Archive for State of the Rangers
In case you missed it, and I’m pretty sure you haven’t, the Rangers have inserted Tanner Glass back to the fourth line. In the process, Jesper Fast has been scratched from the lineup. It’s October, so it’s not worth panicking yet (as I mentioned this morning), but this is a bit of an alarming move.
The Rangers need a solid fourth line to compete for a Stanley Cup this year. Scoring and skating depth throughout the lineup is critical, as is a fourth line that can eat up defensive zone starts. The Rangers had this in 2013-2014, and rode that roster construction all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Rangers did not have that last year. The scoring suffered. The defense suffered. And while injuries certainly played a role in their seven game loss to the Lightning, the roster was not constructed to give the Rangers their best chance at winning.
When Kevin Klein was confirmed to be starting alongside Keith Yandle at the end of the preseason, I theorized that the two could be a solid duo. Klein has a heavy shot, looks to shoot often, and does a fairly good job of putting himself in a position to shoot. Yandle, on the other hand, is one of the best passers in the game, and makes many subtle plays to draw attention before dishing for a chance.
We started seeing this last night, as Klein scored the Rangers second of the game off a feed from Yandle, GIF’d above. From this play, we see Klein enter the zone at the high slot, then drift to the left circle. As Klein moves to the left circle –while the play is on the far side of the ice– Yandle moves from the left point across the blue line to support the play on the right point. From here, Yandle draws two Hawks to him with a fake shot as Klein angles himself towards Yandle to accept a pass. Yandle sees this, and feeds it right in his wheel house. Klein buried it.
In a Twitter conversation yesterday, the ability to limit shot attempts against while on the penalty kill came up. It’s been known that the Rangers have an elite penalty killing unit. They’ve always been in the top-ten in the league in killing penalties, but much of that was attributed to having Henrik Lundqvist in net. Lundqvist is certainly an All World goalie, but he’s not the only penalty killer out there.
To best evaluate individual success –independent of the goaltender– is to evaluate shot attempts against while the player is on the ice in these situations. It’s not perfect, but it is certainly a helper to evaluate. Looking at last year’s numbers (FA/60), the Rangers have had some elite talent on the penalty kill, especially at forward.
This is a guest post received from Pat Keogh, who reached out to me yesterday with this idea. It was something I touched on via Twitter, and Patrick does a great job summing it up. Be sure to follow him on Twitter here.
The Philadelphia Flyers placed defenseman Andrew MacDonald on waivers this week, sparking some discussion on Twitter due to the size of his contract and his reputation as a reliable, shot blocking, “stay at home” defenseman. Rangers fans in particular may have found amusement in a close rival making this kind of roster move, but also perhaps frustration, given the similarities between Andrew MacDonald and Rangers stalwart Dan Girardi. At the same time as Girardi detractors can seem overly critical, apologists for the defenseman often ephemeral qualities such as “grit” or “heart”. A closer look at the stats helps clarify the comparison, which may bear more similarities than some Rangers fans would like.
Below are graphs of Girardi and MacDonald’s respective WOWY (With Or Without You) CF% numbers, including CF% as well as zone start adjusted CF%. While many of MacDonald’s teammates demonstrate a larger share of the shot attempts taken on ice without MacDonald, the same could be said for a greater proportion of Girardi’s teammates. Here we see the comparison is actually less flattering for Dan Girardi than for Andrew MacDonald.
The Rangers are likely looking at a slow start this season and anything better than treading water will be a bonus for Alain Vigneault. Fans should not expect miracles to kick off the season for multiple reasons. While Dave has already discussed the Rangers looking at all their line-up options to begin the season, the fact is only one line offers stability. The trio of Rick Nash-Derick Brassard-Mats Zuccarello will start the year together and that should come as no surprise but beyond this, there will be significant tinkering with the line-up. It’s not just line-up decisions however that could cause a slow start.
Looking beyond the obvious roster decisions and the Rangers have a tough start when you factor in the early schedule. Starting in Chicago is tough enough but throw in a back to back with the talented (and presumably now healthy) Blue Jackets makes the Rangers opening three games a real baptism of fire for the 15/16 season. It doesn’t get much easier. With Eastern conference heavyweights Montreal on tap inside the first two weeks and the San Jose Sharks due two weeks today, the Rangers have a lot of talented opponents to begin the year. ‘Relief’ should come in the form of games against the Devils and the Coyotes but a .500 record after eight games would not be such a bad thing given the opponents up first to kick off October.
Tanner Glass returned to practice today, skating as the 8th defenseman with Dylan McIlrath. Glass missed two days with a leg issue. The only other item of note from practice was Emerson Etem swapping in with Jesper Fast for fourth line reps. This doesn’t mean Etem will play over Fast, just that he’s getting reps in at his usual position.
When Henrik Lundqvist went down with a fluke vascular injury last season, all eyes turned to Cam Talbot. A very short time after inking a very reasonable one year, $1.45 million extension, Talbot was thrust into starting duty. After his impressive rookie season as backup to the King, this was his first big test. Long story short, Talbot delivered and the focus began to shift to the ultimate offseason return for the former University of Alabama-Huntsville keeper. Whatever we may think of the value he brought in hindsight, his departure to Edmonton left the Rangers without a reliable backup in the system. Especially in light of Mackenzie Skapski’s injury.
On the very same day Talbot was shipped out to western Canada, the front office turned Ryan Haggerty into Antti Raanta. While a somewhat under-the-radar move, I think everyone assumed the Rangers had found their backup. Raanta had a very short NHL track record (39 career games), but had put up excellent number this past season. At 26 years-old, he was an ideal backup with some upside.
While the preseason is all about getting into game shape, finding line combinations and putting a competitive roster together it’s also about asset management. The Rangers have several selection dilemmas coming up and it will be another test for new general manager, Jeff Gorton.
Several Ranger prospects are in danger of being waiver claims and as a club with a relatively shallow prospect pool (thanks to graduations, a strong, young roster and asset stripping trades) the Rangers cannot afford to lose players for nothing. There isn’t the organisational depth to accommodate several losses.
A player such as Oscar Lindberg looks increasingly assured of a roster spot so ‘managing’ Lindberg will be more about putting him in a position to succeed. Lindberg has made a good start to the preseason and with several teams around the league reportedly interested in him (according to the always well informed Elliotte Friedman) the Rangers need him to make the team.
Much was made yesterday of Alain Vigneault’s decision to dress defenseman Kevin Klein back-to-back nights this week given the developing competition for the final spots on the blueline in training camp.
On the one hand, Klein only dressed Monday because Dan Boyle was a last minute scratch, so perhaps some are reading into it too much. However, there were many other players Vigneault could switched with Klein last night, but he still chose to play the 30-year-old veteran again.
Despite Klein’s struggles late last season, it was still widely assumed that the final spot on the bottom pairing was all his entering training camp, but there are a few other things to consider. Read More→