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Despite “trust,” Fast not getting critical minutes

Probably the most ready (Photo: Blueshirts United)

Photo: Blueshirts United

Jesper Fast has been a bit of a hot topic for the New York Rangers this season. After breaking camp with the pro club for the second season in a row, Fast was again demoted before the month of November. Unlike last season, Fast’s stay in Hartford was temporary, as he was recalled three weeks later, and has stuck with the team since.

Fast was held off the score sheet for the first five games following his recall, but has put up 2-2-4 in the seven games following. All told, he has four points in 14 games while getting absolutely crushed with defensive zone starts (most DZ starts on the team) on the fourth line.

Alain Vigneault has said many times that he trusts “Quickie” in all aspects of the game. But over the past few games –looking at the great shift charts available at war-on-ice, we can see that’s not entirely accurate.

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Rangers need to get Zuccarello going

Looking for some form...Scott Levy/Getty Images

Looking for some form…Scott Levy/Getty Images

While the Rangers keep looking for some consistency and Rick Nash keeps the team in playoff contention almost single handidly, one of the most underwhelming players this season – so far – has been Mats Zuccarello. The little Norwegian winger has failed to live up to his new one year contract (and hefty pay rise) and certainly hasn’t played to a level where he can expect to a get rich, long term deal this coming summer.

With all that said, the Rangers really need Zuccarello to get going. Zuccarello is one of the Rangers more creative players and, Marty St Louis and Derek Stepan aside, arguably boasts the best on ice vision of any Ranger. An in form Zuccarello would surely make the Rangers powerplay much more efficient which would go a long way in helping the team string more wins together. Last season Zuccarello had 17 points with the extra man. This year, somehow, he has yet to record his first point on the powerplay. A huge fall from grace for the popular and hard working winger.

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Kreider returns to practice

Chris Kreider, who missed Monday’s win over Pittsburgh with neck spasms, was back at practice today, per the team Twitter. Kreider developed the spasms after colliding with Carl Hagelin at practice on Sunday. The team worked on the powerplay, with some new units:

PP1: Rick Nash, Martin St. Louis, Derick Brassard, Derek Stepan, Dan Boyle
PP2: J.T. Miller, Lee Stempniak, Mats Zuccarello, Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi

This suggests that both Miller and Stempniak will be in the lineup over the weekend. That means Jesper Fast will likely be the healthy scratch.

Bettman: 2015-2016 cap to be “around $73 million”

Per Pierre LeBrun, citing Gary Bettman in a meeting with team owners, next year’s salary cap ceiling is projected to be in the $73 million range. That will be a $4 million increase (5.79%) increase on this year’s cap. Bettman stressed that this number is based on the Canadian Dollar not going down much further, Every dollar the cap goes up is critical for the Rangers, as they have five pending UFAs (St. Louis, Zuccarello, Stempniak, Staal, Hunwick) and five pending RFAs (Stepan, Hagelin, Miller, Fast, Moore).

Most of the pending free agents are due raises, specifically Derek Stepan.

Is J.T. Miller here to stay this time?

Anthony Duclair is playing in the WJC because of J.T. Miller

Stop me if this sounds familiar: a heralded first-round pick impressed immediately in his first professional season, but struggled as a sophomore and spent much of that season in the American Hockey League. In his third year, the prospect looked like a lock for a full-time job out of training camp, but was sent back to Hartford after just a few games. But about a month later, the player was back in New York and the light bulb had finally clicked on – he was a major contributor from then on.

Indeed, Chris Kreider amazed us with five playoff goals in his first NHL action out of college, then spent much of 2012-2013 with the Wolf Pack. He spent six more games in Hartford at the start of last season before reaching Broadway for good.

J.T. Miller’s path has been very similar. The 2011 first-round pick began his pro career at a much younger age than Kreider, but he, too, impressed in 26 games with the Blueshirts in 2012-2013, then left fans a bit disappointed last year by failing to break out and split the season between the Rangers and Wolf Pack. Miller looked like the best forward at training camp in September, but was quickly demoted to Hartford after just three games in October. Miller returned to the Rangers on November 29th, and he’s posted three points in four games since then while playing primarily with Dominic Moore and Jesper Fast before a stint in the top-six alongside Derek Stepan and Marty St. Louis on Monday.

