Archive for State of the Rangers
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.
I was listening to the radio yesterday, and I couldn’t believe my ears. Hockey was being discussed, and it wasn’t Boomer and Carton or Michael Kay and Don La Greca. Once I got over my initial shock of hearing hockey on the radio discussed by a voice in which I could not identify, I started listening to the topic at hand.
The topic intrigued me: When Kevin Klein comes back, who should sit?
It got me thinking. Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, and Keith Yandle are not coming out of the lineup. All have been pretty solid in this series as well. So it’s really between Matt Hunwick and Dan Boyle.
If you want to explain to someone what Keith Yandle is all about, ask them to watch the Carl Hagelin breakaway goal from game three of the Rangers Pens playoff series, on Monday. Yandle’s pass to set up the goal was pin-point, crisp and defense splitting. Yandle’s pass was perfectly placed allowing Hagelin to race through on to Marc Andre Fleury and open the scoring. That’s what Yandle does and that’s what he has been doing increasingly as a Ranger, ever since Glen Sather made the bold trade to acquire the highly talented offensive defenseman.
Yandle has fit in well with the Rangers even if there was an initial adjustment period. Yandle started relatively slowly when he arrived in New York but that was to be expected. Coming from the hockey outpost that is Arizona and playing in a much different (and less speed orientated) system even the most talented players take time to adjust but adjust Yandle has.
The Blueshirts had pushed their chips to the middle of the table and with Henrik Lundqvist now 33 and reaching an age when he could logically be expected to decline, sacrificing draft picks and prized prospects at the expense of the team’s future was no longer of much concern.
The looming salary cap crunch meant a difficult decision lay ahead this summer between key free agents Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin and Martin St. Louis, followed by another class of increasingly expensive FAs in 2016 including Yandle, Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes.
But the late stages of the season and the start of the playoff run have changed things. Specifically, Lightning legends St. Louis and Boyle have quickly drifted from critical veteran cogs to afterthoughts, while the figurative torch has been passed to young emerging Blueshirts.
It was once assumed that Hagelin would be the odd man out this summer, but now it’s almost impossible to imagine the organization choosing to retain St. Louis over the Swedish speedster (although St. Louis could still re-sign for a bonus-laden veteran deal). Boyle likely plans to conclude his career when his deal expires following next season anyway, but the hole he’ll leave has already been patched with a much younger power play ace in Yandle.
The Blueshirts will still be up against the cap even subtracting these two players, but their young players are already exceeding the price tags of their rookie deals and have fortified the club’s core.
Jesper Fast and J.T. Miller were both terrific in the season’s final weeks and have continued that strong play into the postseason, while Kevin Hayes has only scratched the surface of his potential. Other young pieces like Kreider and Derek Stepan will bloom on Broadway for years to come. And there are still a couple more blue-chip prospects to come, with Pavel Buchnevich and Brady Skjei potentially joining the fray as soon as next season. Heck, if it were possible, plugging in Buchnevich and Skjei for St. Louis and Boyle might make the Blueshirts better right now.
Finally, after 82 games and 187 days, the Rangers now know they will be facing in the first round of the playoffs. After a relatively strong start to the season, the Pittsburgh Penguins, suffering from a number of significant injuries, limped into the 8th and final playoff spot on Saturday. In preparation for the start of the series on Thursday, we will be running some preview posts so we can see what lies ahead for the Blueshirts in the opening round.
First up is an analysis of Marc-Andre Fleury, who will have the esteemed honor of playing behind an absolutely injury ravaged defense. Fleury had a nice renaissance of sorts this season, posting numbers far above his career averages (2.32 GAA/.920 sv% vs career averages of 2.59 and .911, respectively). He was far from the problem for the Penguins this year. I actually did a preview of Fleury way back in 2012, and the scouting report has definitely changed a bit. Quick refresher if it’s been a while; I’ll cover Stance, Crease Movement/Depth, Equipment, Puck-Handling Ability and Exploitable Weaknesses. Let’s get after it… Read More→