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What’s best for Kevin Hayes?

Bill Kostroun/AP

Bill Kostroun/AP

With Derek Stepan only three compulsory games away from a return to the Rangers lineup and Derick Brassard firmly entrenched as the Rangers second line center, questions have already begun to surface about what will be best for Kevin Hayes’ development.

Hayes has had a fairly promising start to his NHL career amid difficult circumstances. Asked to start his big league career in a position that isn’t his best and in the Rangers’ weakest position, Hayes has struggled in the face-off circle winning a feeble 24.6% of his draws. On the flip side, Hayes has shown excellent skill on the puck, a willingness to play both ends of the rink and composure on the puck that isn’t seen from most rookies.

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An early look at Rangers line deployment

AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

Although the New York Rangers’ lines are in a state of flux due to injuries, we have seen enough games thus far to get a fair barometer on how Alain Vigneault will deploy his lines throughout the season. Earlier this month, prior to the start of the season, I took a guess at how AV would deploy his lines. The only thing that we knew for sure at that point was that the fourth line would get buried with defensive zone starts. That part at least remains true.

Before we get into it, we should note that J.T. Miller, Jesper Fast, Chris Mueller, and Ryan Malone haven’t really played enough for the zone start percentages to be a true barometer of where AV has been starting them. However, the latter three have spent most of their time on the fourth line, with Miller getting most of his time on the third line (one game on the fourth line). The numbers for these players may be skewed a bit.

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Skapski recalled to Hartford; McCarthy sent to ECHL

The Hartford Wolf Pack made two roster moves today, recalling goalie MacKenzie Skapski from the ECHL’s Greenville Road Warrios, and assigning defenseman forward Chris McCarthy to the ECHL. Skapski, a first year pro out of the WHL, played one game with Greenville, posting a .906 SV% and 3.17 GAA. McCarthy , also a first year pro out of UVM, did not play in any of the first four games for the Pack.

Update: Hartford has released forward Richard Nejezchleb from his PTO. He will rejoin the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL for his over-age season.

Rangers’ depth shining in the early going

Matt Hunwick has settled in nicely

Forget Mike Kostka. The one-game experiment with the 28-year-old defender notwithstanding, the Rangers’ depth has been extremely impressive so far this season.

Derek Stepan and Dan Boyle are two enormous losses that most teams wouldn’t be able to withstand, but New York has weathered the storm remarkably well through seven games.

It hasn’t been easy.

Poor planning down the middle during the summer forced first Martin St. Louis and now Kevin Hayes into unnatural positions, but both players have done well learning on the fly. The center problem has been felt most at the faceoff dots, but that’s never been Stepan’s hallmark anyway. And though Stepan’s myriad of contributions obviously can’t be replaced, the absence of the No. 1 center has done nothing to affect the team’s primary scorers on the wing. Rick Nash is off to an unreal start, and rotating top-liners St. Louis and Chris Kreider have found the scoresheet early and often even without No. 21. Stepan has been missed more in the defensive end, but the entire team has been awful in its own zone thus far, so the subs would be hard to fault for that.

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Rangers rally for three straight, make it three straight

Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

The New York Rangers rallied for three unanswered goals to beat the New Jersey Devils in overtime, making it three straight wins for the Blueshirts. Trailing 3-1 in the third period, all on powerplay goals, the Rangers scored twice in the third and once in overtime to collect the two points against a Metropolitan Division rival. Henrik Lundqvist wasn’t at the top of his game, allowing the three powerplay goals, but the Rangers picked him up when he needed it.

Chris Mueller, who has been impressive, and Chris Kreider notched a goal and an assist each. Rick Nash scored the tying goal, and Kevin Klein became the first Rangers defenseman to score this season, collecting the overtime winner after a nice feed by Kreider. Oh, and the Rangers scored twice on the powerplay. How about that?

