Archive for Players
When teams are struggling to score it’s easy to look down a roster and pick off players with the zeros. While Chris Kreider has been nearly invisible this playoff series, I have noticed that Mika Zibanejad has been getting flack. Zibanejad will forever be linked to Big Game Brass, a fan favorite, and during the playoffs it’s easy to be nostalgic. Zibanejad has only one point thus far, while Derick Brassard has five. It’s easy to see the frustration some fans have for Zibanejad, but that’s a very small window for comparison.
Brassard came to the Rangers during his 25 year old season in the NHL. That is already one later than Zibanejad (who is also five years younger), who just turned 24 a few days ago. Before Brassard came to the Rangers he was seen as a risky center with injury history that had been unable to reach his potential with Columbus. The Rangers helped mold Brassard and utilized his skill properly by placing him with the right players. Low and behold, Brassard blossomed in front of our eyes. So why are we so down on Zibanejad?
For Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich, the 2016-2017 season did not go according to plan.
Zibanejad missed 25 games with a broken fibula suffered on November 20th and Buchnevich was removed from the lineup to undergo a midseason strengthening plan devised by the Rangers coaching staff.
But despite their lengthy absences, both players exhibited early signs of what they can bring to the table. Zibanejad was New York’s most dominant forward in the preseason other than Chris Kreider and quickly demonstrated the creativity and two-way play that attracted the Rangers to him this summer.
Buchnevich took a bit longer to flash as he adapted to the North American game, but he racked up goals in four straight games before going on the shelf.
Mats Zuccarello has been something special for the Rangers. When he first came on board, he was an unknown that was having a lot of trouble adjusting to the North American game. It wasn’t until he made the necessary adjustments (discussed in detail by Suit) that he was able to become a productive and consistent NHL player.
Fast forward to today, and Zucc is about to put together his second straight 60 point season, third if you want to round up from 59 during the 2013 season. But it’s not just the points that are impressive. Well, they are, as are those amazing passes he makes look routine and simple. But it’s the fact that he makes others around him better.
Michael Grabner has been a helluva find for the Rangers this year. His 27 goals and 39 points are about double what any rational mind expected when the Rangers inked him to a two-year deal worth $1.6 million. Expansion draft fodder. Solid bottom-six depth. Decent penalty killer. Those were the expectations.
But then Grabner started scoring, and scoring often. He started scoring so often that he became the leading goal scorer on the team, and has an outside shot at a 30-goal season. With that came something we all saw coming. Grabner was shooting over 20%. The regression was coming. And it was going to come fast.
One of the big storylines this season for the Rangers has been injuries. Throughout the season, skaters all across the lineup have endured some form of injury or another, with even the perennially healthy Henrik Lundqvist falling victim to the injury bug. We’ve already covered the Jesper Fast angle of the injury story, so I thought I’d probe one of the more interesting questions raised by a fully healthy lineup: what happens with Kevin Klein.
Most everyone can acknowledge that Klein has had a down year. He’s never been much more than a low-end second pair, more appropriately third pair guy, but in years past his offensive production has masked his shortcomings. This year not so much, with the play of red hot rookie Brady Skjei compensating for his errors at best and those same errors on full display at worst.
Folks, I’m going to break a rule of mine. You see, I had promised myself that aside from the game recap the other night, I wouldn’t devote any time or thought to the Tanner Glass recall. Figuring that it’s a minor move likely to be soon undone, and deciding that there were better horses to beat to death than the one that’s been beaten over and over, I made a solemn vow to just find something else to talk about.
The other night however Alain Vigneualt made a decision that simply put, blew my mind. I had long since turned off the game (I wasn’t feeling well and just wanted to sleep), so I learned about this all secondhand, but with a one-goal deficit late in the third AV opted to play Tanner Glass as his extra attacker, benching Pavel Buchnevich.
I swear I am not stealing Joe Fortunato’s post. I had this idea on Tuesday and today was the first chance I got to write/post it. Don’t hate, Joe.
One of the many bright spots this season has been the evolution of Brady Skjei. Called up briefly last season, Skjei looked nervous in his first NHL action. It was clear there was potential and that he deserved to be in the lineup regularly, but he needed a little more seasoning and experience.
When this season started, Skjei was put into a sheltered role on the third pair. This gave him the opportunity to gain confidence in himself, but also gave him the chance to earn Alain Vigneault’s trust. Fast forward to March 10, and Skjei is easily the best non-Ryan McDonagh defenseman on the team.
There are two major discussion points that don’t involve Tanner Glass or any of the members of the defense. One is the woes at MSG, which I covered yesterday. The other is the slump of the Rangers top center. Derek Stepan has a line of 12-32-44 through 67 games. That puts him on pace for 54 points over an 82 game season, on par for his career average.
However the Stepan we’ve seen since January 17, the last time he scored a goal, is not the Stepan that is capable of putting up 54 points per season. In that span of 22 games, Stepan has just eight assists. It has drawn the ire of a good number of fans as well. And don’t think it’s gone unnoticed around here either. So let’s dive into what might be troubling Stepan.
This offseason, head coach Alain Vigneault said the plan was to get defenseman Dan Girardi some rest from time to time. The idea made sense, as Girardi played most of last season with a fractured kneecap, and was just downright awful. This was on top of his declining play becoming the focal point among fans. After all, keeping Girardi fresh is the best way to get the best hockey out of him as he ages.
However through this point of the season, Girardi has been a healthy scratch for rest just once. It has showed in his on-ice performance, as he simply can’t keep up with the opposition’s top skaters. But that hasn’t stopped AV from dressing him nightly. He was asked about this after practice on Saturday, and his answer clued us into what his approach will be going forward.
I remember watching when Henrik Lundqvist first arriving on the scene in 2005. Kevin Weekes had just gone down with an injury, and the soon to be anointed King took over for a game. Then one game became two. Then two became two in a row. Then three in a row, and then he was the starter, appearing in 53 games that season and winning 30 of them.
That was his first 30 win season. He would win at least 30 in every non-lockout season following, and sits at 399 career wins. Usually I’m hesitant to use goaltender wins as a mark of success because it is a team oriented stat, but in watching Hank you know he carried a number of those Rangers teams much farther than they should have been. Without Hank, the post-Jaromir Jagr teams are non-playoff teams until 2011-2012.