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We’ve spent a lot of time talking about how the Rangers, as currently constructed, are not a team that is rich with depth. It’s something that we’ve discussed on about a weekly basis at this point, but depth is only a part of the problem. The issue of depth is easy to address, but that won’t matter if the star players on the Rangers roster do not contribute in the way they are supposed to.
Last season the Rangers relied heavily on Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards, and they delivered. They were the top two scoring leaders (76 points for Gaborik, 66 for Richards) on the team at even strength and on the powerplay, Gaborik led the team in goals (41), and Richards led the team in assists (41). Coming into this shortened season, these two were expected to at least contribute at that same level. Rick Nash was to come in and give them some breathing room and spread out the scoring a bit. Nash has lived up to his end of the bargain. Gaborik and Richards have not.
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If it wasn’t for two fortunate goals by the Flyers this game, on paper, would look like it did on the ice; a comprehensive victory for the Rangers. Led by the dominant top line the Rangers scored a few impressive goals and got solid performances all over the line up. Brad Richards had his best game in weeks, Lundqvist was solid, Kreider was energetic and dangerous all while Rick Nash and Derek Stepan manhandled the Flyers defense. Stepan in particular seems to grow with every additional game. On to the goal breakdown
Rangers 1-0; Rick Nash (14:54)
The Rangers opened the scoring with a Derek Stepan clinic. First of all, the Rangers center created a turnover behind the Flyers net with some great stick work (doing the basics right, stick on the ice) and eventually sent the puck up to the point where Girardi sent a shot glancing off the post. The puck came back to the Rangers and eventually to Stepan who, positioned to the right of Bryzgalov, sent a crisp pass over to Rick Nash who was moving toward goal and Nash put it top right on the Flyers goalie for the lead. A solid goal, forced by the Rangers desire to retrieve pucks.
Rangers 2-0; Brad Richards PP goal (3:14)
The Rangers got a big second goal early in the middle period as they connected on the powerplay. After initially struggling to get into and set up in the Flyers zone the Rangers finally did and moved the puck around at the blue line when it finally comes to Richards to the left of Bryzgalov, up high. Using defenseman Andrej Meszaros as a screen Richards absolutely rifled one up high past the Flyers goalie. A great shot from Richards to double the lead.
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“Line changes? what line changes?”
For the sake of himself, the Rangers, and their entire season, John Tortorella needs to do something that is almost foreign to him as a coach and stick to his line combinations for the rest of the season. The Rangers season, and indeed the coach’s own future, may depend on his willingness to do just that.
Against the Hurricanes Monday night Tortorella reverted to Marian Gaborik-Brad Richards-Rick Nash once again being on the same line. While the line didn’t score its reunion coincided with the most assertive game Richards had played in weeks (including some exceptional passes that led to scoring chances) and saw Gaborik look much more dynamic than he had done for the majority of the season. Rick Nash was simply Rick Nash; as the game developed the big winger was consistently dangerous. These lines were left the same for last night’s game, and it was one of the most complete efforts we’ve seen all year. Plus, this mega-line scored.
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Per pretty much everyone (Carp’s link is here), Brad Richards will return to the lineup tonight. Richards missed two games after being Patrick Kaleta’d into the boards. It’s safe to assume Micheal Haley will be out of the lineup, although I’d like to see him play a game over Stu Bickel.
The Rangers need Gaborik and the offense to help accommodate for Staal’s injury
It may seem an odd statement to make in light of an important defenseman being lost to injury, but the Rangers offense will need to produce consistently now more than ever. Despite the addition of Roman Hamrlik and the presence of multiple defensemen on the roster, the Rangers cannot reasonably expect to fill the void Marc Staal will leave. This is despite the presence of Henrik Lundqvist and the still impressive, remaining top four blueliners.
Any time a team loses a player of Marc Staal’s ability it’s going to hurt. When Staal went down the Rangers lost their best offensive blueliner (going by points alone), and lost a player that had returned to his All Star defensive best. Take an All Star who plays over twenty three minutes a game out of any line-up (except maybe the Blackhawks…) and you cannot reasonably expect the same performance level.
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Progression to the mean is fun.
