Archive for State of the Rangers
There used to be an obsession with team toughness and in some circles people connected to the Rangers (including some in the media) bemoaned the ‘vanilla’ Rangers. Well, this year’s Rangers are the President Trophy winners who are aiming for back to back Stanley Cup Final appearances and who are far from a physically intimidating or ‘tough’ opponent.
The Rangers lack an intimidating presence but the truth is, they don’t need it; basically it’s an outdated demand placed on teams (it’s also why Tanner Glass is even more unnecessary but we digress) by some in the media who conform to old stereotypes.
If you watch the Rangers closely the Rangers don’t back down from anyone, they’re more than happy to engage with physical opponents but this Rangers team have taken a different route to success. This year the Rangers are 24th overall in penalty minutes (699 at the last count), they are 24th in major penalties and 24th in fighting majors. This team isn’t a nasty team that visits the penalty box frequently but this team wins games. A lot of games.
Despite being lumbered with Tanner Glass as a linemate, Dominic Moore has once again provided the Rangers with a quality depth player, the kind of player who makes a difference in the playoffs. In the playoffs, games are traditionally much tighter affairs and it is often the role players that need to step up (think Mike Rupp for the Devils or Alec Martinez for the Kings last summer) and Moore is a player that always works hard and contributes in so many ways. Indeed, Moore has given the Rangers a little bit of everything this season.
On a team that struggles in the faceoff circle, Moore has been the Rangers best faceoff specialist with a 54.3% success rate (at time of writing), a number that’s also good for a top twenty ranking league wide (players with at least 500 faceoffs taken) and that skill has played a big part in helping Moore be a key part of the Rangers penalty kill which had risen to 7th in the league. Moore leads all Rangers forwards in shorthanded ice time and also has two SH goals to his name.
People questioned the amount Glen Sather gave up for Marty St Louis, baulked at the cost of Rick Nash and panicked when Anthony Duclair was part of the Keith Yandle package. Move forward from each of those deals however and each star acquisition brought into the Rangers fold has made a tangible impact on the Rangers helping turn the organisation into an annual contender. (Of course, Keith Yandle’s true impact is still to be truly measured).
What has allowed Sather to make all these bold moves and show almost blatant disregard to the importance of early round draft picks is the way the Rangers roster has progressively become younger, more talented and well established. The Rangers have eight players who have scored at least 10 goals, five of which have only ever played for the Rangers, while Derick Brassard is just 27 and tied into the Rangers for the long term. That number of ten goal goalscorers doesn’t count JT Miller whose impact is now being felt consistently and who should hit double figures.
When the New York Rangers announced that goalie Henrik Lundqvist has been cleared to return to practice, most of the Ranger Twitter-verse united in cheers of “WOOHOO!” But a few people stated that the Rangers now have a goalie controversy. Cam Talbot has been playing out of his mind the past few games, and has done a fantastic job of filling in for Lundqvist while he was injured.
Let me be clear: There is no goaltender controversy for the Rangers.
Talbot has been great after a few shaky games to begin his run as a starter. He’s carried the Rangers through major SH% regression, leading them to a likely division win and a potential President’s Trophy. That said, Henrik Lundqvist is the starting goaltender for the New York Rangers. Period.
The next two weeks may tell us a lot more about JT Miller’s future. With Marty St Louis out injured for up to eight games the opportunity for JT Miller to really show his worth to Alain Vigneault has never been greater. Whether Miller gets moved up to the second line or Kevin Hayes goes from third line center to second line wing, it appears more ice time and responsibility will fall on the two young forwards.
While Kevin Hayes has recently been flavour of the month (to an extent deservedly so) and has begun to prove his ability at the NHL level, Miller is still very much in the prove-it stage of his development. That said, even Miller has started to earn praise from Vigneault recently and now is the time Miller can really establish himself as a Ranger moving forward.
Right now, the Rangers are struggling to score and it’s largely thanks to their defensive play but particularly their goaltending that they’re still winning in bunches. With a stretch of difficult games ahead (Chicago, Anaheim and a hot Ottawa amongst others), Miller’s ability to come through offensively wouldn’t go unnoticed. The third line (so Hagelin – Hayes – Miller) has been one of the Rangers more reliable units in recent weeks but it’s expected the unit will be broken up with St Louis unavailable.
