Archive for Players
The New York Rangers have won five games in a row. They are 7-0-2 in their last nine games, and are sitting atop the Metro Division. But yet the focus seems to be on Rick Nash, at least when it isn’t on Dan Girardi. Nash has just one goal thus far, and has drawn the ire of many fans. But I’m not all that concerned about Rick Nash. And neither should you.
We’ve discussed Nash here and there over the past month, mostly noting that he’s shooting well below his career average of 12.4% (he’s at just 3% now). He’s doing the right things, driving to the net, getting scoring chances, and creating offense for him and his teammates. It’s definitely a slump to start the season. That said, the process is there but the results, to date, have not.
The Rangers beat the Washington Capitals on Tuesday in a game that featured some pretty goals but some ugly defensive play on the part of the home team. Despite their victory they were badly outpossessed in the second and third periods, finding themselves frequently pinned in their own defensive end. The game drew into high relief the Rangers need to play a stronger defensive game, especially against top teams such as Washington, and was notable in part for the absence of Dan Boyle. Perhaps the Rangers could have used the talents of the veteran puck moving defenseman on Tuesday, given how difficult it was for them to exit their own zone at times and given Boyle’s strong first pass out of the zone and positive influence on possession.
Let’s start with Alain Vigneault’s reasons for scratching Boyle. Despite complimenting his defensive play and composure in one on one situations, the Rangers head coach described a need for “quicker decisions with the puck” and noted that he was brought to New York in order to help with puck movement and the power play. AV also made note of the fact that at 39, Boyle is in need of some adjustments due to his age. Still though it seems strange to bench a veteran player for his lack of offensive production when he’s been posting overwhelmingly positive possession numbers in his last few games.
In all reality the Rangers shouldn’t be leaning on Mats Zuccarello. After all, Zuccarello is somewhat middle of the pack when it comes to the big tickets assembled by the contending Rangers. A handful of forwards drop more salary. Zuccarello’s salary rank takes an even bigger hit when you factor in the blueline and a certain All-world goalie residing in the New York net.
The thing is, Zuccarello – also not yet at his best after his scary injury – has been the Rangers best and most consistent forward this season and there hasn’t been much competition. The Rangers just haven’t been good enough up front; whether it’s a lack of finishing (looking at you Mr Nash and Mr Kreider), struggling to establish a consistent forecheck or even helping out their own blueline who’ve faced countless odd man rushes in part because of the miscommunications with their forward brethren. The Rangers forwards aren’t where they need to be. Yet there is Zuccarello on course to smash his career high in goals in part thanks to his hattrick against the hapless Leafs while playing the best hockey amongst the Rangers vaunted top six.
Note from Dave: Pat’s our newest writer. He’s written a couple of guest posts before. He will be contributing regularly with the rest of the team here. Welcome aboard Pat!
Emerson Etem filled in for Viktor Stalberg against Calgary on Sunday night following the latter’s head injury sustained against Philadelphia. The young winger acquired in the Carl Hagelin trade with Anaheim showed the kind of potential that might force some difficult lineup decisions upon coach Alain Vigneault. Etem demonstrated his offensive sensibilities, leading the team with four individual scoring chances and two high-danger scoring chances, recording a Corsi +/- of +8, and notching an assist on Dan Girardi’s goal (Girardi’s 200th career point). In putting forth such an offensive effort on the fourth line he highlighted his speed and size, playing a strong forechecking game during his 11.9 minutes on the ice. Justin has covered the tricky case of what to do with Etem in the past, but his performance the other night against Calgary, as well as his past performance in Anaheim, might indicate that the third line could be a good fit for the young winger.
First let’s take a look at some of what we saw from Etem the other night against the Flames. In this first GIF we see Etem use his speed to carry the puck along the boards before getting the puck down low, then using his size to make a drive to net.
Like most teams the Rangers go as their best players go. Right now, only Henrik Lundqvist can say he’s his usual elite self and keep a straight face. Rick Nash, Derick Brassard as well as the entire blueline are not contributing as expected. Right now it’s the blueline that is causing most concern. Other forwards and the Rangers’ general depth are covering for Nash, for Kreider and for Brassard (take a bow Oscar Lindberg) but the defensive unit – as a collective – are making a series of errors each and every game.
The entire blueline has been a relative tire fire. It’s been hockey punctuated by individual mistake after individual mistake, by poor coverage and unacceptable defensive zone exits. The Rangers blueline has also been a turnover machine throughout October. Through all of that negative narrative (say that drunk) and no one, perhaps not even Dan Girardi, has begun the new season in as disappointing fashion as Ryan McDonagh.