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BSB FanDuel: 12/9

Here is the info for today’s FanDuel league: Sign up here, the league link is here.

For those unfamiliar, you are given $55,000 to construct a team of 2 LW, 2 RW, 2 C, 2 D, and 1 G. The goal is to find some good bargains (my advice is to save money on defense and spend big on offense) and save money for some stars you know will put up points. High fantasy points per game (FPG) with low cost is a good way to go, but look for streaks as well.

Rotowire has a lineup optimizer, as does DangleFactory. They are good resources if this intrigues you, or you’re new to daily fantasy sports.

As always, if the league fills up before you can get in, let me know in the comments. I leave the league size at 10 people for now to ensure it fills up. If there is more interest, I will expand the size as this continues.

Rangers loan Anthony Duclair to World Juniors

Per Steve Zipay, the New York Rangers have loaned winger Anthony Duclair to Team Canada for the upcoming World Junior Championships. This was expected, as Duclair had been a healthy scratch for a few games in a row now, and it looked like he had lost his spot in the top-nine. Duclair will be with Team Canada for the next month or so. After that, the Rangers will need to make a decision to keep him on the NHL roster or return him to the QMJHL.

In 18 games this year, Duke has put up 1-6-7, while driving puck possession (51.27% CF) in sheltered minutes (60% OZ starts).

Rangers blow another two goal lead, come out with victory in OT (Goal breakdown now with GIFs!)

Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images

Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images

The New York Rangers sure are a weird team. They put up a giant oh-fer against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but in three games against the Pittsburgh Penguins, they are 2-0-1 and were almost 3-0. This is a team that blew another two goal lead, but didn’t let it get to them as Kevin Klein –again– was able win it in overtime for the good guys, sending Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin home, wondering how they are 1-5-1 in their last 7 against the Rangers.

Henrik Lundqvist made 32 saves, Dominic Moore contributed two assists, and eight other Rangers contributed with points in the victory. While the victory was big, the fact that they blew another two goal lead –for the second night in a row– is somewhat alarming. But you know what, I’ll take points in the standings, and work out the kinks as we keep moving along.

On to the goals:

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Game 26: Home whites against depleted Penguins

The New York Rangers will be wearing their home whites tonight when the Pittsburgh Penguins come to town, and it will be a heavily depleted Penguins team that comes to town. The Pens will be without three of their top five scorers (Hornqvist, Kunitz, Letang), another top-four defenseman (Maata), and another top-six winger (Dupuis). If there was ever a time to beat down on a division leader, now’s the time. This is a big game for the Rangers, who need points.

The Penguins are playing a slightly different system under Mike Johnston than it did under Bylsma. Johnston has Pittsburgh running a stacked 1-2-2 forecheck, which is what AV runs. Everyone attacks and breaks-out in packs. Short, quick passes and attacking the blueline with speed is preferred over dump and chase hockey and home run passes. Pretty much everyone is playing this way now. Not much has changed in the DZ. They still run a basic zone defense, a 1-3-1 power play and a hybrid penalty kill depending on puck location. It’s a copy cat league kids.

Rangers lineup:

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Should the Rangers drop Chris Kreider?

"Defense? What's that?..." (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

“Defense? What’s that?…” (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

(This post was written before the doubts about  Kreider’s availability for tonight were released. But… the point of the post remains.) The arguments for keeping Chris Kreider in the line-up and hopefully riding out his ‘growing pains’ are obvious. Size, speed, a wicked shot and that the team wide lack of size would be further exaggerated without him in the line-up. That all said, Kreider has obviously hit a brick wall this season. His production has dried up which means his defensive miscues and poor decision making are no longer being covered up.

In the long term Kreider remains a key part of the Rangers future, although legitimate concerns are starting to be raised about whether his iffy decision making ability and his defensive awareness will hold him back from becoming a top tier power forward. Even as recently as the start of this season, Kreider looked on his way to taking the next step but his production to start the year was clearly masking the errors that continue to punctuate his overall game.

In the short term, the Rangers could and perhaps should look elsewhere for an injection of offense and defensive accountability. Should Anthony Duclair be back in the line-up? Equally dangerous with his skating ability, Duclair is certainly no worse in his own end than Kreider and has looked dangerous in the offensive zone even without the goals to show for it. Duclair is however, just one option.

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