The one thing we’ve come to expect of our hockey clubs in New York is consistency. With the New York Rangers, that consistency, at least in the opening few months of the season, is defined as consistently inconsistent. It’s a bit of a running joke, but it’s alarmingly true. Last night’s game was a prime example of how this club can play when they don’t play down to their competition. They did just that when they lose to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers, and Colorado Avalanche, all pretty bad teams.
Sure, you can blame the injuries to the blue line, and no team has really suffered injuries to the extent the Rangers have, but all teams do deal with injuries. You can point to the Derek Stepan injury, which led to an even more massive hole at center than initially predicted –by us– at the beginning of the season. But the Rangers have an opportunity now to put that inconsistency behind them with a relatively easy schedule to close out the month. Of course, being consistently inconsistent, you never know.
On to the musings:
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Should the Rangers play Boyle tonight? Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America
Fresh off a dominant victory over the offensive juggernaut that are the Pens, things appear slightly rosier in Rangerland. Tonight, the Rangers have to cope with another offensively skilled team when the Avalanche comes to town. Let’s discuss the goings-on in Rangerland.
What to do with Duclair? I know I’m in the minority but I think I would send Duclair back to juniors. I would rather see him playing 20 minutes a night in Junior and dominating. Once the Rangers are back to full strength I think a guy like Jesper Fast would be better suited to a bottom six role and help the Rangers return to their identity of being a difficult team to play against.
I have Rick Nash in both my fantasy teams. I am very happy about this.
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In case you missed it yesterday, the Rangers made a trio of roster moves in the late afternoon to address players returning to the lineup and an overall lack of defense and effort this past weekend. After previously being waived earlier in the month, Ryan Malone was sent to Hartford, effectively ending that reclamation project. Jesper Fast was called up to replace him. Conor Allen was also returned to Hartford, as John Moore is returning to the lineup.
Let’s start with Allen, as that’s the move that I questioned. There was nothing about Allen’s play that was bad, he was unspectacular, but didn’t appear out of place or lost by any stretch. He wasn’t going to keep Moore out of the lineup, but considering his relatively steady play, didn’t he deserve another game? It’s not like Matt Hunwick has a significantly better pedigree or even a significantly better performance on the ice.
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Almost identical to Pouliot, but no OZ penalties.
With last night’s win the New York Rangers are 6-4-2 after 12 games to start the season. The team has been shaky at best, but they have points in their last four games (2-0-2) and are 5-1-2 since back-to-back 6-3 blowout losses to the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Islanders (and the 5-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets the game before). Their goal differential is -4, which isn’t ideal, but that’s more a reflection of three straight losses by three goals.
The Rangers have managed to be 6-4-2 despite a myriad of injuries that has crippled the blue line. They haven’t dressed their original starting six since the opener in St. Louis. They played one game with just four defensemen, and played the next game with two of their original six starters in the lineup. Right now, they are in the middle of a stretch where they will only dress three of their starters.
Suffice it to say: This wasn’t a part of the offseason plan. But the Rangers have managed to do more than just tread water. They have points in seven of their last eight games.
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Dan Boyle should really help the PP when he returns. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America
There’s been quite a gap between the Rangers’ games this week, with the wild comeback against the Wild feeling like an eternity ago. Quite a bit has happened in Rangerland since so let’s take a look around at some of the goings on.
Veterans to the rescue
Derek Stepan and Dan Boyle resume skating. The Rangers cannot get these two players back fast enough. Stepan’s absence had destroyed team depth at center and the Rangers’ issues on defense have been well documented. With the Rangers powerplay needing help, Boyle and Stepan could be the perfect tonic to a unit that has been – at best – underwhelming to this point.
Is the Rangers goaltending pipeline improving?
The Rangers have tried to remedy the lack of depth behind Henrik Lundqvist recently and there’s a few intriguing prospects worth a keeping an eye on. Brandon Halverson typifies the modern goaltender, being a big man at 6’4, and he’s off to a strong start in junior winning 7 games in his first ten appearances although his peripherals (GAA 3.15, S% .904) aren’t exciting. Reports are he’s playing well though.
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Today is an off-day for the Rangers, so the day is slow. Yesterday saw a little bit of action, as John Moore was suspended for give games, and Alain Vigneault shook up the defensive pairings as a result. In some good news Derek Stepan is on track to be activated off LTIR next week.
- Looking at those new defensive pairings, that bottom four is just bad. First, Dan Girardi on his off-handed side is risky, and pairing him with Kevin Klein doesn’t exactly instill confidence. Second, Matt Hunwick has been good, but he’s seen sheltered minutes. Pairing him with Mike Kostka, who is better than his epic fail game this season, is a risk. These two are a pair of 7Ds being asked to play 12-14 minutes together. Dan Boyle, please heal soon.
