Archive for Forwards
It’s been a few games since the trade with the Carolina Hurricanes that brought Eric Staal to Broadway and reunited him with his brother Marc, and so we’ve begun to see what AV’s lines are going to look like from here on out for the season. While Rick Nash remains out with injury and is sure to change things substantially, here are some quick thoughts on the lineup as it currently stands and as it might be improved.
Right now the Rangers top line consists of Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan, and Jesper Fast, the second line is one of either Kevin Hayes or JT Miller (depending on who’s drawn the ire of AV), Derick Brassard, and Mats Zuccarello, the third line is Eric Staal between the two ‘Bergs, and the fourth line is whichever one of Hayes/Miller isn’t on the second line, Dominic Moore, and Tanner Glass.
The Rangers have been up and down pretty frequently this season, but lately they’ve been up. The team has won 6 of their last 8 games, dating back to January 25th against Buffalo, despite missing Rick Nash for around a month now and Ryan McDonagh since the game against Philadelphia in which he sustained a concussion. Suffice to say the Rangers are persevering, finding ways to win and making a case for themselves as one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference.
As always this is a multifaceted phenomenon, with Lundqvist’s goaltending, JT Miller’s offensive production, and Keith Yandle’s overall form being major factors, but one of the things that’s flown under the radar lately has been the one-two punch of their top centermen, Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan.
Chris Kreider has approached a crossroads in his Rangers career. Kreider has the opportunity to make himself either untouchable (and in line for a new fat contract) or very quickly place himself in the cross hairs of General Manager Jeff Gorton as the team approach the trade deadline.
One assumes that the Rangers (whether you like it or not) are likely to be buyers at the deadline. They need to add to the core if they’re going to have realistic designs on a deep playoff run and with draft picks at a premium it’s likely to be young roster players that are the focus of any potential trading partners. There’s a handful of underperforming players on the roster at the moment and teams covet upside – particularly upside that’s attached to an expiring contract.
We’ve discussed the Rangers’ problems on defense ad nauseam, but the decline in production amongst the forwards is a factor in the team’s struggles as well.
Despite ranking fourth in the league in offense just past the halfway mark, the team is mainly riding one of the NHL’s top scoring defenses, a suddenly powerful power play and some lucky shooting by a few key individuals. The Blueshirts have a lofty goal total, but in fact the team’s forwards are nearly all having down years in production.
Here’s a look at the returning forwards’ scoring stats from last year compared to their current pace: Read More→
We’ve spent an incredible amount of time on the Rangers blue liners this season –from deployment to usage to ice time to lineup decisions– for good reason. There is a major issue there, but it is not the only issue plaguing this flawed club right now. Another major hole in the lineup is in the top-six forwards, where Jesper Fast continually plays, despite not having the appropriate skill set.
Don’t get me wrong, Fast is a solid player. He’s a great skater, solid defensively, and has a top-notch hockey IQ. But he’s not a scorer. The Rangers appear to lack that scorer in the top-six. Alain Vigneault has tried Fast, J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes, and Oscar Lindberg at various times, and none have stuck. To be fair, none have really played consistently enough to warrant a permanent spot in the top-six.
A shutout victory against a very good team can mask a lot of deficiencies but the Rangers won’t win the Stanley Cup the way they’re currently playing – I think all Rangers fans know this. The top line can dominate all they want but they can’t play sixty minutes every game and Henrik Lundqvist can win the Vezina by a landslide but even he needs support. There is no way Lundqvist can continue this stretch of excellence unless the team start to play better in front of him.
The Rangers are winning games but they aren’t playing consistently well at either end of the rink – a handful of players aside. If it wasn’t for a potentially career year from Mats Zuccarello and Lundqvist’s sustained brilliance, what would this team’s record be? A lot closer to .500 hockey for sure.
Of course, there are a lot of reasons for optimism. The vast majority of the roster can play better, the defense certainly has the ability and collective track record to suggest they can (and will?) offer Lundqvist more protection and if team-wide discipline improves (it must) then the Rangers would spend less time in the penalty box surely resulting in more offense by default.
On Tuesday night, the Rangers scratched Dominic Moore so that Emerson Etem could get into the lineup again. There was a certain level of surprise at the move, as Moore has been one of the Rangers best and most consistent forwards for the past few years. It wasn’t a question about getting Etem into the lineup, it was about scratching Moore.
But the fourth line played a strong game, generating scoring chances and giving Rangers extra punch in the lineup. Etem was a machine, going to corners, driving to the net. It was capped by his very subtle tip pass off the boards to Jesper Fast for the first goal of the game. Etem made some mistakes as his hockey IQ isn’t optimal yet, but overall it was hard to not be impressed.
With Viktor Stalberg set to return after this weekend, the Rangers are again left with a glut of forwards, all deserving of ice time. Emerson Etem played a solid game on Sunday, and certainly deserves to stay in the lineup. His play has given the Rangers flexibility to give Viktor Stalberg some extra time to recover from the blindside hit by Radko Gudas.
The coaching staff has a tough decision to make regarding who to sit once Stalberg is ready to return, but this is one of those good problems to have. It gives the Rangers an opportunity to match up against opponents, give veterans a rest here and there, or sit a youngster who might be struggling. Flexibility and depth win in this league.
Last night in Montreal, Emerson Etem made his New York Rangers debut. It was rather unceremonious, as he played a grand total of 7:09 on fourth line duty, and was buried for 86% DZ starts. Not exactly the ideal deployment of a guy who is lauded for his offensive skillset.
Personally, I am not a huge fan of Etem’s game. I will be the first one to admit that he is a tremendously gifted offensive player. He has great hands, shot and skating agility. Decision-making, effort level and one-dimensional skillset are the critical concerns I have with Etem. The Rangers traded an extremely versatile player in Carl Hagelin for the young winger, and while I am not here to lament the merits of that trade, it does create something of a roster imbalance. Read More→
In case you missed it, and I’m pretty sure you haven’t, the Rangers have inserted Tanner Glass back to the fourth line. In the process, Jesper Fast has been scratched from the lineup. It’s October, so it’s not worth panicking yet (as I mentioned this morning), but this is a bit of an alarming move.
The Rangers need a solid fourth line to compete for a Stanley Cup this year. Scoring and skating depth throughout the lineup is critical, as is a fourth line that can eat up defensive zone starts. The Rangers had this in 2013-2014, and rode that roster construction all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Rangers did not have that last year. The scoring suffered. The defense suffered. And while injuries certainly played a role in their seven game loss to the Lightning, the roster was not constructed to give the Rangers their best chance at winning.