Stop being Bozak.
Derek Stepan is always a focal point of discussion for Ranger fans. He’s the teams 1C, but he’s not an elite center, so people think he’s better off as a 2C. Since returning from injury, Stepan has put up 14 points in 16 games, and has helped stabilize –prior to Derick Brassard’s mumps diagnosis– the center position. But something is off this year, and it’s fairly alarming.
As Zachary Ellenthal pointed out, he’s not exactly driving possession this season. It’s not like he’s off by a little bit, Stepan is a 43.6% Corsi player this season, so far the worst of his career. The last time he was under 50% was 2011-2012, and his ability to positively drive possession is what makes him more valuable than guys like Tyler Bozak (a 42% Corsi player), who puts up points because he’s playing with Phil Kessel. Stepan makes his teammates better, Bozak does not.
Except for this year. Stepan’s numbers this year are comparable to Bozak’s, and that’s not a good thing.
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It was just over four weeks ago that Chris Mueller was the third-line center for the New York Rangers. Feels like a lot longer than that, right?
New York’s problems down the middle began when the team failed to bring in a replacement for Brad Richards and were exacerbated when Derek Stepan broke his fibula during training camp.
But since Stepan’s return to the lineup on November 8th, a bit of normalcy has returned to the Blueshirts. Their 5-5-2 record over that span looks a lot worse thanks to three recent losses to the impressive Tampa Bay Lightning, but Stepan has been a godsend since the moment he rejoined the team.
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Few teams can win without their No. 1 C, No. 1 D and PPQB
When we look back on the season at the end of the year, there’s a good possibility that last weekend will represent its low point.
A blown lead against Toronto followed by another embarrassing performance at home against Edmonton seemed unacceptable over the last couple of days, but last night’s 5-0 drubbing of Pittsburgh was a good reminder that the Blueshirts are capable of much more.
Any team can dominate on any given night in the NHL, but only two can say they were in the Stanley Cup Final last year, so the Rangers’ best efforts carry a little more weight than a team like the Oilers.
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John Moore might not play every night once everyone is healthy
The Rangers are so shorthanded right now that they’re bringing in Tomas Kaberle to skate with the team today, but that won’t last much longer.
Derek Stepan’s return is imminent, Dan Boyle’s recovery is also in it’s final stages, and John Moore’s suspension will be over after Sunday’s game. Kevin Klein could follow soon after, though no official prognosis has been made on his foot injury.
So how will things change in the coming days and weeks?
For one thing, the return of Stepan and Boyle should, should, get the power play on track. Statistically it can’t be much worse than the three-for-32 slump to start the season (Pittsburgh has 19 power play goals already…), but even a mediocre stretch by the man advantage would mean an extra goal every few games, a not insignificant padding for the patchwork defense. Read more »
Andrew Theodorakis/NY Daily News
Dominic Moore became a fan favorite last year and continues to impress now in the 14/15 NHL season. On a team severely lacking depth down the middle of the ice, the Rangers have been able to tread water with Derek Stepan out thanks to the play of Moore. Averaging 12.08 TOI, Moore needed to step up and help out in a 3rd line role and he has done just that. Despite heavy defensive zone starts (-26.83 Off ZS% Rel) Moore has posted outstanding possession numbers at even strength (6.40 Fenwick Rel%). His impact has not gone unnoticed. Moore has received plenty of praise for his early season play but it’s worth looking at a little closer.
Moore is 20th in the NHL of forwards at 5v5 in FA/60 at 30.54 (Fenwick Against is a measure of defense, which looks at shot suppression. For more details click here.). The leader in this category is Colin Wilson of Nashville at 27.22. He ranks 25th in DZFO% in that category as well. So not only is Moore starting the majority of his shifts in the defensive end, but he’s able to suppress shots while generating shots for the Rangers (40.11 FF/60). Not bad at all for your 3rd line center. Moore’s faceoff% of 53.85 certainly has helped in the defensive end.
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Per the Rangers Twitter, center Derek Stepan has been cleared for contact, and is wearing a normal colored jersey in practice today. Stepan has been out since the preseason with a broken fibula, and was eligible to return off LTIR today. While it is unlikely he is cleared to play tonight, he will likely be back in the lineup by this weekend.
Dan Boyle should really help the PP when he returns. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America
There’s been quite a gap between the Rangers’ games this week, with the wild comeback against the Wild feeling like an eternity ago. Quite a bit has happened in Rangerland since so let’s take a look around at some of the goings on.
Veterans to the rescue
Derek Stepan and Dan Boyle resume skating. The Rangers cannot get these two players back fast enough. Stepan’s absence had destroyed team depth at center and the Rangers’ issues on defense have been well documented. With the Rangers powerplay needing help, Boyle and Stepan could be the perfect tonic to a unit that has been – at best – underwhelming to this point.
Is the Rangers goaltending pipeline improving?
The Rangers have tried to remedy the lack of depth behind Henrik Lundqvist recently and there’s a few intriguing prospects worth a keeping an eye on. Brandon Halverson typifies the modern goaltender, being a big man at 6’4, and he’s off to a strong start in junior winning 7 games in his first ten appearances although his peripherals (GAA 3.15, S% .904) aren’t exciting. Reports are he’s playing well though.
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Stepan’s return will have a major impact on the Rangers line-up. AP Photo/Bruce Bennett, Pool
As Derek Stepan has finally hit the ice with his team mates (albeit in a non contact jersey) the questions will now begin to focus more on where rather than when will Stepan play. Following the excellent instant chemistry Rick Nash has shown with Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello the logical thinking will be to try and keep that trio in tact in the short term. Of course, given Nash’s not so pretty possession numbers perhaps Alain Vigneault will consider reuniting Stepan with the Rangers best and hottest forward.
Questions will be raised about Stepan’s match readiness. Will Stepan need to be eased back in? And can Nash be a spark for Stepan the way he appears to have been for Zuccarello and Brassard? The options for Stepan are numerous at this stage. With Stepan’s return almost certainly meaning the end of the Marty St Louis at center experiment, the chances are that Stepan will be paired with St Louis and Kreider, (finally) giving the Rangers two legitimate scoring lines for the first time this season.
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Per Steve Zipay, coach Alain Vigneault noted that injured center Derek Stepan, who fractured his fibula in training camp, has seen no setbacks and will be all good to come off LTIR next week. Stepan is first eligible to come off LTIR on 11/3, and it appears he will be good to go at some point that week. I wouldn’t expect him to be good for the 11/3 game against St. Louis, but maybe Wednesday against Detroit at home or Saturday in Toronto.
Three losses in four games and 12 goals against in the first two home contests certainly isn’t how the Rangers wanted to start the season, but it’s not altogether unexpected. With No. 1 center Derek Stepan and No. 4 D Dan Boyle on the shelf, and a slew of raw youngsters in the lineup, it’s no surprise that the Blueshirts have been a dumpster fire in their own end. There are certainly very real causes for concern, but there is plenty of time to right the ship – just take a look back at how last season started.
So since it’s all gloom and doom in Ranger-land this morning, let’s check out some of the things that are going right for New York, many of which have come as pleasant surprises:
– Rick Nash has six goals in four games. That’s a pretty decent start, by any measure. The #fancystats crowd insisted Nash would bounce back after a horribly unlucky postseason, but this offensive explosion has eclipsed anyone’s wildest dreams. This confidence boost will be huge for Nash after he was forced to take a long look in the mirror last spring, and it could be the start of a monster year.
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