
The PDO crash train is chugging along at full speed, and the Rangers have looked pretty terrible during this run. It’s not the puck possession that’s been killing them, since they’ve been playing better on that front, it’s the defense. They are blowing assignments, not back checking, and just panicking with the puck. Part of it is due to the injuries to Derek Stepan and Kevin Klein, but most of it is due to overall poor play throughout the season.
Stepan should be returning tonight –no confirmation has been made yet– so that’s one less problem to worry about. However the bigger problem still exists in that the Rangers defense is just not getting the job done. This is primarily a blue line issue, but forwards are blowing assignments as well, as we saw last night. I’m ok with the occasional mistake, everyone makes them, but when they become routine, it’s time for a change.
Something else that needs to be changed: This dump and chase garbage. This is new for the Rangers. It’s still unclear if this is a coaching directive or the players.
The Rangers begin their short road trip tonight in Minnesota to take on the Wild. Jarret Stoll will be in the lineup for Minnesota tonight, his first game since being waived by the Rangers earlier this week. Brady Skjei will also remain in the lineup while Kevin Klein is on the mend. Dan Girardi is not on this trip either.
The Rangers have –for the most part– played better hockey as of late. They’ve been pushing possession and showing overall better process. The games in Calgary and Edmonton were awful, but they haven’t been hanging their goalies out to dry as much as in the past. The shooting percentage crash is in full effect though, which means the process isn’t always breeding results.
That said, you want to see better process, because there will be better results once the SH% crash subsides. Less defensive blunders and coverage fails, more back checking, and more shots at the net. Control the play.