I still can’t get used to Alain Vigneault’s steady line combinations after four years of John Tortorella’s incessant juggling, but Vigneault has stuck with the same combinations for quite some time now. It’s worth nothing that the Rangers finally turned a corner this season thanks in no small part to the team’s balance and chemistry up front. Mats Zuccarello has been the team’s best forward so far this season and a key cog in Vigneault’s formula, but with him lost for likely another week or two (not to mention the upcoming trade deadline), Vigneault will be forced to rejigger his preferred trios.
Throw in the fact that winger Derek Dorsett is ready to return from a broken fibula and 20-year-old J.T. Miller, who has been dominant in the AHL, was recalled last night, and it’s tough to predict what Vigneault will end up with. It’s probably most likely that Vigneault will be forced to try several different new looks – which might not be settled by the trade deadline in three games, throwing us back to square one.
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What does the future hold for McIlrath? (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
When the Rangers made their Michael Del Zotto for Kevin Klein swap with the Predators, they gave up on a frustrating offensive talent and went with the less able but more reliable stay at home, physical type. What they also did was commit to a player whose size and physical ability is likely to be on the Rangers blue line for several seasons. They also committed to someone that inadvertently may be a road block for one of the franchise’s key draft picks, Dylan McIlrath.
While Klein doesn’t possess the same potential snarl or size as McIlrath, the additional four years (at $2.9 million per year) means the Rangers have solidified their third pairing with the type of player they’ve needed for what seems like generations. Is there still room for McIlrath? With his skating ability still his biggest question mark, Mcllrath’s future is at least partly dependent with how Klein acclimatises to New York, with the initial solid performances promising.
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Keeping Callahan means building a contender (Photo: Anthony Gruppuso, USA TODAY Sports)
If you’re a cup half full kind of person, assume for a minute that both Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi sign back up with the Rangers and the core remains intact. Let’s also assume for a moment that Anton Stralman sticks around for a reasonable cost, and all of a sudden the Rangers fine core remain together; losing ‘just’ Brad Richards who is surely off to pastures new.
With the NHL salary cap going up this summer –and with the Rangers likely to have some serious cap room to play with– the opportunity (or danger?) to go out and entice a major free agent or two is there. Of course, most Rangers fans start getting anxious at the thought of Glen Sather having a blank cheque book. Sather’s Achilles heel is his free agency history.
Dan Girardi and Anton Stralman represent the key to the Rangers spending ability this summer. The upcoming free agency period is absent of legitimate options on the blueline, unless you’re happy to over commit to 36 year or 37 year olds. With Girardi and Stralman (hopefully) under wraps the Rangers retain one of the deepest defensive units in the league, allowing them to focus any spending up front, where there could be a few quality players available.
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This year’s Olympic competition sports a pool of goaltenders amongst the strongest we have seen since the NHL began participating in the games. The United States and Finland are especially deep, each with three goaltenders that could easily start for most nations. Although the tournament has already gotten underway, and we have seen some solid (Lundqvist, Hiller) performances and some sketchy (Rask, Halak) ones, let’s take a look at what each county’s best stopper has to offer. I realize there are going to be some changes made between the pipes as the tournament goes along and most teams have several starting caliber tendys, but I’m going to break down the ones who should be starting based on ability level and previous performance.
United States- Jonathan Quick
Why not start with the Red, White and Blue? Despite this being a Rangers’ blog, I have committed a significant amount of digital ink to the King’s world class netminder. Ryan Miller was dynamite in 2010 and deserves some ice in Sochi, but this is Quick’s team. The Americans will only go as far as he can carry them, and judging from some of his playoff performances, that could include the podium to accept the gold medal. His athleticism in this tournament is rivaled only by (ironically enough) the two Russian netminders. However, his technical skills, vision and positioning are lightyears ahead of the hosts. Read more »
Once again, Mr. Dependable. Photo: McIsaac/Getty
Anyone watching the Rangers to begin the year wouldn’t have foreseen this (individual) turnaround. Anyone paying close attention to the Rangers’ popular no. 5 for most of last year wouldn’t have predicted this scenario either. However, without doubt – thanks to the impressive turnaround in his play – Dan Girardi has become an essential, can’t-be-allowed-to-leave piece of the Rangers puzzle.
Girardi was error prone throughout the Rangers indifferent start to the season. Rather than being part of the solution he was part of the problem. However, the past two months have seen Girardi return to being the indispensible, minute eating, shot blocking rock on the Rangers blueline. Over the past ten games, only three times has Girardi had less than 3 blocked shots. Only twice over the same period has Girardi not being credited with at least two hits. He’s back to his shutdown best.
Girardi’s return to his old form has coincided with the Rangers extended hot streak and has helped the Rangers really develop a core to match even the best teams in the league. With Henrik Lundqvist’s return to form, three capable offensive lines, strong special teams and a dominant top defensive pair (Girardi and Ryan McDonagh), the Rangers are becoming a team no one will want to face come playoff time. This all brings us to the already much discussed free agency and Girardi’s opportunity to cash in.
