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.
After winning three in a row against bad teams, the Rangers really laid an egg last night against Buffalo, another bad team. Luckily the Rangers are usually better on the second game of back-to-backs, and have a division rival coming to town to hopefully wake them up. The Rangers and Flyers always play each other tough, so maybe this is exactly what the Rangers need.
Waking up is one thing, but getting back to proper process is another. Even when they look awake, they aren’t playing great hockey. The Flyers, aside from the division rival aspect, represent a team that is over achieving based off expected goals (xG), in which they are bottom-five. Long story short, the bottom might be falling out of the Flyers soon, may as well try to take advantage of it.
Tonight’s game marks the halfway point of the 2016-2017 season. The Rangers are in prime playoff position, with an 11-point cushion separating them from the wild card cutoff line. But despite a successful campaign thus far, things haven’t gone perfectly on Broadway. Here’s a recap of where the Rangers stand halfway through the year.
What’s gone according to plan
– A bounce back season for the penalty kill. When asked about the team’s plans for the summer, GM Jeff Gorton said, “you can probably look at our roster and pick that apart and figure out what we need to do.” While many of us believed he was referring to the defense, Gorton’s subsequent moves made it very clear that he was dead set on improving a penalty kill unit that ranked 26th last season after three top-six finishes in the previous four years. So far, Gorton’s makeover has paid major dividends. Thanks to acquisitions like Michael Grabner and the development of youngsters like J.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes who have often tilted the ice in the Rangers’ favor even when they’ve been shorthanded, New York currently ranks ninth in the league.
After two wins against the worst two teams in the league, the Rangers faced the third worst team in the league looking to take advantage of the soft spot in their schedule. Instead the Rangers laid an egg, spotting the Sabres a 3-0 lead and eventually falling 4-1. There aren’t many good things to say about this game, except that Nick Holden continues to defy logic and reasoning with his career-best pace. He might be this year’s Kevin Klein.
Speaking of Klein, he and the defense had a horrific night. Two of Klein’s turnovers led directly to goals, and another by Ryan McDonagh led to a goal. It wasn’t much better for the forwards, who looked like they had cement in their skates. All 18 skates hung Henrik Lundqvist out to dry, providing little help. Hank wasn’t his elite self, but there wasn’t much he could do this game.
On to the goals: