Archive for State of the Rangers
What a time it is to be Glen Sather these days. One of his favorite times of the year is quickly approaching, but Sather’s carefully crafted trade deadline plan has been continuously influenced by new developments over the last few weeks.
First Henrik Lundqvist went down with a scary vascular injury, ceding his throne to backup Cam Talbot. The Prince had played well in spot duty over the last two seasons, but it was still anyone’s guess how he would respond to immediate full-time duty. Though it’s been rocky at times, Talbot has seized the job with a 5-1-1 record since taking over as the starter.
The team’s chief perceived position of need was at third-line center, but Kevin Hayes has been white-hot of late and it almost seems like it would be a shame to give away his gig in the middle to a mercenary when Hayes himself could continue raising his level. Read More→
Anyone watching the Rangers closely since preseason will have seen Kevin Hayes visibly grow and learn on the job. Considered an outside bet to make the Rangers opening night roster, on the back foot because he missed a few games through injury and starting in a position he wasn’t accustomed to playing, despite all this Hayes has done a wonderful job the past six months.
Putting his faceoff inadequacies to one side, Hayes has improved immeasurably. His decision making has become faster and more instinctive while his playmaking and passing have been particularly evident recently. What’s more, the flashes of skill he showed early in the season have been far more frequent recently as Hayes has become a consistent threat in the offensive zone. There have been games recently (encapsulated by the Avalanche victory) where Hayes’ line has been the difference for the Rangers, that’s how far Hayes has come.
Hayes has flashed Rick Nash ability driving to the net and is on course for a very acceptable and productive rookie season as a third line pivot. Sitting eighth in rookie scoring; only one rookie from the top twenty scorers has had less ice time per game highlighting how effective Hayes has been offensively. If Hayes can improve his faceoff effectiveness and shoot a little more he could have a very strong second half.
Henrik Lundqvist’s injury may have you feeling otherwise, but the Rangers remain in excellent shape to make the postseason. With an eight-point cushion over ninth-place Florida, securing a wild card berth shouldn’t be difficult even if overtaking the Penguins and Islanders for the Metro Division title may now be unrealistic.
Of course the team’s playoff hopes are pinned to Lundqvist, but there’s reason to believe the best is still ahead for the 2014-2015 Blueshirts – and it’s not because they’re sure to add an impact player by the trade deadline.
When you stop to think about it, how many players are really having standout seasons? Rick Nash, obviously. Kevin Klein has certainly exceeded expectations. Derek Stepan has been a point-per-game player when healthy. And Kevin Hayes has been a pleasant surprise as a rookie. Read More→
The Rangers obviously endured a significant loss with the news that Henrik Lundqvist will miss around three weeks of the regular season but here’s the thing; if it was going to happen then now is the perfect time, in the perfect situation and with a great schedule coming up. Providing Lundqvist comes back 100% the Rangers may see this as a blessing in disguise.
A quick look at the Rangers busy schedule for the next three weeks and there are several games where, based purely on standings and opposition quality, the Rangers shouldn’t ‘need’ Lundqvist which begs the question whether Talbot would have been in line for more starts this month anyway. In February alone the Rangers have several ‘bottom feeders’ on tap.
The Sabres, Coyotes (twice), Leafs are all on the February schedule while the Flames, Flyers and Avalanche also play the Rangers and aren’t exactly intimidating opponents this season either. Given Alain Vigneault’s declaration that he knew which games Talbot was going to get moving forward, did he look at the rather friendly – and busy – schedule and had already planned a heavier workload for Talbot in February?
The 2014-2015 campaign has been something of an odd season thus far. The beginning was marred by injury and ineffectiveness, although that’s not all that weird. Rangers fans have gotten somewhat used to slow starts recently. We had all the Anthony Duclair drama. Some soft goals and Hank debate. Rick Nash’s resurgence. The kids trying to make their mark. Zuccarello’s one-year deal and subsequent slow production. Marc Staal’s exntension. Salary cap issues. And, of course, Tanner Glass.
That’s a lot going on for just under fifty games. All of that of that only even gets into what was happening internally with the team. Forget the drama over Anton Stralman’s success in Tampa, Islanders all of a sudden relevance, the four horse race in the Metropolitan division, or the NHL jumping on board the #fancystat bandwagon with jersey microchips. This season has had no shortage of narratives.
As the New York Rangers powerplay continues to struggle, one area that has become a glaring issue is the lack of right-handed shots, specifically those that can be used on the powerplay. Last week I looked at the 1-3-1 powerplay the Rangers use, and how Dan Boyle’s presence as the QB has kept penalty killers honest.
The main purposes of the 1-3-1 is to create multiple passing lanes for easy shots on net. This is accomplished by having shooters at the circles on their off-wings. The problem is that the Rangers have just two right-handed shots that can play on the powerplay: Boyle and Derek Stepan. Outside of that, their only righties are Lee Stempniak, Dan Girardi, Kevin Klein, and Jesper Fast. Girardi is not the answer on the powerplay, as outlined by Kevin Power of Blueshirt Banter. Klein has a rocket of a shot, but that’s all he has for that spot. Fast is unknown to be honest, and Stempniak has exactly zero powerplay points.
Mats Zuccarello is not producing the goods. To some that’s a pretty inflammatory comment, but think about it for a moment. Zuccarello’s production is well down compared to last season’s impressive totals, and it’s not just because his powerplay numbers are down (an issue in its own right, covered today at noon). He’s simply not impacting games right now, and hasn’t for most of the season.
I saw a blog comment recently and the writer made a very valid point; given his linemates Zuccarello’s numbers should be much better. For the majority of the season he’s shared a line with Rick Nash, who had been on an All Star level tear, and has predominantly had Derek Stepan (close to a point per game himself) as his center, yet Zuccarello’s production is modest.
