Archive for State of the Rangers
Boy, the Rangers play two mediocre games and all of a sudden the world is ending. The focus, as always, has been on the defense. But let’s be clear here. We all knew the defense was in need of an upgrade before the season started. The major problem lies on the right side, where Dan Girardi plays top pairing minutes and Kevin Klein has been bouncing between second and third pair. Brady Skjei has moved to that side to try to stabilize everything.
Dylan McIlrath wasn’t the answer. Adam Clendening may or may not be a viable bottom-pairing guy, and we won’t know until he’s in the lineup more consistently. Alain Vigneault is going to lean on his guys until major roster decisions are made down the road. So let’s try to get into AV’s head and understand why he’s making the decisions he’s making, instead of just bashing him or the players blindly.
The Rangers return to a more civilized time zone tonight, after a massively successful western Canadian swing. After an embarrassing loss to the Canucks the week before, the Rangers bore down for the victory to close out the trip, despite some of their depth being tested. Tonight, they will be back east to see our old buddy Torts and the predictably mediocre Blue Jackets.
This begins another difficult stretch for the Rangers, with seven games in twelve days to close out the month, including a home and home against the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins. The Blueshirts deal with a significant amount of schedule congestion this month and for December, with January seeing only eleven games in thirty-one days. This is the toughest stretch of the season. Read More→
The Rangers are off to a magnificent start this year, and the feel is different from last season. At the risk of beating this drum again, the Rangers were heavily reliant on goaltending during their run last year. This season they are steamrolling opponents through sheer domination of scoring chances. It’s a full four lines that are able to press on the opposition.
In terms of scoring, the Rangers are getting contributions up and down the lineup. As of the writing of this post (before the Vancouver game last night), the Rangers have ten skaters (Miller, Hayes, Grabner, Nash, Stepan, Zibanejad, Kreider, Vesey, McDonagh, Zuccarello) with at least ten points, another two (Skjei, Pirri) with nine points, and another two (Buchnevich, Fast) with eight points.
You know it’s time to dust off your laptop and write a post for Blue Seat Blogs when there are jokes on the Internet about your location, your health, or doubts as to if you ever existed at all. Truth be told, I am not an alter ego for Dave Shapiro.
For new readers of Blue Seat Blogs, allow me to re-introduce myself, my name is HOV, H to the O V, The Suit. I like bourbon, matters related to bespoke tailoring, and hockey. I use a pseudonym for various reasons. I (sort of) invented blogging about Hockey Systems. Now Steve Valiquette has far surpassed me and did so with an air of Greenwich snobbery that even I can’t replicate (jk love you Vally).
Anyway, it’s been a while since I created internet, so I have decided to share a few views on things related specifically to our defense, because defense wins championships or something.
One of the many questions heading into the season was how Alain Vigneault would deploy his players. There were a bunch of new players, and even with four skill lines, AV still has a tendency to have his one “shutdown” line. Couple that with an aging and relatively poor defense group, and you have a lot of questions.
But in the early going, few players seem to be struggling. Sure you can name a few, but not many. In addition, there are the guys you assume will be used in defensive roles, like Dan Girardi, and the guys you assume will be deployed in an offensive role, like Adam Clendening.
In case you missed it, the Rangers are off to a pretty solid start. Not only are they winning games, they are completely dominating opponents. It’s a welcome change from last year, where goaltending was keeping a mediocre team above water. Speed and skill throughout the lineup has put significant pressure on the opposition, and the Rangers are capitalizing.
While much of our focus on stats is at even strength, since that is where the majority of the game is played, special teams play is critical to the success of a potential Cup contender. Last year, special teams –specifically the penalty kill– crippled the Rangers. They couldn’t consistently score or generate offense on the powerplay, and were Swiss cheese on the penalty kill.
The season isn’t even a month old and we’re not yet 1/8 of the way through this marathon, but screw it, I’m ready to call the Rangers contenders once again. In a season when nearly every pundit expected the Blueshirts to fall back to the fringe of the playoff picture due to their leaky defense, New York has instead emerged as a lethal transition team that has speed and skill throughout its lineup, its most dangerous power play in recent memory, and as usual, all-world goaltending.
Indeed, the hype train is leaving the station. NBC analysts Eddie Olczyk and Pierre McGuire agreed that the Blueshirts have re-established themselves among the game’s elite teams and there’s even early buzz that Jeff Gorton could be a candidate for GM of the Year.
So are we getting ahead of ourselves?
Yesterday, the New York Rangers waived Dylan McIlrath, with the intention of sending him down to the Wolf Pack. As you can imagine, this sent fans into a bit of an uproar. After all, Josh Jooris was just diagnosed with a separated shoulder and was destined to hit LTIR. This would have given the Rangers more roster flexibility with the imminent returns of Pavel Buchnevich and Chris Kreider. The Rangers didn’t have to make a move.
As of this writing, there are still several hours left in the waiver period, so we are not yet sure if the team will lose McIlrath for nothing yet. There seems to be no consensus on the likelihood of a claim (I tend to think there is a good possibility of one). If McIlrath sneaks through to Hartford that will be some grade A depth in the minors in case of future injuries, and additional ice time can only help his continued development. If he is claimed, it will highlight some poor asset management on the part of the organization, especially since he did not have to be waived at the moment.
We’re a few games into the season at this point, and it’s plain to see what the Rangers’ strengths are as a team. Most of this stems from the team’s deep forward corps – the team is fast and has a scoring touch on each of their four lines. What’s also becoming increasingly clear however is the Rangers’ weakness: the defense. While this may seem like an obvious point to make, it’s important to go further and parse out exactly what the issues are in order to better understand how to address them.
Let’s start with what even the most stalwart apologists for the Rangers defense would acknowledge: aside from Ryan McDonagh, this is not a defensive group that moves the puck well. The forwards on the team mostly make up for them, as they’re all quite fast and each line has someone capable of making quick passes and carry-ins on it, but the start of the breakout needs work.
With the return of Dan Girard in last night’s game against Arizona, the Rangers are finally back to full strength on their blue line. Adam Clendening joined Dylan McIlrath in the press box, as it appears Alain Vigneault will lean on veterans, as expected.
Girardi will likely go back to playing with Ryan McDonagh, while Kevin Klein probably ends up back with Marc Staal. That leaves Brady Skjei and Nick Holden in a third pairing role, with Holden still playing on the right side, a place where he wasn’t comfortable to start the year.