Archive for Forwards
While the Rangers keep looking for some consistency and Rick Nash keeps the team in playoff contention almost single handidly, one of the most underwhelming players this season – so far – has been Mats Zuccarello. The little Norwegian winger has failed to live up to his new one year contract (and hefty pay rise) and certainly hasn’t played to a level where he can expect to a get rich, long term deal this coming summer.
With all that said, the Rangers really need Zuccarello to get going. Zuccarello is one of the Rangers more creative players and, Marty St Louis and Derek Stepan aside, arguably boasts the best on ice vision of any Ranger. An in form Zuccarello would surely make the Rangers powerplay much more efficient which would go a long way in helping the team string more wins together. Last season Zuccarello had 17 points with the extra man. This year, somehow, he has yet to record his first point on the powerplay. A huge fall from grace for the popular and hard working winger.
New York’s problems down the middle began when the team failed to bring in a replacement for Brad Richards and were exacerbated when Derek Stepan broke his fibula during training camp.
But since Stepan’s return to the lineup on November 8th, a bit of normalcy has returned to the Blueshirts. Their 5-5-2 record over that span looks a lot worse thanks to three recent losses to the impressive Tampa Bay Lightning, but Stepan has been a godsend since the moment he rejoined the team.
Disclaimer: This was written before this morning’s announcement that Anthony Duclair will be the healthy scratch.
Chris Kreider will return to the lineup tonight after dealing with the death of his grandfather, and with his return comes another logjam at wing. Even without Tanner Glass, out with the mumps for an unknown period of time, the Rangers have nine very capable wingers who, at least after Saturday’s game, deserve another game together. But obviously you can’t sit Kreider, so who sits?
J.T. Miller is a candidate, but he clicked very nicely on LW with Dominic Moore and Jesper Fast (something I wanted a month ago). The fourth line was something I spent significant time on a week after that tweet as well. That line worked on Saturday against a bad Flyers team. Considering how badly the fourth line got torched in the previous two games against Tampa Bay, it makes sense to keep this one together and see how they do.
The Rangers haven’t struggled to score goals this year, they’ve simply struggled to spread the goals around. Thanks in large part to Rick Nash and Marty St Louis, the Rangers have scored enough to stay in the playoff race while the defense and the goaltenders (up until recently) have struggled through injury, fluctuating form and suspensions.
One of the lesser discussed players this year has been Carl Hagelin. Hagelin scored against the Canadiens Sunday night and has been having a solid season despite bouncing around the line-up and playing very much in a depth role. Recently, he has been matched up with rookies Kevin Hayes and Anthony Duclair and still, Hagelin has delivered.
Hagelin has been a mainstay on the penalty kill unit, ranking second only to the equally underappreciated Dominic Moore in ice time amongst the forwards. He’s been a mainstay on a unit that is middle of the NHL pack largely only because of the injuries the PK has suffered (Stepan, McDonagh etc).
Thank god the Rangers have Rick Nash. That’s a statement not just uttered countless times by the Ranger fan base but is something that Chris Kreider has probably said a few times this season as well. Luckily for Kreider, Nash’s blistering start has diverted a lot of attention from several underperforming players including Kreider.
Kreider has had games this year where he has been utterly dominant. The big winger has been a wrecking ball and an offensive threat on almost every shift in some games. Then there is the Kreider that has disappeared and who has been a liability while contributing nothing offensively.
Right now, we’re seeing both sides from Kreider and that’s simply not good enough. He’s playing physically yet he’s not contributing offensively. This is the year that Kreider should be taking the next step, the year that he should be developing the consistency that elite players are known for. Obviously the skill set is there for Kreider to be a top tier power forward but he’s not delivering to expectations.
We’ve spent a lot of time bemoaning the loss of Anton Stralman, whose departure has coincided with a drastic drop in possession numbers. We’ve also talked about the impact losing Brian Boyle has had on the penalty kill and on faceoffs. Heck, we’ve even reminisced about Raphael Diaz.
But one key veteran has been quickly forgotten since his forced exit just days after the Stanley Cup Final.
The buyout of Brad Richards was a foregone and necessary conclusion for the Blueshirts, who were in desperate need of cap space and had one final chance to shed the remainder of his albatross contract without being penalized.
All season long, the Rangers have had some serious issues with the fourth line. It’s not really a surprise, since the Rangers have used nine different players on that line already. Nine. Tanner Glass, Dominic Moore, Jesper Fast, J.T. Miller, Ryan Malone, Chris Mueller, Lee Stempniak, Kevin Hayes, Anthony Duclair. Suffice it to say: That’s a lot of forwards used on a line that was a huge strength for the club last year.
Out of those nine, four are rookies, three are in the AHL, two are retreads that probably shouldn’t be on an NHL roster, one’s a possession anchor that shouldn’t be on a roster, and two more shouldn’t be on a fourth line (top-nine only). It’s a mess, but it’s a fixable mess. In fact, it’s easily fixable.
Step One: Enough with the retreads.
Anthony Duclair was a healthy scratch as the Rangers beat the Sharks 4-0 yesterday. When the initial news broke, there was some serious outrage over scratching Duke, some of it was rational and warranted, most was irrational. The Duke has three assists on the season, but has yet to put one in the net. That is partially due to lack of shots on goal –he has just six SOG– but it also has to do with his ability to put himself in a position to get shots on net.
Duclair has two games where he’s registered a shot on goal: The back-to-back 6-3 shellings by the New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs. His two assists: Against Columbus in that 5-2 disaster. He’s not being given the room he had in the preseason, which is expected since he’s now playing against the cream of the crop. Spending some time up top watching a game or two can help a 19-year-old kid identify the subtle differences (speed) of the game. He hasn’t played his way out of the lineup, not by a long shot.
Building on what Kevin talked about yesterday, not everything in Rangerland is a negative right now. Despite the inept goaltending currently found at the Garden and the sinking ship that is the Rangers defense, there are still reasons for optimism in New York. One of those reasons is Chris Kreider. If the Rangers had just a competent defense in week one we would be talking more about the good starts of Anthony Duclair and Lee Stempniak, the hot streak and return to prominence of Rick Nash but – in my opinion – above all, Chris Kreider’s emergence as an every game threat.
While still a little rough around the edges, Kreider has looked dominant at times. His one goal so far was a breakaway which he took extremely well, he has been hard on the puck all year, has been physically engaged while he’s also shown he’s willing to stick up for his teammates. Kreider has also impressed with a couple of great primary assists on goals for Nash and Derick Brassard showing that he’s not a one dimensional player and has been hungry for the puck on his stick. If he can maintain his start to the season he should also smash his career high for shots on goal with well over 200.
The Rangers went on a low-risk spending spree this summer, bringing in veterans Matt Lombardi, Lee Stempniak, and Ryan Malone. Some questioned this initially –Stempniak not so much– as the Rangers have a lot of kids ready to take spots in the lineup. However, more competition is good. Competition breeds improvement.
But now, two of those veterans have seen injuries cut into training camp and preaseason games. First Malone went down last week with a hip flexor injury after a strong-ish (he fatigued at the end) performance in the preseason opener against the Devils. He missed out on practices, didn’t play Friday and won’t play today. Meanwhile, Lombardi just went down with a groin injury after an unimpressive game on Monday. He was slated to go tonight, but he’s been scratched last-minute.
Less than a week into the preseason, and two vets brought in on low-risk deals are on the shelf. What will that say about their long-term durability?