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Posts tagged: Erik Christensen

Rangers Embarass Capitals Again, This Time At Their Place

The Rangers walked into Washington, D.C. a wounded group without their top offensive player in Marian Gaborik and their top defender in All-Star Marc Staal and for one night at least they did not miss either one.  New York would embarrass the Capitals for the second time this season with a 6-0 laugher that should make the Rangers feel good, but hopefully not satisfied as they have to bring this effort again on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Lightning.  Having Henrik Lundqvist playing in top form certainly helped the result tonight as his made 35 saves, some of the gorgeous variety, en route to his league leading eighth shutout.

The bigger worry coming in than Gaborik being out as the Rangers have faced that before this season was how they would do without their defensive stud.  The loss of Staal meant that Ryan McDonagh would have to take on the challenge of facing Alex Ovehckin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Knuble and McDonagh did it beautifully.  The reaction of McDonagh to the assignment was the same as it has been to everything in his 22 games as an NHL player, to just play his game and show he has the strength and poise of a ten year veteran.

On the offensive side the night would belong to an unusual suspect in Erik Christensen.  There has never been a debate about the talent that Christensen possesses, but that talent is also the source of much frustration in that he fails so often to exercise it.  Tonight was one of those nights where he let the talent show as he scored a career high four points including two goals and two assists.  If Christensen did this more often, then the Rangers would not need more offense, but since he doesn’t all I could think to myself with each passing point was how it increased his trade value and Glen Sather should sell high.

New York struck first at 5:56 of the first period when Steve Eminger beat Neuvirth from the right point with the help off a Capitals deflection.  Earlier in the shift Mike Green cross-checked Derek Stepan behind the net, but no call was made.  As play continued the puck went back to the corner where Derek Stepan hit Mike Green in the head and there is going to be controversy here.  On the live look it appeared he hit him with his elbow, but I did not see that on the replay.  Regardless there is head contact and discussion of whether he will get suspended.  Check out the video and discussion here.

The Rangers did not let off the gas this time as late in the first Erik Christensen scored his first goal since returning to the lineup from his injury.  The goal itself was really a tap-in for Christensen off a beautiful saucer pass feed from Michael Sauer.  The goal was Christensen’s seventh of the season and the beginning of a huge night for the talented but inconsistent forward.

Just like the first period the Rangers struck early and then late.  Christensen was the culprit again this time with the early goal in the second period, this time on the power play on a beautiful passing play by the Rangers.  Prospal worked the puck along the boards, feed it down low to Callahan at the left side of the net and he threw a behind the back pass to Christensen on the other side to shoot into an open net.

The goal to close the period came from Derek Stepan and gave the Rangers their second on the power play.  This play was purely the work of beautiful puck movement and a shot/pass from Del Zotto that missed the net, nothing new there, but this time the bounce came to Stepan and he roofed it on a prone Neuvirth.

Third period thankfully saw more of the same with Vinny Prospal getting in on the act 6:16 in with his third of the season.  Like with all Prospal goals the celebration is equivalent to winning the Stanley Cup, but that is the enthusiasm you love about Prospal.  Christensen picked up the primary assist on the goal to give him his third point of the game.

The Rangers rubbed some salt in the wound with a goal by Brian Boyle with 33.7 seconds left in the game.  The goal was Boyle’s 20th of the season and came off a gorgeous backhand pass from that Christensen fella to give him a career high four point night

  • Stepan was the most visible forward tonight other than Christensen with his willingness to play a physical game.  We shall see if he gets disciplined for the play with Mike Green, but he plays better when he is physical.
  • Michael Sauer was also phenomenal in this game as he continues to improve on an already stellar season.
  • Del Zotto, Eminger and Gilroy were all solid tonight, which might give New York enough confidence to not feel the need to bring in another defender, at least not an expensive one.
  • Ruslan Fedotenko would have to leave his first game back from shoulder/appendectomy caused absence with an injury to that same shoulder.

Drury Out, Christensen In; New Lines Again; Lundqvist Getting Extra Practice Work

The New York Rangers, per their official twitter account, announced today that Chris Drury won’t be making the road trip with the team, and that Erik Christensen will be returning to the lineup tomorrow.  The reason for Drury’s absence is an apparent sore knee issue that has been going on for the past few weeks and got worse last night.

Also per the teams official twitter account there are a few quotes from coach John Tortorella about the Drury situation…

Torts on Drury: “He has had cranky knee and has progressively gotten worse…gone a few weeks & flared up last night”

Torts: “He’s played this game hard for a long time and I think it’s a little bit of wear and tear…and it’s just acting up on him now”

The level of skepticism surrounding the timing of the Drury news is high.  I do not buy the injury as the real cause, but I look at it as an attempt to save face for the captain instead of making him a healthy scratch.  I have no doubt that Drury has creaky knees at this point in his career, but the timing is too suspect for that to be the legitimate cause of the move.

Christensen’s return will mark his first game since he suffered a second degree MCL sprain December 29th in a contest against the Devils. The main issue with Christensen over the past few days, as Dave pointed out recently, was his conditioning, not the knee.

As a result of the changes in personnel and the ineffectiveness of certain combinations last night, the Rangers once again have new lines.

Prospal-Stepan-Gaborik
Dubinsky-Anisimov-Callahan
Wolski-Boyle-Prust
Avery-Christensen-Zuccarello

These lines do not strike me as the right combination either, but they probably will not last more than a period unless they work anyway, so does not matter all that much.

In other practice news Lundqvist stayed after practice to work on some things with MZA and Boyle.

Christensen “Out Of Shape”; Lineup Spot In Jeopardy?

At practice yesterday, injured center Erik Christensen told Rick Carpiniello of Rangers Report that he is not where he wants to be conditioning-wise:

“I’m still a ways away in my conditioning, I’ll tell you that. A lot of hard work away. I need to be skated pretty good here the next couple of days, because these guys are in shape and I don’t like lagging behind and feel like I’m out of place. I definitely don’t want to feel like that, especially because the team, considering all our absent guys, been playing pretty well and picking up points. So you want to make sure you come in and you’re ready and ready to contribute.”

Christensen, who had been demoted to the fourth line due to his inconsistent play, is going to have a hard time finding his way back into the lineup if he isn’t in shape. In his defense, he had a sprained knee, and there wasn’t much he could do to stay in shape while recovering. However, injuries happen, and coach Tortorella isn’t going to take someone out of the lineup, especially someone who is playing well, in favor of the out-of-shape and inconsistent Christensen.

Initially, the thoughts were that Sean Avery was going to be the odd man out when players started returning from injury. With his much improved play and chemistry with Marian Gaborik, that is no longer the likely scenario. While it is likely that Evgeny Grachev and Kris Newbury will be returned to CT relatively soon, that only clears enough room for two of the other three returning players (Vinny Prospal, Brandon Dubinsky, Ruslan Fedotenko). Of those three returning, two are slated to do so by Thursday (Prospal, Dubinsky), so Christensen is going to have a tough time cracking the lineup over those guys, and he is going to have an even more difficult time playing to a level that forces Mats Zuccarello-Aasen back to the Whale.

Christensen has essentially become a spare part on a Rangers team that will hopefully be clicking on all cylinders. If this is true, then Christensen may find himself as the 13th, or even 14th, forward come the Trade Deadline. He is young, cheap, and his inconsistency makes him easily replaceable. Don’t get me wrong, I would love Christensen on the team as a bottom-six guy if there were room for him. However, with all the clamoring for him on the top line with his lack of production, and the quality of play from the others on the roster, Christensen has simply not done enough to earn his way back on the roster.

Rangers Getting Good Health News For A Change

As I relayed earlier, Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi were both back at practice as expected and both will play tomorrow against the Penguins.

