Archive for State of the Rangers
I started writing this when the Rangers were down 2 games to 1 to the Capitals but didn’t post it. Fast forward a month. I believe what I was trying to write several weeks ago – even as the Rangers were one good period away from the Stanley Cup final – still rings true so the opinion hasn’t changed. The Rangers are a great team, have a good roster and have some talent coming through the ranks but for me, there remains one major issue that needs addressing this summer.
This isn’t about skill and it isn’t about depth. It certainly isn’t about goaltending and with one of the best coaches in recent times, it’s not about the Head Coach either. No, the Rangers have a lot going for them even as they enter the offseason after a hugely disappointing end to their season (based on the expectations that had arisen). The Rangers are missing something much different. Ironically this team lacks a player – or two – in the Brandon Dubinsky mould.
It’s a good job Rick Nash gets paid a boat load of money because he’s having to put up with a lot of criticism since the playoffs began. Once again, the Rangers play their biggest game of the season in Tampa Bay tonight, looking to right the many wrongs of the game two stinker. A considerable amount of scrutiny will face Nash as the Rangers have now arrived at the point where good performances, great two-way play and timely assists from Nash are no longer enough. His lack of goals have surely become a major distraction and are now the elephant in the room. Win or loss.
Nash has to score. He has to score because the media demand it, the Rangers need it and because everyone know Tampa have the offence to score at will. Not helping Nash is the fact that Tampa’s superstar Steven Stamkos has found his game after a difficult start to the playoffs and Tyler (undrafted) Johnson has dominated the playoffs and has been an absolute beast against the Rangers. Given Nash’s 42 goal season, coupled with his seemingly annual playoff regression, seeing the opponents’ most important goal scorers raise their games at the most critical moments will be particularly jarring for Nash and fodder for the mob who are happy to criticise Nash.
I rarely listen to sports talk radio, but I tuned into the ESPN postgame show on Saturday as I drove home. It was shocking to hear fan after fan declare that this was sure to be a “quick series,” that the Rangers had clearly established their superiority and that it was nearly impossible to imagine a scenario in which the Lightning had a chance. All this after a 2-1 victory.
Granted, the Blueshirts played extremely well in Game One and deserved a more lopsided result, but the cockiness of Ranger fans was still incredible to behold.
Monday’s 6-2 beatdown seems to have quashed that, and once again the faithful and media alike are questioning Rick Nash’s performance, Martin St. Louis’ place in the lineup and even Henrik Lundqvist (seriously?). Read More→
It’s easy to write positively about an individual when that player has just scored an enormous, game winning goal in the biggest game of the season to date. However, since returning to the Rangers Dominic Moore has been absolutely everything the Rangers could have hoped for and more. He has been an example to the younger players, he’s been a defensive rock, a rare shining light at face-offs for a team so inept at them and he has been unexpectedly productive, particularly when games have mattered most. All this for the comparatively bargain $1.5m per year. In many ways Dominic Moore is the ideal bottom six role player.
We can break down Moore’s production (27 points, in a primarily defensive role) and discuss the penalty kill influence and face-off efficiencies he has but perhaps the biggest advantage of having Moore in the line-up has yet to be felt. While Moore is a veteran at 34 he is not long in the tooth and the Rangers have at least one more year of Moore as it currently stands. Moore’s presence in the line-up, his unquestioned work ethic and his ability to lead by example may be keenly felt for the remainder of this playoff run but also beyond this season.
After their historic comeback against the Capitals, the Rangers have punched their ticket to the Eastern Conference Final against a very skilled and very deep Tampa Bay Lightning team. There will be narratives about reuniting with old friends and a lopsided season series, but those will generally be media fluff. However, there has been legitimate debate about the impact that Tampa Bay goaltender Ben Bishop has had during his first playoff run as a starter.
His numbers so far in this postseason are very good. However, his stats haven’t exactly lined up with the eye test to this point. Let’s dig into his game a little bit and figure out exactly what the Rangers are up against. I actually did a breakdown of Bishop’s style way back in 2012, when he was first breaking into the league with Ottawa. Much has changed, however. Since this is our third goalie scouting report so far this postseason (Fleury, Holtby), you know the drill by now: Stance, Crease movement/depth, Equipment, Puck-handling ability and Exploitable Weaknesses. Here we go… Read More→
The Rangers will be mightily relieved that Ryan McDonagh didn’t sustain a shoulder injury in Monday’s game six victory as, after an inconsistent start to the playoffs, the Rangers captain has improved after each and every game. The proof is in the pudding and the pudding is Alex Ovechkin. The Capitals captain has been a factor of course, whether it through his physical play (as McDonagh himself can attest to) or the mere fact he’s constantly throwing pucks toward the net but his influence has been minimized in large part because of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi.