Brad Richards is struggling this season. Everyone has seen it, everyone has complained about it, and everyone is waiting for him to rebound. What generally goes unnoticed is that Ricahrds’ shooting percentage is an astonishing low 4.5%. That’s less than most defensemen. Richards has a career average of about 9%, so his shooting percentage right now is half of what it should be.
We spoke about shooting percentages at the end of January and highlighted Carl Hagelin (at that point goalless) and Taylor Pyatt (at that point shooting at 43%). Both have since progressed and regressed to their career averages, and the same theory is going to apply to Richards here. His career worst shooting percentage was in 2002-2003 when he shot at 6%, which is still above his current pace.
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Great teammate, too many years.
There is nothing more dangerous in sports than a superstar in his early 30’s coming up for free agency. At age 31 or 32, he still shows all the skills that made him a star in his prime and makes GM’s salivate at the thought of that “one final piece”. But we know those skills are fading. If we are really honest with ourselves, we know the fall will come within the first three or four years of that mega-deal. The Yankees are currently paying for it with Alex Rodriguez, and are considering it with Robinson Cano. The Rangers, of course, took the plunge in July 2011, to the tune of nine years, $60 million for Brad Richards. Read more »
Bringing on Ryan O’Reilly would upset the Rangers’ salary structure
For years financial ineptitude crippled the Rangers franchise, but what was once an enormous weakness has turned into the backbone of the organization’s success.
Last week I advocated for the possibility of trading for Ryan O’Reilly (before news of Colorado’s asking price of Michael Del Zotto + Chris Kreider/J.T. Miller broke). A few days later, Larry Brooks reported that the Rangers would not pursue O’Reilly because of his contract demands and more importantly, how they would affect the organization’s salary structure.
As much as I would like to see O’Reilly on Broadway, Brooks makes a very strong point. Read more »
I am Nash. HEAR ME ROAR
It’s Musings day. I’m in Germany as you read this on a game day, so enjoy. Unfortunately the Islanders game is the first game I’ll not have caught live this year to any extent but I’m sure you’ll all cope without me.
The Rangers win in Boston; if that finishes 3-0 then half of Ranger nation will be booking time off to attend the Cup parade. It didn’t, and it was almost a shambolic collapse, but lets stay away from the ledge. For most part the Rangers played a great game and at times controlled the Bruins in their own barn. That’s tough to do.
There are goal scorers and then there are truly elite offensive, superstars. Marian Gaborik is a great goal scorer for the most part. Rick Nash is a superstar. He can dangle and create offense out of nothing that maybe 5% of the league (if that) can do. Going on a small sample size, Nash is going to be in New York for a long time and successfully too.
Marc Staal (for the most part) is truly back. Carrying the puck, playing physically, decision making, offense, sound positioning… he’s doing everything he needs to do at an All Star level again.
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Ranger fans left The Garden disappointed tonight, as the Blueshirts dropped their home opener to the Penguins, in particularly brutal fashion, 6-3. In a game we saw The King pulled in the second period, Rick Nash’s first Ranger goal, and continued sloppy, disjointed play, the good guys fell to 0-2-0 on the young season. Let’s break down the goals…
Penguins 1, Rangers 0: Only seconds after Aaron Asham kicked the game off with a solid tilt with Tanner Glass, Brad Richards took an undisciplined interference penalty just :37 into the game. On the ensuing Pittsburgh powerplay, after some pressure, Marc Staal failed to the clear the zone as his attempt was picked off by Kris Letang. The Pens continued to move the puck and eventually caught the Rangers running around. James Neal was left alone in the slot, and he rifled a shot low to the glove side and past Lundqvist. There may have been a small screen there, but I think Hank will want that one back.
Penguins 1, Rangers 1: Around the nine minute mark, the Rangers were starting to buzz offensively. An aggressive forecheck lead to a Simon Despres penalty for holding. On the faceoff, Brandon Sutter took a penalty for playing the puck with his glove. Apparently this is a new penalty this year. Just ask Sam, he’ll tell you all about it. This lead to a full two minute 5-on-3 for the Rangers. The Pens decided to play two forwards and one defenseman and collapse the front of the net. This allowed the PP unit the opportunity to move the puck freely around the perimeter and seek openings down low. After alternating the two tactics, Richards drifted down into the high slot and ripped a half slapper toward the net. Tomas Vokoun was unable to control the rebound and Captain Cally banged in the rebound as it was bouncing for the equalizer. Read more »