What a game. If you had told me after 20 minutes that the Rangers would end up winning this game I wouldn’t have believed you. After a dreadful start to the game – it was all Columbus – the Rangers staged a daring comeback win in the third period, with the icing on the cake being Michael Grabner’s game winning goal on a breakaway with 16 seconds left. A win against the Blue Jackets is no joke either, with the team recently coming off of a historic win streak and sitting pretty at the top of the league standings. In second place of course are our very own New York Rangers, who picked up a big two points with tonight’s win.
On to the goals:
The Rangers are in Columbus tonight to take on a white-hot Blue Jackets team that is fresh off an amazing 16 game winning streak. However this streak is not like the Flyers streak of ten in a row, where amazing shooting and goaltending masked some underlying issues with puck possession. The Blue Jackets have great possession numbers, playing an aggressive style and riding great special teams. This isn’t the Tortorella Rangers, this CBJ team is good.
As for the Rangers, they are literally limping in to the bye week. They have five injuries to deal with, four to key players. It’s tough to stay consistent when missing an entire top line. However the injury to Staal finally forced Alain Vigneault to juggle the defense pairings. It worked like a charm against the Flyers, as the one thing that remained static during inconsistent play was finally changed up. Perhaps this is the beginning of the much needed shakeup on defense.
Hartford Wolf Pack 2, Lehigh Valley Phantoms 1
By Chris Kohler
Hartford, CT, January 6, 2017 – Magnus Hellberg made 31 saves, and Pavel Buchnevich and Chris Brown scored goals 1:23 apart in the second period Friday night at the XL Center, to carry the Hartford Wolf Pack to a 2-1 win over the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
The victory snapped a season-high streak of four straight regulation losses for the Wolf Pack.
The Phantoms got off to an early lead just a little more than a quarter into the first period, after the Wolf Pack tested Phantom goalie Anthony Stolarz with several shots. Jordan Weal netted the game’s first goal for the Phantoms at 5:43, assisted by Danick Martel and T.J. Brennan.
With the Columbus Blue Jackets having just wrapped up a historic win streak, former Rangers head coach and current Jackets skipper John Tortorella has been in the media lately talking about the character and identity of his team. As a bona fide nerd and believer in statistical analysis I’d typically be dismissive, even mockingly so, of Torts’ typical emphasis on things like “playing the game the right way”, but lately I’ve been reconsidering my stance.
The discussion around intangibles in hockey can be a polarizing one, and while I’m not sure I’m convinced that teams should pay premiums for the character of their players I’m by no means hesitant to say that these sort of things matter. Their on-ice impact is ephemeral and often over-stated, but even the most hardened spreadsheet fanalysts ascribe meaning to the game that ultimately can be tied back to qualities of character.
The Rangers have assigned forward Pavel Buchnevich to the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL. Buchnevich put up eight points (four goals, four assists) in ten games with the Rangers, and has been out for the majority of the season with back issues. This is not a conditioning assignment. Buchnevich’s roster space and cap hit are removed from the books for now.
At first I was a bit surprised that this wasn’t a conditioning assignment, but it makes complete sense. Conditioning assignments are ten days. The Rangers have just five games in the next two weeks. So they likely want to keep him down there to play in games and get back into shape. A straight demotion allows them the flexibility to have him return on their terms when he is in shape.
Make no mistake, Buchnevich will be back. This is just a paperwork thing to get him back in shape.
The Rangers have been incredibly up and down the past few weeks. Which version of the Rangers is the real version we can expect to see down the stretch?
There is no way of predicting the end of the Rangers’ season. I truly believe the blueline will look significantly different come February and we do not yet know how the top nine forward set up will shake out when all are healthy.
How will this influence the team’s ability to match up against the Caps, Pens, Habs and yes, the Blue Jackets?
Reading back that first comment – only the Pens scare me. Even the Pens however have their flaws, their warts. There is no perfect team in the East. That’s why Rangers fans should remain optimistic.
Happy 2017, BSB faithful! Now that that the dumpster fire that was 2016 is in the books, time to get back to business. The Rangers have had something of an interesting week; a horrific showing against Buffalo, a nice bounce back win against Philly, some defensive adjustments and a looming matchup with the red-hot Blue Jackets. Unfortunately, the Caps bludgeoned Columbus last night, so we won’t get to see our potentially record breaking showdown, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have some thoughts…
1) Since the back-to-back shellacking’s against Minnesota and Pittsburgh, the Rangers have had a very soft schedule, and for the most part, have taken advantage. There were some suspect performances along the way, but you could do a whole lot worse than 4-1 through that stretch.
During last night’s game against the Flyers, Darren Dreger came on the air and noted that like many teams, the Rangers are actively looking for a top-four defenseman between now and the trade deadline. This isn’t exactly Earth shattering news, as half the league is looking to add a top-four defenseman. After all, doesn’t a top-four defenseman make every team better?
Dreger did note that the Rangers are actively scouting and doing their homework though. It’s worth noting that we’ve heard the Rangers, particularly their front office staff, scouting the Ducks frequently this season. The Rangers likely don’t want a rental. So perhaps there’s a match, but the salary cap makes things tricky.
Apparently division rivals do wake up the Rangers. Looking to move past the previous night’s disaster against Buffalo, the Rangers and Henrik Lundqvist played a very physical game with the Flyers in the 5-2 win. More importantly, the Rangers used their superior speed and skill to best Steve Mason and the flawed Flyers defense multiple times.
The King returned to form last night, as he made multiple difficult saves to keep the Rangers in it early. And to be clear, he’s the reason why they were able to build the 3-0 lead. Mason, on the other hand, was strong early but couldn’t withstand the barrage from the Rangers. It wasn’t a perfect effort by any means, but it was a good rebound effort.
Process was much better for the Rangers in this game too. They had a good advantage in both quantity and quality of chances. It’s certainly a step in the right direction for a team that desperately needed it.
On to the goals:
A little late to the news here, but Rangers defenseman Marc Staal will miss at least the next two games with an upper body injury. There’s no indication of where this injury occurred, but it was obviously during last the loss to Buffalo Sabres. Staal has been significantly better this year, and has clicked with Nick Holden. His presence in the lineup may be missed over the next two games.
Adam Clendening will dress for the next two games while Staal is out. For tonight, he will skate on the left side –opening him up to offensive opportunities– with Kevin Klein. Brady Skjei will play with Ryan McDonagh on the top pair (!), while Dan Girardi will play with Holden on the third pair.