Too many times this season, Derek Stepan – no longer a kid on the Rangers roster – has been a passenger. Despite having 48 points (on course for 55), most people consider his season an underwhelming one, which speaks to Derek’s talent and just how much fans expect of him. Stepan needs to be involved and needs to generate offense for his wingers for the Rangers to be successful. Recently, Stepan has improved and it bodes well for the stretch drive.
With 11 points in his last 10 games, Stepan has started to find some consistency including four goals in his last eight games. It goes beyond the numbers though. Using his goal last night against the Blue Jackets as an example, Stepan is going to the dangerous areas on the ice where he is more involved. He’s going to the net, he’s playing between the circles and recently, he’s looking to use his underrated shot more than he has for most of the season. Five games in a row, Stepan has registered at least two shots on net and looks more involved in games than at any other stage of the season.
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Per Andrew Gross, the Rangers are getting back their leading scorer (well, not including Martin St. Louis) tonight, as Mats Zuccarello will be rejoining the lineup after suffering a broken hand in the Olympics. Zuccarello missed Norway’s final game in Sochi and the first five games since the break. Zucc will likely rejoin linemates Benoit Pouliot and Derick Brassard on the third line.
Derek Dorsett, who was the only forward at the optional skate this morning, will likely sit.
I still can’t get used to Alain Vigneault’s steady line combinations after four years of John Tortorella’s incessant juggling, but Vigneault has stuck with the same combinations for quite some time now. It’s worth nothing that the Rangers finally turned a corner this season thanks in no small part to the team’s balance and chemistry up front. Mats Zuccarello has been the team’s best forward so far this season and a key cog in Vigneault’s formula, but with him lost for likely another week or two (not to mention the upcoming trade deadline), Vigneault will be forced to rejigger his preferred trios.
Throw in the fact that winger Derek Dorsett is ready to return from a broken fibula and 20-year-old J.T. Miller, who has been dominant in the AHL, was recalled last night, and it’s tough to predict what Vigneault will end up with. It’s probably most likely that Vigneault will be forced to try several different new looks – which might not be settled by the trade deadline in three games, throwing us back to square one.
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Despite earlier reports that the injury to Mats Zuccarello was not serious, the winger and Rangers leading scorer will be out 3-4 weeks with that broken hand. Considering the Olympic break doesn’t end until Thursday for the Rangers, Zuccarello will miss 2-3 weeks of games. That amounts to anywhere from 5-7 games. This is obviously a blow for the Rangers, as Zuccarello has been a huge asset to the team, and has been the backbone of his line with Derick Brassard and Benoit Pouliot.
The Rangers might not need to make a call up, depending on how well Derek Dorsett progresses from his broken leg. If they do need to make a call up, J.T. Miller would likely be the fill-in.
Per Seth Rothman, citing a Norwegian report, Mats Zuccarello has a small fracture in his injured left hand. Zuccarello suffered the injury Sunday against Austria after taking a slash to the hand, and sat out the elimination game against Russia yesterday. The injury is not expected to be a long-term injury, and Zuccarello could be ready by the time the NHL season resumes on February 27. The injury does not require surgery.
– Only five players have more game-winning goals than Rick Nash (6).
– Only Alex Ovechkin is averaging more shots per game than Rick Nash (4.1).
– Only nine players have more points against their own division than Mats Zuccarello’s 21.
– Only eight players have more penalty minutes on home ice than Chris Kreider (53). Only Dallas’s Antoine Roussel has actually committed more penalties on home ice than Kreider (20).
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Derek Stepan is one of several players that need to be better
The Rangers have struggled to score consistently all season. Successful teams get the bulk of their scoring from their top six forwards, but no Ranger forward has covered himself in glory this season. Before going on to look at the individual grades at the halfway mark consider this: Mats Zuccarello is leading this team in scoring – a team designed to win the Cup – and is 71st in scoring in the league at time of writing.
Offensively this team will live or die on Rick Nash’s production. As of Wednesday night, 156(!) players had scored more goals than Rick Nash (7 goals, 16 points in 24 games). While his injuries are unfortunate, the peripheral play, extended droughts, and lack of dominance from a player with Nash’s skill and size are a concern. Nash is making $7.8 million and is the team’s most gifted forward, but rarely has he come close to earning his salary or leading the Rangers offense. A team with limited skill need more from their sole elite forward, Nash needs a strong second half if the Rangers are going to have success.
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Franson could be NY bound (Photo: Dale MacMillan/Getty Images)
Welcome to Thursday. It’s finally time for another Musings (not that fake musings Dave did yesterday. What a bum). The Rangers have been better the past couple games without being very good. With plenty to muse over, let’s do it for the final time before the festive season kicks in.
As you’ll have seen; rumours are abound that the Leafs are considering Michael Del Zotto and Cody Franson may come the other way. From the Leafs perspective it doesn’t make sense. You’re essentially swapping one expiring contract for the other but giving up a bigger more productive player who’s better on his feet without being a great defenseman. Seems like a lot of trust in Del Zotto’s ability to turn the corner in his career.
Rick Nash. Oh, Rick Nash where art thou? He was invisible in the Penguins game – a game where I had previously said he needed to make a statement. It’s as simple as this: the Rangers cannot be successful long term unless Nash and Henrik Lundqvist are on or near the top of their games. Right now neither is close, hence the current position in the standings.
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Ryan Callahan’s injury woes are concerning, but New York will still likely do everything it can to keep its captain
Quick note: Dave was at the game last night, so the goal breakdown will be done for the afternoon post.
The Rangers’ season is quickly spiraling out of control and it’s probably a matter of time before GM Glen Sather steps in and makes a major shakeup. But with so many pending free agents and so many players underperforming, it’s a certainty that the 2014-2015 version of the Blueshirts will look drastically different than the edition that stunk up the joint last night against Nashville. So let’s take a look at New York’s upcoming free agents and see who might still be around next year, and who could be gone.
Ryan Callahan - Yet another injury has clouded this situation. A few months ago it would have been unthinkable to imagine life without Callahan, but his health is becoming increasingly concerning. New York’s doctors will have to evaluate Callahan’s physical condition, but assuming he’s in one piece, I still expect the Rangers to do everything they can to lock up their captain long-term. Some of the beat writers think Callahan would be very tempted to join the Sabres next summer to move closer to home, but though I’m sure Callahan loves Rochester, New York City isn’t all that far away and I can’t imagine Callahan joining a rebuilding team. If things really fall apart for the Blueshirts and there’s not much progress in negotiations, I could see Callahan being tempted by a contender. But it’s still most likely the Rangers will retain their captain, albeit at a very steep price. Remember, the Rangers paid RFAs Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Brian Boyle and Michael Sauer over Callahan in 2011 and gave him a lesser deal due to the resulting cap crunch. No. 24 swallowed that bitter pill then, but it’s unlikely New York will be getting a hometown discount this time around.
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Zuccarello: one of the more consistent Rangers this season
Amid the very up and down season the Rangers are currently ‘enjoying’, one player who has finally started to show some legitimate consistency is Mats Zuccarello, and it could cost the Rangers. The Rangers did the right thing last summer when they did not over commit to Zuccarello when they brought him back on a short term deal. The player hadn’t shown enough consistency or finishing ability to be considered a viable top six NHL forward and given his size and skill set, any other role wasn’t a realistic option.
Since his early season benching for the Flyers game, Zuccarello has arguably been the Rangers most creative player and is producing at a solid level. For a player that until recently has struggled to exert himself on a game by game basis, Zuccarello has been a creative force.
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