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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Going to the dirty areas, scoring more goals. (Photo: Adam Hunger/USA Today)
Right now, outside of Anaheim, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more confident and in-form goal scorer than Rick Nash. Other than the Ducks’ Corey Perry, Nash has been the best the league has to offer as October draws to a close but unlike Perry, Nash has had very little (consistent) support to this point of the season.
While they’re different players, the start to the year Nash has enjoyed has been reminiscent of how Jaromir Jagr put his Rangers team on his back and carried them all season long on his way to that historic 54 goal season a few years back. Right now, the Rangers need Nash not only to generate the offense that he has, but to help kick start other players into life. It appeared that this additional part of Nash’s job description started in earnest against the Wild.
Prior to Monday night Mats Zuccarello had struggled mightily – much like his start to last year. Derick Brassard had also been inconsistent but both players came up with huge efforts when lined up with Nash Monday night. Looking back to the start of the year and Chris Kreider has also had his most effective games with Nash as a running mate.
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Rick Nash is off to a hot goal-scoring streak to start the 2014-15 season, scoring 7 goals in 6 games, tops in the NHL. Nash, who was the subject of much criticism over the off-season for “not showing up” in the playoffs despite strong possession numbers, is in for a bit of a wake up call, which may be coming sooner than later. Ranger fans should be expecting a goal-scoring slump from the winger, but it’s ok.
Nash has had strong possession numbers over the course of his first two seasons with the Rangers. His CF% is 54.8 over that span. This season, in even strength situations, Nash’s CF% and FF% are last on the team (44.9 and 43.1 respectively). His saving grace thus far has been an insanely high and unsustainable SH% of 44.4%, which is going to drop dramatically over the course of the season. For a player who led the NHL in shots last postseason while only scoring 3 goals, he was bound to find a string of good fortune and he seems to have found it early on this year.
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Al Bello/Getty Images
Since we often preach patience and the long-view around here, I find it very difficult to identify specific narrative topics when the season is only five games old. Many of our observations will normalize or end up a blip on the big picture radar. Most sample sizes are too small, trends too tenuous and in the case of the Rangers, too injury dependent. Once Stepan and Boyle return, we will start to see the true colors of this team, but until then, I feel like some random thoughts are more appropriate than digging into too much data or player performance numbers. I’ll be curious to see if your thoughts are consistent with mine during this time of upheaval…
- Is it wrong that I was excited just to see that second win so things didn’t spiral out of control like last October?
- Man, Lee Stempniak has been great. We all were fully on-board with the signing when it happened, but he has gotten off to a much better start than we could have reasonably expected.
- Ryan McDonagh played over 30 minutes last night. In October. Loco.
- Rick Nash is a monster. I had a feeling that the post-concussion symptoms were holding him back last season. He was horribly snake bitten in the playoffs, but has broken out again in a big way to start this year. Goals aside, he had made strong moves to the net, utilizing his size and reach with great results. If he can stay healthy, he will be an absolute force this season.
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Building on what Kevin talked about yesterday, not everything in Rangerland is a negative right now. Despite the inept goaltending currently found at the Garden and the sinking ship that is the Rangers defense, there are still reasons for optimism in New York. One of those reasons is Chris Kreider. If the Rangers had just a competent defense in week one we would be talking more about the good starts of Anthony Duclair and Lee Stempniak, the hot streak and return to prominence of Rick Nash but – in my opinion – above all, Chris Kreider’s emergence as an every game threat.
While still a little rough around the edges, Kreider has looked dominant at times. His one goal so far was a breakaway which he took extremely well, he has been hard on the puck all year, has been physically engaged while he’s also shown he’s willing to stick up for his teammates. Kreider has also impressed with a couple of great primary assists on goals for Nash and Derick Brassard showing that he’s not a one dimensional player and has been hungry for the puck on his stick. If he can maintain his start to the season he should also smash his career high for shots on goal with well over 200.
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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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Breakout candidate? Photo: Getty Images
It’s the dawn of a new season and already we’re full of anticipation, panic and dilemma… What fun it is to be a New York Rangers fan. Anyway, it’s Thursday so let’s have the first Musings of the season shall we? There’s plenty to talk about.
The obvious major talking point in Rangerland is the injury to Derek Stepan. I’m an optimist. Stepan’s injury hurts the Rangers in the short term but his absence shouldn’t cost the team a playoff berth and the team has plenty of younger prospects they can test out. This is an opportunity the franchise may never have had if it were not for the injury. Now is the time to throw in a Lindberg, Hayes and/or JT Miller and see whether they can step into a full time NHL role.
Long term, the injury to Stepan may have been a blessing in disguise if the Rangers develop one (or more) prospects for the long term because of this unfortunate situation. If this was Lundqvist going down for a long stretch it would be time to panic but Stepan missing 10-12 games will not cost the club long term. No need to panic. Prospect development time is upon us.
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Nash is integral to the Rangers hopes for 2015
Last season, it can be reasonably argued that no other ‘contending’ team had to put up with as much inconsistency from their top line than the New York Rangers. In fact, the Rangers were surely the only team to go deep in the playoffs who couldn’t even identify a clear top forward line. Injuries, a lack of cohesion, a new system and a poor start to the year were all factors in the Rangers not having a legitimate top line almost all year.
If the Rangers are going to repeat or better their Stanley Cup final appearance in June they will need a clear, dominant top line to emerge. They can’t rely on their bottom six to out work other teams any longer. It all begins and ends with Rick Nash. Nash is the second most important Ranger, behind Henrik Lundqvist, and in front of Ryan McDonagh. After all, if McDonagh falters the Rangers still have two quality top line defensemen in Staal and Girardi to rely on, without considering the merits of Dan Boyle and Kevin Klein.
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The Rangers aren’t the only team who need a C
As discussed last week, there is much speculation to who will follow in Ryan Callahan’s nearly three season footsteps and lead the Blueshirts as their fearless captain this year. The Rangers aren’t the only team to be facing this kind of indecision. Though Tampa was able to name a captain immediately after trading Martin St. Louis, several teams who have lost their captains to free agency or trades during the offseason are currently suffering a hole in their leadership groups.
Of the 30 teams contending in the NHL, seven have no current captain, and 11 have at least one missing alternate captain. Of these teams, some have lost their captains to trades or free agency, however at least one has stripped their leaders of their letters. Let’s take a look at the six clubs besides the Rangers who are missing captains leading up to training camp.
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Loads of armchair GM’s have had one thought on the backburner of their mind since Ryan Callahan was traded last March: who will be the next captain? Instead of instantly naming a new captain, a move which the Lightning made immediately upon the captain-for-captain swap of Callahan for Martin St. Louis, the Rangers simply promoted Dan Girardi to full time alternate. Joining Marc Staal and Brad Richards proudly wearing the ‘A’ on their sweaters was a promotion of sorts for Girardi, who signed an extension during the regular season.
Around now is when I would cite some reliable sources about the most recent news as to who will be leading our beloved Blueshirts through seasons to come, but quite frankly I would rather irresponsibly yap about my opinion and play a few rounds of Devil’s Advocate. We know that Richards can’t be the captain, leaving us with two logical guesses in Staal and Girardi. Many are convinced that Ryan McDonagh is a lock for the role. How about veteran and former captain St. Louis? Or another former captain in Rick Nash? The possibilities are endless.
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