If in September, you told me that the Rangers would have another 100 point season under their belt, be locked into a favorable playoff matchup by February, and one of the top-ten teams in the league by the end of the year, I would have told you that I have a bridge to sell you. Very few people were convinced this was a good hockey team in September.
Sure, the forwards were revamped and incredibly deep. But that was it. The defense was still a black hole, and the only way the Rangers were going to win consistently is if Henrik Lundqvist and/or Antti Raanta had career years. Not many thought the team would be able to outscore their porous defense.
The Rangers finally managed to get a win at home, scoring four straight on Anthony Stolarz and the Flyers en route to the 4-3 win. The win also eliminated the Flyers from playoff contention, so feel free to poke fun at a Flyers fan today. It was nice to see the forecheck in full swing for the Rangers, who also had a pretty solid defensive game as well. The Flyers aren’t the best team in the world, but proper process has to start somewhere.
Henrik Lundqvist played another strong game. Despite the rough goals against lately, he’s been locked in for a while. The difference was the better overall team commitment to defense, something that had been lacking up and down the lineup. The Rangers also had their forecheck going, which allowed them to convert turnovers into goals often.
The game wasn’t perfect, as the Blueshirts almost gave it back to the Flyers with two minutes left in the game. They allowed the Flyers to get two goals to make us sweat. But Hank made a brilliant glove save to preserve the win.
On to the goals:
The Rangers are playing host to the Flyers tonight in another meaningless game for the Blueshirts. The Flyers are officially out of the playoffs, which is always nice to see. That said, they’d probably love to keep the reeling Rangers from gaining momentum for a potential playoff run.
The Rangers are going to be without Ryan McDonagh again tonight. So there’s a good chance we cringe a lot with the defensive play. Boy, it’s amazing how big of a hole McDonagh leaves when he isn’t in the lineup. At least the Flyers are on the second of a back to back, so that plays into the Rangers’ favor.
Albany Devils 4, Hartford Wolf Pack 3
Albany, NY, April 1, 2017 – Nicklas Jensen had a goal and an assist for the Hartford Wolf Pack Saturday at the Times Union Center, but Blake Pietila scored two power-play goals, including the third-period game-winner, for the Albany Devils in a 4-3 Albany victory.
Max Novak added a goal and an assist for the Devils, and Jacob MacDonald had three assists. Marek Hrivik chipped in two assists for the Wolf Pack.
The two teams traded goals in the first period, the Devils scoring early and the Wolf Pack replying late.
It is not time to sound the alarm just yet, but Ryan McDonagh appears to be out for tonight’s game against the Flyers. McD0nagh did not skate today at the morning skate, and the defense pairings appeared to be set without him.
Luckily the Flyers are not as good as the Penguins, but they still have some great talent that can burn that right side of the defense. It’s amazing how much of a hole McDonagh leaves in the lineup. Hopefully this isn’t serious, and is just a precaution to not rush him back in meaningless games.
Before I begin, I’d just like to say thanks to the readers and my fellow BSB writers for the warm welcome. Like the rest of the staff here, I’m just a devoted fan with thoughts about the team, and I appreciate the opportunity to share some of those thoughts with you.
My weekly post is going to follow a theme, where I highlight one reason for optimism, along with one cause for concern. Let’s dive right in:
Reason for Optimism: the playoffs are (almost) here, and the Rangers are healthy.
After a long six-month season, the Rangers are back in the playoffs for the 11th time in the 12 seasons since the 2004-2005 lockout. This itself is remarkable, even in a league that allows more than half of its teams into the postseason, given the salary cap restrictions and the relative role of luck involved in getting there in the first place. The one constant throughout those dozen years has been Henrik Lundqvist, who has returned to the Rangers after missing two and a half weeks with a hip injury.
Hartford Wolf Pack 3, Hershey Bears 0
By Chris Kohler
Hartford, CT, March 31, 2017 – Magnus Hellberg made 20 saves Friday night at the XL Center in the Hartford Wolf Pack’s first shutout of the season, a 3-0 win over the Hershey Bears.
Joly would net the only goal the Wolf Pack would need just 3:55 into the game. Jensen sent Joly streaking down the left side of the ice to create a one-on-one opportunity. Joly continued his hot streak, scoring his fourth goal in the last three games, just past the right pad of Hershey goaltender Pheonix Copley (24 saves).
The Rangers hosted the ailing Penguins, missing half their roster, and still managed to get outplayed for most of the game. Henrik Lundqvist was outstanding all game, bailing the Rangers out with multiple sequences of marvelous saves (here, here, here, here, and here. There were others, but my NHL.tv crapped out on me in the third period). But even with Lundqvist standing on his head, the Rangers couldn’t get anything going against the Penguins and Matt Murray.
All that said, the Rangers were able to keep it close and get a last second (literally) goal to tie it. They pressured hard in the third, and it was Chris Kreider who buried the equalizer with 1.2 seconds left. They were pressing so hard, in fact, they gave up a 2-on-0 rush with Conor Sheary and Sidney Crosby. Hank stopped Sheary then swatted the puck away from Crosby. That kept it a close game, and gave the Rangers a chance to tie it. Kreider answered that call.
After an exciting overtime, the shootout was quick. Kessel and Crosby made quick work of the Rangers as the Pens got the extra point.
On to the goals:
The Rangers return home tonight to take on an ailing Penguins club that is having a rough month. The Penguins are dealing with a ton of injuries. As noted by their lineup, they are basically dressing half of their AHL team to deal with their injuries. Seriously, that blue line is a train wreck right now.
I’m expecting this to be a high scoring affair. The forwards on the Rangers should be able to steam roll that Pittsburgh blue line tonight. Meanwhile, the Penguins still have Crosby and Kessel, so they are capable of scoring despite the AHL lineup around them. This is not going to be indicative of any potential playoff matchup, but is the perfect time for the Rangers to get back to proper process in their own end.
Since the analytics movement began a few years ago, there has been a pretty consistent back and forth amongst the old and new school about the proper way to go about assembling a hockey team. The old adage is that you can’t build a team on a spreadsheet. More goes into it than that. On the other side of the coin, you take what you can quantify and use the most important data as the backbone for the team’s construction. At the end of the day, it all kind of boils down to “how do you quantify chemistry, character and heart?” It is even possible? Read More→