Following the good news of Brandon Dubinsky, Erik Christensen and Vinny Prospal all taking part in a full practice there is even more positive news for the three of them in terms of return dates or at least timetables.

The only one certain at the moment is Vinny Prospal. Vinny is a definitely for Thursday and is apparently only being held until then so that he can get in two more full practices for conditioning purposes.  It is still completely unclear what, if anything, can be expected of Prospal considering his age, the injury and the fact he has not played a game in 10 months.  All of that said, I still expect Prospal to get a shot to play with Gaborik immediately, whether at center or on the wing.

Brandon Dubinsky was back on skates today for the first time since he was taken out of the lineup with a stress fracture in his leg.  Dubinsky took part in hard conditioning skate, rest, and then full practice and was said to be feeling good.  He would rule himself out for tomorrow’s game and that it would depend on how the leg responds in the morning.  Jesse Spector tweeted John Tortorella having similar thoughts on Dubinsky in not ruling him out and that if he is pain free he will likely play.

In terms of Christensen and Fedotenko, Darren Dreger tweeted that EC could be back by Saturday and that Fedotenko could be ready within 10 days.

Amazing how all of these guys could be getting healthy basically all at once.  This is great news for the team and the depth of the club, but also means that roster decisions will need to be made both in terms of lines and who plays/sits.

To remind everyone, here are the lines from earlier

Avery-Anisimov-Gaborik
Wolski-Stepan-Callahan
Zuccarello-Boyle-Prust
Grachev-Newbury-Drury

My thoughts on these lines can be found in that same article linked at the top.

If Dubinsky plays these lines will likely change with Avery being the obvious candidate to move down to the fourth line and Grachev sits out.  There could be other shuffling going on with the top three lines depending on if coach Tortorella wants to put Callahan and Dubinsky back together or even reunite the full line of Dubinsky, Anisimov and Callahan.

The only other lineup spot that is not sure is on defense as coach Tortorella would not rule out playing Michael Del Zotto tomorrow despite the fact that Dan Girardi will play.  This would mean someone else would sit, but there will be more on that tomorrow.

With Wolski In The Mix, Is Christensen A Spare Part?

When the Rangers acquired Wojtek Wolski, they added to their forward depth that has been decimated by injuries. Kris Newbury, called up earlier this week in the wake of the Alex Frolov injury, will likely be returned to the CT Whale before the next game, leaving the Rangers with 12 healthy forwards. With Ryan Callahan and Vinny Prospal skating, and aiming for a return after the All-Star break, the Rangers are looking at a logjam of forwards.

Dale Weise will likely be returned to the AHL when Callahan comes back, giving the Rangers 12 healthy forwards that will be clicking. At that point the next person to return, likely to be Prospal, will force someone to the bench. If it is Prospal that returns, it’s tough to say who comes out of the lineup, but that’s a different story for a different post. If it is Christensen who returns first, what’s to say he goes directly back into the lineup?

This is not a Christensen hate post. This is simply a question of where he fits in after he returns from injury. He had been playing on the 4th line for some time now, and barely contributing offensively. Sure, he’s a shootout wizard, but there are 65 minutes of hockey to be played before the shootout. Mats Zuccarello-Aasen has proved he belongs in the NHL, so it does not look like he will be going anywhere soon. I personally do not see the coaching staff scratching anyone in the current lineup for Christensen. Christensen’s injury may have inadvertently ended his time with the Rangers.

How Long Will Zuccarello Be On Broadway?

For the first few games, while finding his feet, the little Norwegian flashed his ability but failed to gain much consistency in a Rangers side struggling for offense. Last night, the diminutive winger came up big with a great assist and a beautiful shot for the game winning goal. If there was a welcome to the NHL moment for the winger that clutch goal was it. However, realistically how long will Zuccarello’s initial stay in New York last?