There are only two certain things in life: Death and screaming at the TV for the New York Rangers not having a good power play. It is still early in the season so this is bound to get better (hopefully), but the New York Rangers rank 25th in the league on the powerplay (ahead of the Penguins, Kings and the Ducks) and 13th in the league on the penalty kill. The penalty kill will probably be hovering around 10th or so in the league when all is said and done, as last year’s unit was ranked 6th.
The powerplay is a much larger concern. It seemed like the Rangers finally answered that problem last year when by trading for Yandle, but it is not the case at the moment. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the trade. Losing Anthony Duclair is painful. Losing a first round pick is painful. But it is not like they got a shoddy player in return. Yandle is still a top-30, maybe even top-2o defenseman in the league. He can keep the puck in the zone better than almost any player we’ve seen. He is only 29 years old and, with his play style, can probably be effective for another 7-8 years (Mark Streit and Lubomir Visnovsky come to mind here) should he stay healthy.
So why isn’t the power play working? That’s what was the point of this trade was, but could this come down to the coaching staff shooting themselves in the foot?
The Rangers’ defensive unit was the story of the season in October. According to the pundits, they are “one of the league’s best” and “one of the deepest.” But through six games, they’ve been the story for a totally different reason. They have hemorrhaged shots, they are constantly out of position, and they have forced Henrik Lundqvist to make spectacular saves. This is not the start this six man unit wanted. Only Kevin Klein and Keith Yandle are off to good starts.
While much of the vitriol has been directed at Dan Girardi, Dan Boyle, and Marc Staal, it hasn’t gone unnoticed that Ryan McDonagh has truly been struggling. While we don’t know if he’s still dealing with lingering injury issues from last season or whether it is dependent on his partner, we do know that he simply hasn’t been the number-one defenseman the Rangers need.
Dan Girardi is probably the most interesting Ranger on the roster. He is the subject of a very vocal amount of criticism that is only equaled by the vocal amount of praise. It’s an age-old battle of “watch the game nerd” versus “#fancystats.” Here’s the dirty little secret of the eye-test and #fancystats: If you’re only using one, you’re doing it wrong. We’ve all seen what the numbers say on Girardi, it’s been discussed ad nauseam around these parts. Suffice it to say, they are not favorable.
The disconnect is tying those numbers his play in the defensive zone. And in the defensive zone, system matters. There is a major difference between John Tortorella’s low-zone collapse and Alain Vigneault’s overload/man coverage hybrid (shift to man coverage when the puck is below the goal line). In a low-zone collapse the goal is to defend the high risk areas and block shots. This requires that all players be proficient at blocking shots –which is a skill, no doubt– and understanding when to block the shot and when to let your goalie make the save.
In an overload, the goal is to outnumber the opposition on the wall and create pressure on the puck carrier. When the puck is below the goal line, players switch from an overload to man coverage. Everyone is always moving, and the scheme is a difficult transition from a collapsing team. Those 9-2 and 6-0 losses on the west coast two seasons ago are constant reminders. This kind of system is incredibly reliant on quick skaters and gap control.
You can only ignore text messages and tweets from Dave Shapiro for so long. I knew if I didn’t get off my rear, dust off my laptop, and start typing again, next thing I’d know Dave would be lurking outside my window Quagmire style.
Anyhow, the Blueshirts season is three games old and already narratives are being expounded about the Rangers defense, mostly in the form of demeaning Dan Girardi and pleading for Dylan McIlrath. And while the defense is certainly the area of the roster to keep tabs on while the season unfolds, the player I’ll be zoning in on is Keith Yandle.
The Rangers haven’t had an elite offensive defensemen since Brian Leetch. Many have tried to fill his skates over the last 15 years (e.g., Tom Poti, Wade Redden, Michael Del Zotto, etc.), but none have succeeded. While Yandle isn’t Leetch, having a d-man with his pedigree shouldn’t be overlooked for several reasons.
1) He’s A Potential Long-term Solution For The Power Play
Three conference finals and a Stanley Cup appearance is no mean feat, whatever franchise you are. The Rangers have had a strong run over the past half decade or so; they have done it despite the ongoing need to develop young talent, spend to the cap to retain their own and recruit the biggest names on the market. Despite the absence of a Stanley Cup, the Rangers have balanced youth and (relative) success very well. The current roster has a young core and even the most key players have plenty of miles left. With this week’s roster decisions it appears the Rangers are continuing with their dedication to youth.
This week’s announcement that 2010 top ten draft pick Dylan McIlrath made the Rangers opening night roster over cheap and flexible roster part Raphael Diaz wasn’t just the right decision (McIlrath had consistently been the better of the two all preseason) but it was another example of the Rangers dedication to youth. Oh how times have changed since the 1997 – 2003 period (what some fans call the lost years). Factor in Oscar Lindberg having likely played himself into the opening night line-up and another season has arrived where the Rangers have managed to inject youth into the line-up with at least two rookies.