Archive for State of the Rangers
Every once in a while, the idea that the Rangers don’t truly have a #1 centerman pops up in Rangers discourse and I wanted to unpack this idea for a couple of reasons. First, it implies that neither Derek Stepan nor Derick Brassard is a true 1C, and second it undersells what is otherwise actually one of the Rangers’ major strengths: their center depth.
Both players have similar styles of play, functioning primarily to set up scoring opportunities for guys like Rick Nash, Chris Kreider, or Mats Zuccarello. While Brassard is perhaps a little bit flashier, making slick, highlight reel passes with favored scoring partner Mats Zuccarello, Derek Stepan is no less proficient at distributing the puck. Defensively they play similar games as well, with each center being positionally responsible and adept at providing puck support down the middle.
For the past several years, there has begun a philosophical shift in how the game of hockey is analyzed. The emergence of advanced statistics and more intricate systems-based strategies have highlighted this rift between the new and old school. Player evaluations and scouting fundamentals have evolved and the game has slowly taken on a new image.
This season, more than ever, I have observed a fundamental division of thought in what we characteristics and skills we value in a hockey player. For example, conventional wisdom has always taught us that a guy who will deliver a big hit, block a shot, or otherwise sacrifice his own well being for the betterment of the team was the type of player worth valuing. As our understanding of the game has evolved, we have come to look at the information that surrounds those traits. The reality is that when a player is performing those types of actions, it generally means that they don’t have the puck. Even the old edict will tell us, the other team can’t score when they don’t have the puck. Read More→
The Rangers are in a pretty pickle right now. They are in second place, sure, but does it really feel like they are in second place? It does not. This team hasn’t given everyone that warm and fuzzy feeling that the previous two teams has. It has us asking if you can really trust this team come playoff time.
One area that needs addressing is the powerplay. Alain Vigneault spent an eternity thinking Ryan McDonagh and Dan Boyle can anchor the top unit, relegating Keith Yandle to second unit minutes. This was, in a word, stupid. Yandle is the Rangers’ best powerplay guy, and while it took way too long to get him on the top unit, he is there now and playing the most powerplay minutes on the team (among defensemen) since Christmas.
The Caps are making most of the headlines (and justifiably so) while the Bruins, Lightning and the Islanders are all streaking at the right time of the season but, despite their inadequacies on the blueline and on special teams, there is no team in the East that the Rangers should fear as playoff season approaches – thanks to their depth at center.
The team’s center ‘situation’ however figures to change significantly over the short term almost regardless of how successful this year’s edition end up being. Against the Kings two summers ago, the Rangers were dominated at center and that difference up the middle left an undeniable imprint on the organisation and the acquisition of Eric Staal will have certainly been influenced by the organisation’s desire to control center ice, as well as find the ideal running mate for the team’s one elite forward, Rick Nash.
With that said, the Rangers’ situation at center promises to get serious scrutiny over the summer. Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard (barring abysmal – but unlikely – finishes to their respective seasons) are locked in for the immediate future but with JT Miller, Kevin Hayes, Oscar Lindberg, Dominic Moore and Staal on the roster, the Rangers have seven players who can play center on the current roster alone.
Pat’s post this morning inspired me. With this many off days in a row, we get a chance to digest what we’ve seen and rationally evaluate what the Rangers have for the stretch run. The forwards are a deep group and it should just be a matter of getting the right mixture out there, especially when Rick Nash returns. The defense, however, is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.
The Rangers have three defensemen that are overall solid: Ryan McDonagh, Keith Yandle, and Kevin Klein. Klein peaked at 30 years old, which is all sorts of odd, but hey, you take it. After them, you have Dan Girardi (bad this year, but better of late), Marc Staal (horrible this year), and Dan Boyle (can’t skate, can still pass). It’s about maximizing what you can get out of these guys for the playoffs.
It’s been a few games since the trade with the Carolina Hurricanes that brought Eric Staal to Broadway and reunited him with his brother Marc, and so we’ve begun to see what AV’s lines are going to look like from here on out for the season. While Rick Nash remains out with injury and is sure to change things substantially, here are some quick thoughts on the lineup as it currently stands and as it might be improved.
Right now the Rangers top line consists of Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan, and Jesper Fast, the second line is one of either Kevin Hayes or JT Miller (depending on who’s drawn the ire of AV), Derick Brassard, and Mats Zuccarello, the third line is Eric Staal between the two ‘Bergs, and the fourth line is whichever one of Hayes/Miller isn’t on the second line, Dominic Moore, and Tanner Glass.
Two questions for the mailbag this week. As always, submit your questions via the widget on the right, and we will answer them on a weekly basis.
Ray observes: This is more of an observation about the penalty kill than a question. So I’m going to put the full email from Ray below, it’s superb analysis.
I looked up some surprisingly hard to find numbers and did some calculations that might be of interest. I found my starting numbers on War-on-Ice. The stat is simple enough — TOI/GA (time-on-ice per goals against), so one is rating defenders by the simple metric of how well they keep the puck out of the net. High numbers are good.
I list all Rangers with at least 10 minutes of PK time and asterisk those with < 50 minutes.
On Wednesday, Sportsnet Canada aired a controversial (albeit, well produced) piece on how to drastically reduce goalie equipment dimensions, starring former Canadian Olympian and New York Rangers goaltender Corey Hirsch. Over the past few days, this segment has ripped like a tornado through the hockey community, sparking significant debate, frustration and outrage from various corners of the hockey world.
As you can imagine, the goaltending community was not particularly thrilled with the concepts proffered by Hirsch, and some of the more ignorant members of the hockey media have weighed in, as well. If you haven’t seen the video yet, take a minute to watch it in the embed below.
The Rangers have been up and down pretty frequently this season, but lately they’ve been up. The team has won 6 of their last 8 games, dating back to January 25th against Buffalo, despite missing Rick Nash for around a month now and Ryan McDonagh since the game against Philadelphia in which he sustained a concussion. Suffice to say the Rangers are persevering, finding ways to win and making a case for themselves as one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference.
As always this is a multifaceted phenomenon, with Lundqvist’s goaltending, JT Miller’s offensive production, and Keith Yandle’s overall form being major factors, but one of the things that’s flown under the radar lately has been the one-two punch of their top centermen, Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan.
The Rangers’ defensive lapses and disappointing individual performances have been discussed again and again, but one surprising issue this season has been the frequency with which the team hits the ice with very little energy. We saw so few of those pure stinker games in recent years under first John Tortorella and then Alain Vigneault, but this impossible-to-measure quality has been missing this season with unacceptable regularity.
Part of the problem has been the exodus of key individuals that served as the main spark plugs for the Blueshirts. Former captain Ryan Callahan could always be counted on to give the team a lift by sacrificing his body, Carl Hagelin had the unique ability to fly on ice and wreak havoc in the opponent’s zone, and Martin St. Louis channeled his veteran status and personal experiences into juice for the club. The Rangers survived the departure of Callahan just fine, but losing the latter two last summer may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. Read More→