With Martin St. Louis out 10-14 days with a knee injury, the New York Rangers find themselves needing to weather the storm while he heals. We can debate the argument over whether St. Louis needed the rest or not, but the point remains that the Rangers will need to find a way to deal with a top-six forward out of the lineup for 4-6 games.
The Rangers are not expected to make a call up, at least right away, while St. Louis is out. This makes relative sense, as the Rangers have a limited number of call ups until rosters expand for the playoffs. That said, this also means the return of Tanner Glass to the lineup. That’s not exactly ideal.
Last night, the fourth line accounted for all of the scoring for the New York Rangers in their 2-1 win over the Florida Panthers. While the Rangers probably didn’t deserve to win that game (Florida doubled up on them in shot attempts and scoring chances), the game illustrated just how important four line depth is to team success.
The ability to roll four lines is something we talk about a lot here. Aside from the obvious benefits of additional rest time for the top players, rolling four lines is critical to the success of the Rangers, given the way Alain Vigneault deploys his lines. The top-six in an AV system get split starts between the offensive zone and the defensive zone, while the third line usually gets sheltered minutes in the offensive zone. The fourth line gets the defensive zone burden.
In a season where the Rangers, from top to bottom, have done almost everything right the decision to insert Matt Hunwick straight into the line-up is the sign of a missed opportunity. When Henrik Lundqvist went down with an injury the team turned to Cam Talbot. Slowly but surely Talbot has turned himself into a legitimate NHL starter – at worst a high end backup – and moving forward, has developed into an asset for the franchise.
When Lundqvist eventually returns the embarrassment of riches in goal will be a huge advantage for the Rangers. On top of that the team has identified a young netminder in Mackenzie Skapski who may also have a future with the big club. In injury, opportunities lie or so they say.
While Talbot’s form was critical to the Rangers pursuing a high seed and playoff position, there is less pressure (to an extent) on Klein’s replacement in the line-up. Barring a collapse of the most epic of proportions the Rangers have a playoff spot sown up and barring a slightly less but still epic collapse they have a high seed in the bag too. The timing of Kevin Klein’s injury should represent an opportunity to test one of the younger Hartford blueliner’s.
Cam Talbot is starting to put to bed any doubts that he isn’t starter material and is fasting becoming an extremely useful asset for the Rangers. The numbers from the past few weeks bear repeating. Talbot has posted a 3-0-1 record, along with a 0.99 GAA, a .966 SV% (112 saves on 116 shots), and 1 shutout in his last four appearances which alone is incredibly impressive before you even consider who he’s put those numbers up against.
Talbot’s last four appearances have been against the Predators at home and on the road against the Red Wings, Hawks and the Islanders. All four clubs are in the league’s top ten in points and are all rightly tabbed as playoff contenders, so Talbot isn’t just getting the ‘soft games’ like when Henrik Lundqvist previously might have needed a rest.
Fact is, recently Talbot has been nothing short of sensational and has been so at a time when he’s been needed most. The Rangers scoring has dried up as of late just as the schedule has got (much) tougher, so Talbot has not had room for error. Meanwhile he has started 16 of the last 17 games, proving he can handle a heavy load. He has a higher win percentage than Lundqvist and has matched the Rangers uber goalie and resident King in almost every key statistic.
There are precious few quality defensemen that become available in the National Hockey League. It’s why defensemen like James Wisniewski, Ben Lovejoy(!), Marek Zidlicky and Braydon Coburn all fetched far more than any of them should have done at the trade deadline. Most of them still have their uses for sure, but the prices that they were moved for were certainly inflated in each case. This all brings us to Rangers defenseman and the owner of one well discussed, long term and onerous contract, Dan Girardi.
It’s highly unlikely that Girardi gets moved any time soon. This is because Girardi has been incredibly loyal, is well respected inside the organisation and is an absolute iron man. He logs big minutes, he’s a low maintenance kind of guy and he’s a leader. That said, Girardi is regressing; he’s a possession disaster and his (average) skating and puck moving ability don’t really fit well with Alain Vigneault’s system now, let alone as he ages. However, the market for defensemen has never been weaker – get your supply and demand caps on – which means moving Girardi is something the Rangers must consider. This summer the Rangers should be able to find a taker for Girardi as teams are increasingly desperate for defensive help.