On to the goals:

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Around the Farm: Bodie notches game winner with 18 seconds left

Mat Bodie notched the game winner for the Hartford Wolf Pack with 18 seconds remaining in the third, propelling the Pack to a 5-4 win over Worcester. Conor Allen, Ryan Bourque, Oscar Lindberg, and Danny Kristo –so basically 95% of the big prospect names– also scored for the Pack, who remain undefeated in regulation.

Below are the lines from the rest of the kids in action. Note that WHL games are late, and don’t finish when these post. The line for Keegan Iverson is through a point in the game.

Game 7: Start a winning streak vs NJ

Photo: LoHud

Photo: LoHud

After a three game losing streak, the Rangers have won two in a row, with one coming against a powerhouse team in the San Jose Sharks. Tonight, the suddenly-able-to-score New Jersey Devils are hosting our New York Rangers. The Devs have scored 17 goals in their first five games this year, but have allowed 16 goals. Cory Schneider is a rock in net, but the defense in front of him is suspect at best. Exploiting the defense will be the key to success tonight.

Pete DeBoer has the Devils playing a 1-2-2 forecheck which they’ll use aggressively in the offensive zone or passively in the neutral zone as a trap depending on game situation. In the defensive zone, Deboer employs a hybrid overload/zone defensive system depending on whether the puck is along the boards or at mid-ice. On special teams, the Devils employ an umbrella/1-3-1 power playOn the penalty kill, the Devs rotate between a box and a diamond depending on puck location and the setup of the opposition.

Rangers lineup:

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Neutral zone counters – the backbone of NYR’s success

The modern day neutral zone

The modern day neutral zone

Everyone always wants to talk about whether or not teams should be dumping the puck vs. carrying or if teams are out- shooting (possessing) the opposition. In reality, these things are just outputs. They are the end result of how well a team is executing the process. For many teams, part of that process is their neutral zone systems.

The general consensus among 1-2-2 coaches like Alain Vigneault, is that the game is often won and lost in the neutral zone. Therefore, an extra effort is placed on designing tactics to win this part of the ice.

So what are those tactics?

Aside from forechecking strategies, which we have talked about a lot in the past, the two other fundamental systems employed in this area of the ice are neutral zone counters and regroups.

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Rick Nash’s hot start and tempering expectations

San Jose Sharks v New York Rangers

Rick Nash is off to a hot goal-scoring streak to start the 2014-15 season, scoring 7 goals in 6 games, tops in the NHL. Nash, who was the subject of much criticism over the off-season for “not showing up” in the playoffs despite strong possession numbers, is in for a bit of a wake up call, which may be coming sooner than later. Ranger fans should be expecting a goal-scoring slump from the winger, but it’s ok.

Nash has had strong possession numbers over the course of his first two seasons with the Rangers. His CF% is 54.8 over that span. This season, in even strength situations, Nash’s CF% and FF% are last on the team (44.9 and 43.1 respectively). His saving grace thus far has been an insanely high and unsustainable SH% of 44.4%, which is going to drop dramatically over the course of the season. For a player who led the NHL in shots last postseason while only scoring 3 goals, he was bound to find a string of good fortune and he seems to have found it early on this year.

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Logjam at wing may spell end of Duclair (temporarily)

Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Anthony Duclair was a healthy scratch as the Rangers beat the Sharks 4-0 yesterday. When the initial news broke, there was some serious outrage over scratching Duke, some of it was rational and warranted, most was irrational. The Duke has three assists on the season, but has yet to put one in the net. That is partially due to lack of shots on goal –he has just six SOG– but it also has to do with his ability to put himself in a position to get shots on net.

Duclair has two games where he’s registered a shot on goal: The back-to-back 6-3 shellings by the New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs. His two assists: Against Columbus in that 5-2 disaster. He’s not being given the room he had in the preseason, which is expected since he’s now playing against the cream of the crop. Spending some time up top watching a game or two can help a 19-year-old kid identify the subtle differences (speed) of the game. He hasn’t played his way out of the lineup, not by a long shot.

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