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Any excuse to show the Pinstripe pads.
Despite being Ben Scrivens’d (again) last night, the Rangers have been on quite a roll for past six weeks or so. Most will point to the terrible 5-3 loss to the Islanders on December 20th as the game that proved to be a turning point for the season. At that time, the Rangers were struggling to break .500, playing downright terrible defense, and saw fans calling for AV’s head. But most vexing was the play of Henrik Lundqvist.
Since that dark time, the Rangers have played much better hockey. The team went on 15-6-1 stretch of dominance, the system seems to have sunk in for the players in a meaningful way and the play of their King greatly improved. During the beginning of the season, we were all left scratching our heads at how the Henrik could look so mortal after another Vezina nominated (half) season. Some pointed to the new equipment restrictions, I was curious about his new super-lightweight Bauer pads, but he seems to have put it all to rest.
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To say this has been a roller coaster season so far for the Rangers would be an understatement. After starting the year 3-7 and getting embarrassed by some of the mighty Western Conference’s best squads, it looked like the team was starting to figure it out. They went 11-6 over their next seventeen, and genuinely looked like the team we all expected them to be this summer. Unfortunately, they decided to go 1-6 over their next seven, culminating in brutal 5-3 defeat to the Islanders. Following that terrible stretch of lost hockey, and presumably to drive Ranger fans to drink more, the team has since rattled off a 13-5-1 stretch to climb all the way to second place behind Pittsburgh in the Metropolitan Division.
In most years, you can glean a front office’s assessment of their team by how they conduct themselves at the trade deadline. While my little season recap above could seem like fun with arbitrary end points, it has made the overall assessment of this team exceedingly difficult. Sure, there have been specific instances one can point to that explain peaks and valleys (Nash’s injury/return, Talbot’s call up, Cally injury/return, Carcillo, etc.) but now that everyone is healthy and playing well, is this the team we thought were getting in August, or are they just on another streak?
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With last night’s tough loss to St. Louis out of the way, the hockey world’s attention now turns to the much publicized “Stadium Series” games, starting this Saturday. This weekend’s festivities will see the Ducks and Kings face-off on Saturday at Dodger Stadium (with some of the ugliest unis going, by the way) while the Rangers will battle the Devils on Sunday at Yankee Stadium.
When the NHL announced that there would be five outdoor games in addition to the Winter Classic played this year, much of the reaction centered around some variation of “overkill”. This is a novelty concept that was charming with one game on New Year’s day, but would the concept be turned into a gimmick by playing this many games outside? I have to admit, I was skeptical.
The Rangers were the beneficiaries of two of the five Stadium Series games, against the Devils and Islanders, respectively. Personally, I was hoping Yankee Stadium’s big hockey reveal would come during a Winter Classic, but alas, it was not meant to be. The weirder part was that both of these games would feature the Rangers in road white. Read more »
Photo Credit: Frederick Breedon/Getty Images
As the dust settles after the trade of Michael Del Zotto, there were a lot of thoughts that ran through my head. There was a lot to process in this trade, and now that it’s been a day since the trade, I find myself thinking a little more level-headed.
First and foremost, this is a trade that confirms the Rangers are in win-now mode. If the Henrik Lundqvist extension wasn’t evidence enough, then this is. Del Zotto is a 23-year-old defenseman with a pair of 40 point (pace) seasons under his belt and what seems to be great potential. Klein is a 29-year-old defenseman who plays an incredibly physical game, but has also peaked. This is a trade that sacrifices potential long-term success (MDZ) for short-term needs (Klein).
Speaking of those short-term needs, Klein kills two birds with one stone. We had been wondering where the physicality and toughness on the blue line would come from, and Klein is just that. He is a rugged (6’1, 200 lbs) defensive defenseman that plays very disciplined hockey (21 PIMs) while dishing out punishment. He’s the guy that dropped Derek Dorsett at MSG when Nashville came to town. Slats compared him to Mike Sauer, and although I haven’t seen much of Klein, the comparison is pretty accurate.
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The Rangers have been waiting for Rick Nash’s offensive explosion
If you’re still ignoring the #fancystats movement, you’re missing out on some awesome information that provides a lot of further insight to the game. But one thing we don’t need advanced stats to tell us is that to succeed in the NHL you A) need good players, and B) need your good players to play well.
That was missing early in the season when the Rangers’ best players, Rick Nash and Henrik Lundqvist, were non-factors (Nash was hurt, Lundqvist was playing some of the worst hockey of his career). However, over the past month both men have returned to their old superstar forms, and not coincidentally, New York has played its best hockey of the season. The Rangers are 11-4-1 in their last 16 games dating back to December 22nd, and in that stretch, Nash has recorded 12 points (10 goals, two assists) while Lundqvist has a 1.97 GAA and a .933 SV%.
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