With the recent news that Marc Staal is going to be out indefinitely with post concussion symptoms, the Rangers find themselves short one of their top-four defensemen. Whether you agree Staal should have been in the top-four is a bit irrelevant at the moment, since he was in the top-four regardless. This is going to force Alain Vigneault and possibly Jeff Gorton to adjust if this team is going to make a run at a Stanley Cup.
In fact, it has already forced AV to make a major change to his defense, taking Dan Girardi off the top pair for Brady Skjei. Adam Clendening was naturally in the lineup, and was put on his off-side with Kevin Klein. Dan Girardi moved down to play with Nick Holden, who moved back to his natural side on the left. I personally did not watch the game, but from what I’ve heard, Clendo and Skjei both had strong games in their roles.
Per Larry Brooks, Rangers defenseman Marc Staal is out indefinitely with post concussion syndrome. Staal has struggled with concussions since getting hit by his brother Eric into the boards about five years ago. Staal’s head hit the boards awkwardly, which caused the concussion.
Obviously this is not good news for the Rangers and for Staal, as Staal was having a relatively dependable bounce back year. He seemed to have clicked with Nick Holden to form a somewhat dependable second pairing.
Injuries have plagued Staal, and definitely zapped some of the potential. Without concussions and with two functional eyes, Staal was a can’t miss defenseman. Now he’s simply serviceable. What could have been.
If you were to pick a member of the Hartford Wolf Pack that would be an unsung hero for the Rangers this year, my guess is Marek Hrivik wouldn’t have been your first choice. Maybe it would have been Nicklas Jensen, or perhaps Boo Nieves. Hrivik may have been in the discussion, sure, but very few would have picked him first.
But that’s exactly what Hrivik has been thus far. He doesn’t have a good offensive stat line, which just two assists in 16 games. Hrivik has been a mainstay on the fourth line for the past 16 games, providing much needed stability. He’s one of the key reasons that the Rangers have been so successful while dealing with a number of major injuries.
Continuing our midseason grades (defense here), next up is the front office and goaltending. Grading both is a little tricky, as the front office is just ramping up their efforts for the trade deadline, while the goaltending has been a bit inconsistent.
When grading the front office, I had to look at the offseason body of work in addition to the moves made in season. Considering the injuries, the front office has been a little busy lately. As for the goaltending, well I’m taking a different approach this year. Instead of looking at each player individually, I’ll be looking at both Hank and Raanta as a single entity.
Sad news to report here, as office Steven McDonald has passed away at the age of 59 today. McDonald suffered a massive heart attack earlier in the week, and passed away today. McDonald, an NYPD officer, was shot on July 12, 1986, an incident that left him as a quadriplegic.
The Rangers have honored McDonald every year since the shooting by presenting the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award each season since 1987-88 to the Rangers player who goes above and beyond the normal call of duty.
One of the major concerns for the Rangers this season is that they are not a good puck possession team. It’s been a growing concern over the past few months, as the Rangers were getting pinned in their own end and not getting enough pressure at the other end. It’s why many were concerned that this year’s team was identical to last year’s.
While there are some explanations why the Rangers have had subpar numbers (injuries, leads, etc), they certainly are not excuses. However one major shining light is that the Rangers are getting high quality chances when taking their shots. The Rangers are the league leaders in average distance of shot both at even strength and on the powerplay.
With the Rangers on their bye week, which was perfectly timed with the halfway point of the season, we are afforded the opportunity to evaluate the Rangers with nothing else going on. Midseason report cards have been a bit of a tradition here at BSB, so let’s keep that tradition going, shall we?
Over the next few days, each of us will be tackling a different aspect of the team, and assigning grades accordingly. I’m batting leadoff here, and I’m going to be discussing the most polarizing aspect of this year’s team: The defense.
Overall, the back line for the Rangers has been relatively bad. The combination of age, injuries, wear and tear, and a shift towards speed has made what was once a strong defense into a bottom-five unit in the league. The slow start by Henrik Lundqvist exposed the defense even more. But it’s not all bad, either.
On this week’s Blue Seat Blogs-Cast we discuss the need for the Rangers to play three full periods of hockey on a nightly basis, the way in which injury relief may help them get to that point, and the Rangers’ outlook heading into the expansion draft. As always you can find us right here, on SoundCloud, and on iTunes.
Providence Bruins 3, Hartford Wolf Pack 0
Providence, RI, January 8, 2017 – Anton Khudobin made 21 saves for the Providence Bruins Sunday at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center Providence, to hand the Hartford Wolf Pack their second shutout-against of the season in a 3-0 Providence win.
Ben Marshall’s first career AHL goal was the game-winner, and Alex Grant and Sean Kuraly scored in the third period for the Bruins. Danton Heinen had two assists. Magnus Hellberg made 24 saves for the Wolf Pack, who were playing their third game in three days and fourth in six days.
“We had our bright spots in the game, we had our chances,” Wolf Pack defenseman Ryan Graves said. “The shots were fairly even. Hellberg gave us a chance to win, it’s just kind of one of those nights. Three in three is tough, but that’s not really an excuse. We could have had a better game, and we kind of left the points out there.”
With the hot start Brandon Pirri got off to as a Ranger it was hard to understand how he bounced around the league so much – he looked like a potential top six shooter, albeit one with defensive deficiencies. He certainly looked like a guy that should be potting 20 goals per year and not bouncing around a league desperate for goal scorers. The past month or so however, and it’s a lot easier to see why Pirri hasn’t stuck with any team for a prolonged period.
Pirri hasn’t just blown hot and cold, he’s just disappeared for stretches. He’s been a passenger far too many times despite having some significant tools at his disposal. Pirri has good offensive instincts and he has a great shot but too often recently he hasn’t brought anything to the table.
Pirri’s last goal was December 11th. He’s gone ten games without scoring. Before that he went twelve games without finding the net. He has just 60 shots (at time of writing) on net despite owning a shot that many players would sell their mothers for. When your best hope of sticking in the NHL is your release you better be releasing it more often.