- I’d have to venture a guess that this is a one game trial for these pairings. At least it’s against Winnipeg. But it does beg the question: Why are there no call ups? It’s early in the season, and at some point you have to see what you have in Conor Allen. The opening came on the left side, so why not see what he’s got? He has a very similar skill set to Moore, Kostka, and Hunwick as well.
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Since we often preach patience and the long-view around here, I find it very difficult to identify specific narrative topics when the season is only five games old. Many of our observations will normalize or end up a blip on the big picture radar. Most sample sizes are too small, trends too tenuous and in the case of the Rangers, too injury dependent. Once Stepan and Boyle return, we will start to see the true colors of this team, but until then, I feel like some random thoughts are more appropriate than digging into too much data or player performance numbers. I’ll be curious to see if your thoughts are consistent with mine during this time of upheaval…
- Is it wrong that I was excited just to see that second win so things didn’t spiral out of control like last October?
- Man, Lee Stempniak has been great. We all were fully on-board with the signing when it happened, but he has gotten off to a much better start than we could have reasonably expected.
- Ryan McDonagh played over 30 minutes last night. In October. Loco.
- Rick Nash is a monster. I had a feeling that the post-concussion symptoms were holding him back last season. He was horribly snake bitten in the playoffs, but has broken out again in a big way to start this year. Goals aside, he had made strong moves to the net, utilizing his size and reach with great results. If he can stay healthy, he will be an absolute force this season.
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Chris did the heavy lifting today with his post this morning, covering for me while I figure out what I did to my wrist. Luckily, it’s my left wrist, so my social life will go –ahem– unaffected. I get to give you some musings and thoughts after a three game losing streak. Since each time I need to move my left wrist hurts, it’s going to be a short list. Sorry about that.
- Is it Halloween yet? No? Ok then. No use panicking. This team was in much worse shape last year at this point, and they went to the Stanley Cup Finals. This year’s team has two major injuries to key players (Derek Stepan, Dan Boyle), and already has much better puck possession numbers than last year at this point in the season (small sample size). I’m not worried.
- Speaking of those injuries, these were two guys the Rangers really couldn’t afford to lose. They were already thin at center, and team defense was downgraded this summer. With Boyle, the Rangers certainly didn’t count on replacing Anton Stralman with Mike Kostka or Matt Hunwick. That one probably hurt the most. At least the Rangers had Martin St. Louis, an incredibly smart player, to take over 1C temporarily.
- Focusing on the defensive play of the entire team: I think the Isles game was the best example of how the Rangers can do the right things, but coverage failures (and yes, turnovers) can doom any team, even if they dominate puck possession.
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Three losses in four games and 12 goals against in the first two home contests certainly isn’t how the Rangers wanted to start the season, but it’s not altogether unexpected. With No. 1 center Derek Stepan and No. 4 D Dan Boyle on the shelf, and a slew of raw youngsters in the lineup, it’s no surprise that the Blueshirts have been a dumpster fire in their own end. There are certainly very real causes for concern, but there is plenty of time to right the ship – just take a look back at how last season started.
So since it’s all gloom and doom in Ranger-land this morning, let’s check out some of the things that are going right for New York, many of which have come as pleasant surprises:
– Rick Nash has six goals in four games. That’s a pretty decent start, by any measure. The #fancystats crowd insisted Nash would bounce back after a horribly unlucky postseason, but this offensive explosion has eclipsed anyone’s wildest dreams. This confidence boost will be huge for Nash after he was forced to take a long look in the mirror last spring, and it could be the start of a monster year.
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Tonight is opening night, and if you haven’t caught the systems preview, you should. The Rangers are in St. Louis tonight, Columbus on Saturday, and then open at home on Sunday against Toronto. Chris is hung up at work, so you all have to suffer through a musings with me.
- There are a lot of questions about the center depth for this club. It’s something I brought up last month, and that was before the injury to Derek Stepan. The fact is that the Rangers have a winger playing center (Martin St. Louis), and a rookie as the pivot for the third line. Even when Stepan returns, you have the same concern about J.T. Miller’s future at 3C, and whether or not Derick Brassard can handle 2C competition.
- As for Miller, the reason why I think he’s best off as a winger is because of the defensive responsibilities of the center position compared to the wing. He’s been vastly improved this season, but until he proves he can handle the defensive responsibilities on a consistent basis, there will be questions about his ability to play 3C and the Rangers center depth as a whole.
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