Thanks to several large, long term contracts, the Rangers face a struggle to retain Zuccarello at the end of this season. Regardless how you judge Zuccarello’s season so far, he’s surely going to expect a raise on his $3.5 million salary. He’ll also know that if he hits free agency he’ll get that raise he’s looking for because, to put it mildly, the upcoming free agent class is underwhelming at best. Remember what Benoit Pouliot got from the Oilers on the back of a solid but hardly All Star season?
Regardless of their current record, the Rangers have a lot of passengers at present – quite a few players need to improve beyond just the four we discussed yesterday. If we were being critical, how much of the solid yet unspectacular record the Rangers currently have is the product of Rick Nash’s season (so far) and Henrik Lundqvist’s December hot streak? You can argue core players such as Chris Kreider, Ryan McDonagh, and others need to be better, but you can also reasonably suggest Alain Vigneault needs to change as well.
Most elite players (goaltending aside) around the league are ridden by their head coaches: Double shifted, out on the ice as much as reasonably possible. Sure, at times John Tortorella rode his star players too much, which can be counterproductive but consider this: Amongst the top-30 goal scorers in the league, Rick Nash sits just 19th in ice time. Nash is definitely not playing too much.
Those with less ice time than Nash included Tampa’s Kucherov, Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar in Detroit, and Max Pacioretty of Montreal – players on clubs who, arguably, all ice more balanced and deeper line-ups than the Rangers do up front. All three clubs certainly have more than two settled lines, which is all the Rangers have at the moment. Given the way the Islanders fourth line outworked the Rangers on Tuesday, are the Rangers losing games because they haven’t got the depth they require?
The Rangers have had a strong year to date – even as we conveniently forget Tuesday’s defeat – but entering the second half of the season find themselves scrapping for the final seed in the Metropolitan division and stuck behind the Islanders and Penguins as they approach February. The Rangers can improve; something that bodes well for the rest of the season. Here are four players that have plenty more to give.
The Rangers captain missed a chunk of the season through injury and since being back has had dominant games as well as games where he’s been inconsistent, particularly defensively. McDonagh has been streaky rather than his consistent self. Before the All Star break McDonagh had a seven game pointless streak and has scored his points in bunches (including 4 points in one 3 game spell and 6 points in a 6 game spell).
It’s not all about numbers; McDonagh can improve in his own zone as well, by being better positionally while also cutting down on the turnovers. Against the Isles on Tuesday, McDonagh again wasn’t exactly stellar but he needs to be for his team to succeed. If McDonagh gets back to his consistent, elite self it’ll go a long way in helping the Rangers catch the Pens and Isles in the standings.
The good news is that Kreider was coming on very strong before the All Star break. The bad news is that he was making up for what has been a very stop-start season so far, individually speaking. Kreider has the overall package to take over games with his size, speed and willingness to crash the net and play physically. Kreider had six points in his last six games before the break and has three game winners in his last nine games showing his increasing ability to be the difference maker the Rangers hoped they’d found in Kreider.
To be successful, the Rangers need Rick Nash to continue his All Star ways but if Kreider can help Nash produce and begin to develop the consistency that has so far eluded his game the Rangers will have two physically dominant power forwards that could help create match-up nightmares for the opposition.
Another player hit by the injury bug, Dan Boyle has flashed his ability and shown, in patches, why the Rangers went out and committed to a 38 year old no longer wanted by his former employers. As expected, most of Boyle’s damage has come with the extra man (7 of 9 points on the powerplay) but he needs to produce more, stay healthy and help the Rangers decide games with a legitimate and consistent powerplay. As Dave discussed earlier this week, the Rangers powerplay has been much improved this season and Dan Boyle will be a major part of that unit so long as he’s healthy.
(this was mostly written before the Isles loss….) Has Miller finally found his feet in the NHL? Has he earned the full trust of Alain Vigneault? What’s Millers actual NHL upside? There are a lot of questions confronting JT Miller as he enters the second half of the season. Miller’s talent is undeniable; he’s already centred the Rangers’ second powerplay unit and has already popped up with some big goals for the Rangers this season.
However, like others on this list, Miller hasn’t been consistent enough, has gone long stretches without producing and on top of that still hasn’t earned Alain Vigneault’s complete trust. It appears that Miller is again a scratch for tonight’s game against the speedy Canadiens. Miller is clearly struggling to convince Vigneault of his worth. Something to consider as the club approach the trade deadline.
A big part of any success the Rangers have this season will be because of their depth stepping up and the kids (including Miller, Kevin Hayes and Jesper Fast) on the roster will be a big part of that. We saw the Rangers lose to the Isles on Tuesday in part because the Islanders’ bottom six outplayed their Rangers counterparts. It’s a legitimate concern for Alain Vigneault. If Miller can establish himself over the next 37 regular season games it will likely mean the Rangers have finally developed a consistent third line and Miller will have banished any lingering doubts about his long term Rangers future. He’s clearly capable of more.
Rick Nash has always been a solid penalty killer, a legitimate threat to provide offense even while down a man. Over his career, Nash has 20 shorthanded goals, with three already coming this season. Nash is so efficient on the PK because he has that rare combination of hockey IQ and skill. He uses these to anticipate passes, disrupt passing lanes, and generate odd-man rushes.
I’m a bit limited in my resources, since I’m basically just taking pictures of my TV as examples, so I only have one example of when it failed (hence the double-edged sword). We know when it succeeds, as these are the plays that we see turn into rushes up the ice. But when it fails, it temporarily leaves him out of position.