McDonagh has not only scored a huge, game winning goal in the series that kept the Rangers’ season alive (indeed, both of his goals this postseason have stood up as game winners) but McDonagh has been on the ice in almost every critical situation for the Rangers including the dying moments of game six when McDonagh was the one who eventually cleared the puck to ice the game. McDonagh wasn’t a factor early in the series but his influence has surely been felt as the series has progressed.
McDonagh leads all players in ice time in this series (averaging 24:22 minutes per game) and while he’s not been at his very best his form is certainly pointing in the right direction. At time of writing only four players remaining in the playoffs have averaged more ice time than McDonagh and three of those are on a Blackhawks team that have already played two multiple overtime games this spring.
Derick Brassard has developed beyond all reasonable expectations for the Rangers this season. Brassard’s regular season alone (full of career highs) justified Glen Sather’s faith in the talented pivot last summer and one year into his new five year deal has his 5m cap hit looking like a bargain. If the cap ceiling goes up anytime soon Brassard will look even better value moving forward.
Brassard is a huge reason why the Rangers enter Wednesday’s game seven showdown against the Capitals with a chance to return to the conference finals in back to back seasons. Brassard leads the team in points, goals, powerplay points and shooting percentage amongst main offensive statistics. He’s quietly doing it all for the Rangers during a postseason where his team have struggled to score consistently. His performances over the past two playoffs, but particularly this postseason show a player that, while not perfect, is continuing to improve and who has produced on the biggest stage.
After last night’s crushing defeat, the strategy for defending Alex Ovechkin came to the forefront (aside from the Backstrom hit). Well, it became more of a priority than before, since he dominated the game. Ovechkin had a goal and an assist, a +10 scoring chance differential, and double up on his USAT/FF and SAT/CF numbers. In short: He was an absolute force.
So the question arises: Do you shadow him? Do you stick someone on him at all time, and basically have someone Esa Tikkanen him? Adam Herman went through why he thinks it’s a good idea, at least on the powerplay. I see the merit in that point of view, but I staunchly disagree.
Shadowing doesn’t work at even strength
It took seven grueling games, but the when the Capitals defeated up the upstart Islanders on Monday night, D.C.’s finest secured a date with the Rangers for the fifth time in seven years. This brings us to our second round goaltending preview of Braden Holtby.
When I sit down to write these posts, I always take a look back to see if I’ve done previews before and see how my current analysis stacks up against my observations from prior seasons. I realized this time around that I’ve already done two (!) previews of the twenty five year-old Saskatchewan native. Those prior looks can be found here and here. Seems like only yesterday he was making his playoff debut.
After flashing serious potential in his first few seasons on a defensively porous Capitals team, Holtby put everything together this season under Barry Trotz. His numbers (2.44 GAA and .923 save percentage) were both single season bests. Additionally, he started 72 games this year, by far a career high (we’ll get to that later). He really cemented himself as an upper-echelon goaltender this season. Read More→
Carl Hagelin, playoff hero. Carl Hagelin’s legend grew a little bit more Friday night as the Rangers speed skating Swede scored the overtime, series winner against the Pens. It’s probably not the time to look too far ahead (but instead, revel in the Penguins season ending early) however particularly Hagelin’s form will mean a series of difficult decisions are looming for Glen Sather this summer.
Luckily for Sather, these difficult decisions are the kind of problems a general manager wants. Hagelin’s strong, consistent regular season and yet more postseason success means Hagelin’s in line for a nice pay rise this summer. Hagelin has 24 points as a Ranger and 21 in his last 42 games – thus averaging a point every other game since his first playoff run in ’11/12 when he had 3 points in 17 games in a depth role.
Hagelin has grown tremendously as a player since breaking into the Rangers line-up and is a player that embodies this team’s speed orientated game. Although some people speculated Hagelin could have been the odd one out this summer – given the cap issues that the Rangers could face – barring obscene salary demands there is no way Hagelin goes anywhere. He’s quickly making himself indispensible to the line-up.