Archive for Game Thread
After playing in Winnipeg last night, the Rangers are in Chicago tonight to take on the Blackhawks. That’s a lot of travel for an injury riddled team. But on the bright side, the Hawks are just as injured (no Jonathan Toews), and are playing Scott Darling over Corey Crawford. That gives the Rangers a good chance at winning the second of back-to-backs, as the Hawks are not that deep.
However, while the Hawks are not deep, they have an incredible top end of the lineup. Their top line can basically score at will, and any line with Marian Hossa is a danger to score as well. The defense is going to have to contain those top-six, and Henrik Lundqvist is going to have to be stronger than he has been to start the season. But this is a very winnable game.
The Rangers have had a rough stretch, going 4-5-1 in their last ten while playing some pretty ugly hockey. Given the significance of the injuries, it can be said that staying around hockey .500 is a win for this club. In my humble opinion, the injuries and inconsistent goaltending –based on what we are used to from Henrik Lundqvist– has made the flaws of the team more obvious. That said, the Rangers did play better in Brooklyn, so that’s a start.
As for the Jets, they are dealing with injuries of their own, which has led to a relatively unbalanced lineup. Throw in some pretty rough goaltending, and you have a team that the Rangers should be able to pick apart. That said, the Jets are still at hockey .500 at 13-13-3, and they have a very talented top-six that can make slow defenses pay.
Until the Rangers get fully healthy, expect more of the same from them. Consistently inconsistent.
The Rangers are in the middle of their worst stretch of the season, in terms of on-ice performance, and it’s shown itself in the standings with a 4-4-1 record in their last nine games. Apart from inconsistent play, the Rangers have seen their speed game neutralized due to injuries and blue line regression. It’s eerily similar to last year, but the special teams have been a major source of happiness of late.
And perhaps it’s on special teams that the Rangers will need to take care of business tonight. The Rangers hold top-ten powerplay and penalty kill units, while the Isles are last on the powerplay and 18th on the penalty kill. Couple that with very weak forward lines, and the Isles are a team that the Rangers should be able to dominate. But then again, the Isles always play the Rangers tough, so you never really know. A consistent 60 minute effort would be super, though.
The Rangers lost a sloppy game in Buffalo the other night. Very few players even showed up, but one that did was Adam Clendening, notching an assist and playing a pretty solid game, although he did take a late penalty. But they lost, so it’s back to Kevin Klein and the status quo. But let’s be fair, the entire team needs to start playing better or else last year’s one-and-done in the playoffs is a best case scenario.
This afternoon the Rangers get the Carolina Hurricanes for the third time, having split the first two games. If not for Rick Nash carrying the team earlier in the week, Carolina would have two wins against the Rangers. If not for horrid goaltending, Carolina might be in a playoff position. They are a skilled team, if not that deep yet. But regardless, this is a game the Rangers need to win and do it the right way.
After a roller coaster win against Carolina on Tuesday, the Rangers are looking to build on their strong third period against Buffalo. The Rangers erased a two goal lead and got off the schneid, so building some momentum will help get them moving in the right direction. The Sabres are the perfect team to do that against, as their defense is pretty bad. Might actually be worse than the Rangers.
But that’s why they play the games. The Sabres may be bad on defense and questionable in net, but they are skilled and deep at forward. They can easily exploit the Rangers defense as easily as the Rangers can exploit theirs. Banking points is important for the Rangers, but getting back to proper process –note: not banking the puck off the glass every single time they clear the defensive zone– is perhaps more important.
The Rangers are 2-3-1 in their last six games, and have played some pretty poor hockey in that stretch. They are dealing with injuries, but they are also dealing with a regressing blue line and regressing shooting, which is taking its toll on the offensive potential of the team. No matter which way you look at it, the Rangers need to play better.
Enter Carolina, who is very quietly just three points out of a playoff spot. It’s still very early, but it’s clear Carolina is moving in the right direction. Give them a halfway decent goaltender, and they might be a sneaky playoff team. They are able to move the puck well, but struggle a little to score (2.46 G/G). They have a -4 goal differential, but that is almost entirely on bad goaltending.
This is a perfect opportunity for the Rangers to get some confidence back by lighting up the Canes, but the last time we said this, they lost.
As the Rangers look to get back to the proper process against a pretty bad Ottawa Senators team, the focus at puck drop will be on the return of Derick Brassard. Brassard was traded to Ottawa this summer in the deal that brought Mika Zibanejad. Brassard spent three seasons in New York, putting up seasons of 45, 60, and 58 points (27 goals in that season) while serving as the Rangers 1b center to Derek Stepan’s 1a. I’d expect some kind of recognition from the fans and perhaps an announcement on over the speakers, but no video tribute.
As for the game itself, this is the perfect opportunity for the Rangers to get back to the right process. They’ve been struggling to maintain offensive pressure and generate crisp defensive zone exits. It’s clear that the absences of Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich have had an impact on the forwards, but it’s also clear that outside of Skjei and McDonagh, no Rangers defenseman can consistently make the right pass to start a breakout.
The Rangers got crushed on Wednesday night, as the Penguins responded in kind to their demolition on Monday. Naturally the Rangers went from Cup contenders on Tuesday to cellar dwellers on Thursday, or at least that’s what you would think if you read the reactions across the fanbase. Those kinds of losses build character, and how the Rangers respond this afternoon on NBC will dictate what we can expect from them the rest of the season.
The Flyers present an interesting challenge in that they should be better –on paper– than they are right now. Picked by many to be a sleeper team for the playoffs, the Flyers are playing sub-.500 hockey while hemorrhaging goals. They have a bit of an injury bug on the blue line which may be contributing. They also have Andrew MacDonald on the first pair, so that can be exploited regularly.
After Monday night’s dominating win in Pittsburgh, the Penguins are in MSG tonight on the tail end of the home-and-home. The Rangers have a major opportunity here. They can make a big time statement with a win tonight, thus sweeping the home-and-home. A win says they are for real, and it is a signal to the rest of the league that they need to be taken seriously.
The lineups are the same. The goaltending matchup likely will be the same. But now the teams will face off after seeing each other and being able to adjust to the style of play. The Rangers appeared to take the Penguins by surprise with their speed in the second and third periods on Monday. Will the Penguins adjust? Can the Rangers contain the Penguins speed and come out with a better first period? We shall see.
Life without Mika Zibanejad begins today, and it’s going to really test the forward depth for the Rangers. Zibanejad brought more to the Rangers than meets the eye, as he was excellent in most facets of the game, even if he had cooled off since his hot start. The Rangers are already without Pavel Buchnevich, and even with a returning Josh Jooris, the scoring depth has been taking a hit lately.
With two fairly big injuries in the forwards, the Rangers are going to have to find other ways to win games. That means goaltending and defense are going to need to start coming through for them. Henrik Lundqvist isn’t the concern, so it’s the defense (both the blue liners and overall team defense) that needs to improve. Time for everyone to pick up the slack.
As for the Penguins, we know what they are. They are the model that the Rangers have built their team after. However they don’t have the injury bug at the moment, and their blue line is easily more mobile. This is a true test for the Rangers.