Archive for Forwards
The Rangers start a very tough four game stretch in Anaheim on Wednesday night when they take on the Ducks. With the Sharks, Kings and the vastly improved Islanders all to come during this short, but brutal stretch, the Rangers will find out a lot about the readiness of their team as they look to return to the Stanley Cup final. Perhaps most importantly, this stretch will tell Glen Sather and the Rangers management what they can expect out of their current group of centers.
The group of centers the Rangers will face over the next four games reads like an All Star roster, it really doesn’t get much tougher. It’s reasonable to suggest that all of Getzlaf, Kesler, Carter, Kopitar, Thornton, Couture and John Tavares would all be the Rangers number one center. They are all elite centers capable of dominating opponents and/or putting up elite offense. When out west, the Rangers will again have to cope with the size of the Ducks and Kings. Something they’ve struggled to cope with.
The clamour for top line centers is league wide and certainly nothing new. Every team wants one but not every team has one. The Rangers are in a fortunate position where they have two excellent (and comparatively young) top six centers in Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard but neither would be compared to the Crosby’s, Getzlaf’s and Seguin’s of the league, although both certainly have room for growth.
Long term, people assume the Rangers greatest needs are on defense, addressing a lack of size on the roster and down the middle. You can argue the Rangers lost the Stanley Cup finals because the Kings dominated the center position. Looking at those needs, the Rangers may have answers for their defense and the issue of size coming through the system but do they have a potential top line center in their ranks? Not likely. Which brings us back to Derick Brassard.
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.