In part it is up to him, by playing so well Zuccarello can refuse to be taken out of the line up but he may, for this season at least, be a victim of numbers and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While he has shown he will eventually be a good NHL player for the Rangers it can’t be doubted he still has developing to do and the best place for that to happen is in the AHL. Why? Because Zuccarello’s style – and best interests – doesn’t suit 6 minutes a game on the fourth line as in a few weeks his spot may be taken by a combination of Ryan Callahan, Vinny Prospal and even Erik Christensen. While he has impressed, don’t expect him to block vice captain Prospal’s return and certainly not that of Ryan Callahan. Add to that, current top 6 incumbents Dubinsky, Stepan, Gaborik, Anisimov and even when discounting the likes of Avery and Frolov for top 6 minutes and there’s still not enough to go around. Again, this is not a bad thing but a reflection of the ever growing depth the Rangers are enjoying.

Barring an absolute tear of Calder trophy proportions Zuccarello isn’t here for the duration, this year. This audition (of sorts) prior to returning to Connecticut will benefit everyone; himself, the Rangers and the Whale. The small winger will go back to the AHL accustomed to higher levels of play and should dominate the AHL even more than he had begun to do prior to his call up. All this bodes well for a very good developmental season for the winger (hopefully) giving the Rangers a ready-made top 6, skilled winger for next year who requires little to no acclimatisation period. A win-win for all concerned

Zuccarello’s performances will also have a huge impact on current roster players, particularly Frolov, Prospal and to a lesser extent Christensen. While EC is more threatened by the development of the young centers even he could be a victim of simple maths – too many forwards – while Prospal (despite being a leader on the team and a respected veteran) and Frolov will need unbelievable second halves to the season to convince management to bring them back and even that may not be enough. So the play of Zuccarello, while right now to be enjoyed, is more likely to be beneficial long term rather than for this season and that isn’t a bad thing. Don’t be sad if he doesn’t stay this year, look forward to the time when the Hobbit becomes a mainstay on Broadway.

Christensen Hurt; Weise Called Up

As per Andrew Gross, Erik Christensen sprained his right knee during the second period of last night’s game. Christensen was pushed through the crease on a powerplay and did not return to the game. It is unlikely that he will make the trip to Florida this weekend when the Rangers take on Tampa Bay and Florida over the weekend in their first games of 2011.

Dale Weise was called up immediately after the game for the Rangers to replace Christensen. Weise had a very impressive first game with the Rangers against the Flyers. In just under seven minutes of ice time, Weise had a goal waived off, won a fight, had a shot on goal, and finished with an even rating. Expect Weise to be with the Rangers until Christensen is better, or until Vinny Prospal returns from injury.

Drury On Fourth Line; White Or Christensen To Be Scratched

As per Arthur Staple, Chris Drury was practicing on the fourth line today between Sean Avery and Erik Christensen/Todd White. Should Drury return, one of Christensen/White will be the healthy scratch to make room. It doesn’t appear that the Rangers will demote White until Derek Boogaard returns from injury, so expect the Rangers to carry 14 forwards for the time being. Believe it or not, the Rangers actually have the cap space to carry Drury without dumping White.

As for the rest of the lines, they remained in tact:

Ruslan Fedotenko-Derek Stepan-Marian Gaborik
Brandon Dubinsky-Artem Anisimov-Ryan Callahan
Alex Frolov-Brian Boyle-Brandon Prust
Sean Avery-Chris Drury-Erik Christensen/Todd White

Drury Back, Decisions Ahead

Although he still has plenty (potentially) to give to the Rangers, with the news of Chris Drury’s pending return – a welcome return at that – Erik Christensen is starring down the barrel of a healthy scratch. Luckily for him, Derek Boogaard doesn’t like to stay healthy. It was telling that during the Rangers demolition of the Caps Christensen only received roughly 11 minutes of ice time even though the game was already won entering the 3rd period. When a game is won early on it’s often a chance for a coach to rest his core players, try and get struggling players going with extended playing time and we saw that to an extent as Frolov got good PP minutes and even Todd White got power play time. Unfortunately for EC, he still didn’t get a ton of minutes during this game.

Drury’s return is a welcome for everyone but Christensen and White, although even more players will be concerned when Vinnie Prospal gets back later this month. Drury is an excellent face off guy, a lead by example type and will naturally help the penalty kill and while his offensive skills are clearly diminished from his Buffalo days he can still be counted on to add skill to the bottom 6 or chip in on a scoring line to some degree. Drury is this team’s undoubted leader – as indicated by Torts – and he’ll play regardless. How much he plays depends on the next game or two as while he looks to get game fitness a lot will depend on the chemistry and success of other lines. The next few games are indeed very important to Drury’s season. We should know quickly where Tortorella wants to use him and it will be key for Drury to show that he can be more than a checking forward who leads the penalty kill. How quickly he gets back up to speed may define Drury’s season.

The next two games are critical for Erik Christensen and arguably his future as a Ranger and perhaps even as an NHL’er. It’s very likely that Todd White will be the first casualty but once Boogaard (and then Prospal) are available other bodies will need to be sacrificed. Looking around the roster the obvious next candidate is EC. Many players such as Brandon Prust and Brian Boyle have taken advantage of the early season absences of key forwards and have made themselves invaluable to the Blueshirt cause. In fact, Brandon Prust may have been the Rangers best forward through November and early December such has been his impact all over the ice. All of this brings us back to EC and his key run of upcoming games. The game against the Pens and the game against the Coyotes may be his last chances to convince as the Rangers will likely go with the most physical side at their disposal for the Flyers game thereafter. Should EC be scratched he need look no further than Matt Gilroy to see how hard it is to get back into the team on a regular basis, even though Gilroy’s play isn’t deserving of a seat in the press box.

With all this being considered EC’s position needs to be assessed. He has obvious ability and flashes it occasionally, to the point where he may be tempting as trade bait, especially when you consider his contract is relatively small. With his ability to play wing and center as well as his talent in the skills competition EC may in fact be playing the next few games as an audition such is his tenuous position on the roster. As Torts indicated, the kids are safe (as they should be) so EC clearly is in a numbers game that looks like one he cannot win. All that makes the next two games huge for Christensen and not just Chris Drury.

Christensen still has a Chance

This may already be a redundant post given Tortorella’s penchant for juggling lines and this all depends on the minutes distributed but the apparent demotion to the fourth line along with Sean Avery and Derek Boogaard doesn’t necessarily need to mean punishment for Erik Christensen. Quite the opposite possibly. Under normal circumstances the 4th line label is punishment, a demotion and the end of productivity but such is the collection of players on the Rangers roster that there will be plenty of skill and an interesting look for EC’s unit in the next game or two. Christensen has the ability to be productive but isn’t productive enough to warrant top 6 minutes. However for the Rangers, having players with his skill level lower down the roster spreads the offensive ability out. Other than when Gaborik was double shifted (after Boogaard’s injury last night) Christensen played mainly with Avery and the big ex-Minnesota tough guy. It’s a strange mix but one with potential.

Boogaard obviously can bang, Avery likes to get in deep and is strong on the boards so this line represents a chance for Christensen to get some space and time on the puck (should the line be effective in whatever minutes Tortorella gives them). Christensen played 12 minutes last night, Avery just under 9 but both had effective moments in the game. They will need to show some consistency – that has arguably eluded both players thus far – to get promotions and more minutes but last night was a positive start for the pair, specifically Christensen. His goal last night was basically all about taking a chance. While it was a bad error by Brian Elliot Christensen threw it on net going by the old adage ‘if you’re not in it you can’t win it’. He needs to do more of that. Take chances (in the right situations) and look to make plays. He should have line mates that will afford him space to showcase his talents. Who knows, it may lead to better days for the unpredictable pivot.