The signs were there at the end of the regular season as Martin St. Louis began to look like the player the Rangers hoped they had acquired. It continued on Thursday night. St. Louis, while not registering a shot, was engaged, around the puck and around the net all night long and came up with two huge assists as the Rangers put down the Flyers 4-1.
Brad Richards may have played his best ever game for the Rangers Thursday night. The veteran center had a huge powerplay goal, two crucial assists, playing an energetic game while being physically and defensively committed all night long. He was there when it mattered.
Then there’s Rick Nash. Nash looked to test Ray Emery at every opportunity (given he was shaky to begin, it was the right thing to do) and as the game developed Nash looked to go to the net with more frequency and could have scored as he cut to the net from the left. Nash also got an assist, as reward for his consistent performance on the night. If Nash drives to the net with more regularity the Rangers will be that much more dangerous.
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Long term contention? Photo: Brad Penner, USA Today
The Rangers entertain the hapless Sabres tonight. A team with hopes of a deep playoff run should be winning tonight with ease so with that jinx behind us, let’s throw up a few Ranger based thoughts.
Let’s briefly address the ‘win now’ theory. Henrik Lundqvist is 32 and has a shiny new seven year deal. He hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down and with several examples of goalies playing to an elite level deep into their 30’s, there’s no reason to think Lundqvist can’t do the same.
The defense has a strong under-contract core (Staal, Girardi, McDonagh and Klein) of which none are the wrong side of thirty. The forward corps (Nash and St Louis not considered) could feature six players in the top nine who have contributed to the Rangers this year (as presently constructed) that are all 26 or under and of which none have maxed out their potential – think Kreider, Hagelin, Stepan, Zuccarello, Brassard and JT Miller.
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As often happens, my esteemed colleagues here at Blue Seat Blogs have comprehensively covered the vast majority of the pressing Rangers issues of the day, so I’m going to meander through some various thoughts as we approach tonight’s matchup with Calgary.
- Tonight’s game has trap written all over it. The Flames are terrible and the Rangers have won five in a row. With a playoff spot looking more and more secure, it’s my biggest concern that these easy points could slip away as the team looks ahead.
- With that said, this is a quality test for AV and the team’s leadership to keep the squad focused on the task at hand. Home ice in the first round is still attainable, and they just need to look no further than the LA Kings of 2012 to see what a massive hot streak entering the playoffs can do for a team’s Cup aspirations. Read more »
Has anyone seen this man?
At some stage, Rick Nash needs to be a consistent game changing force because that’s what he is being paid to be. At some stage, people will begin to question his ability to be motivated game in, game out. At some stage if things continue the way they are, the media criticism – so far, relatively tame on Nash – will crank up.
Even with Marty St Louis’ arrival, Nash may still be the most talented skater on the Rangers. Given St Louis’ eventual Hall of Fame conclusion to his career and Ryan McDonagh’s ascendancy to elite defenseman, that’s a big statement. However, 32 points in 52 games simply cannot be an acceptable return from Nash, even allowing for injuries and the disrupted Olympic season.
What’s wrong with Nash? Prior to the Canadian Olympic roster being named – and after it – Nash admitted that the call to Canada’s elite team was a cause of motivation. It also showed in his play as Nash scored in bunches. In New York Nash should have $7.8 million reasons to be motivated. It goes beyond money though.
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Other than the start of free agency, perhaps there’s no other time of the year where hockey fans, the media, and even front office staff get overly excited about other team’s players. Some trade deadline’s end up as complete busts, while other’s see more movement than anyone could have anticipated. How this week will turn out, nobody knows for sure.
However, for the first time in a rather long time, I’m hoping the Rangers will stand pat. Even if it means holding on to you-know-who regardless of whether he signs a new contract by 3pm Wednesday. This year the reason to stand pat is simple — we’re playing very well and we still have yet to see the best of Rick Nash.
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Shooting at 22.4% (Andrew Theodorakis/NY Daily News)
In case you missed it, Rick Nash went nuts in January. He scored 11 goals in 11 games last month, sandwiched between two-game point-less streaks. There has been a dramatic shift in the way Nash plays as well. He seems more engaged, more willing to go to dirty areas, and back to the Rick Nash the Rangers thought they were getting two summers ago. On the ice, he’s been a machine.
But let’s take a step back for a moment. In that 11 game span, Nash scored 11 goals on 49 shots. That’s a whopping 22.4% success rate. That is exactly double his career shot percent rate of 11.2%. Suffice it to say, that is simply impossible to maintain. We’ve even started to see Nash hit a snag in terms of keeping with that pace, as he’s 0-for-12 in his last two games.
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Derek Dorsett could be a difference maker (Source: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images North America)
The Rangers facd the toughest possible opponent tonight. When an elite team like the Blues head to town fresh off a mauling, they will be conscious of stopping the rot before it starts. This will be a great benchmark game for the Rangers. Can they go toe to toe with a contender? Can they put behind them their own disappointing game? Tonight’s game is the definition of a character test.
Kevin Klein’s arrival meant the end of Michael Del Zotto, but does it also signal the end of Anton Stralman? Stralman is reported to be looking for $3 million plus at season’s end, despite being distinctly average for the most of this year. Would the Rangers be willing to lock up what are essentially two third pair guys for what would be $3 million each?
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The Rangers have been waiting for Rick Nash’s offensive explosion
If you’re still ignoring the #fancystats movement, you’re missing out on some awesome information that provides a lot of further insight to the game. But one thing we don’t need advanced stats to tell us is that to succeed in the NHL you A) need good players, and B) need your good players to play well.
That was missing early in the season when the Rangers’ best players, Rick Nash and Henrik Lundqvist, were non-factors (Nash was hurt, Lundqvist was playing some of the worst hockey of his career). However, over the past month both men have returned to their old superstar forms, and not coincidentally, New York has played its best hockey of the season. The Rangers are 11-4-1 in their last 16 games dating back to December 22nd, and in that stretch, Nash has recorded 12 points (10 goals, two assists) while Lundqvist has a 1.97 GAA and a .933 SV%.
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The Rangers are thankful for Lundqvist’s improved form (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Perhaps the most encouraging part of watching the Rangers during their recent upturn in form is seeing several core players begin to find some much needed form. Any club will only go as far as their best players take them and it’s no coincidence that now that the spine of the Rangers are collectively finding their games, the team has found some level of consistency and are beginning to show evidence of creating an identity.
Rick Nash has started to find his offensive game and it’s no coincidence that he has started to score a few goals and be harder to deal with as he has (finally) started to go the dangerous parts of the ice. Nash’s game winner against the Stars came as he was falling, looking to crash the night. With his size and ability Nash has to be around the puck more, not stay on the perimeter and he simply has to go to the net. It’s not easy to move a man of his size. Simple hockey theory.
As Dave discussed this week, Dan Girardi’s improved form has given the Rangers more consistency on the back end, helped reduce the errors in front of Lundqvist and generally made the Rangers harder to play against. Girardi is not one of the Rangers more talented players but whsomeone plays as many minutes as Girardi does and matches up against the opponent’s best forwards, if he’s on his game it will usually bode well.
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Rarity: Chris Kreider is one of few that represent value this year. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Who gets the blame; the General Manager? The coaching staff? Or perhaps the players themselves? When you look at the Rangers’ disappointing position in the standings and general up and down performances from a game to game basis, one thing that may go unnoticed is how the Rangers are not getting value for money from their roster. In the cap era, getting good return from your investments is critical and is something found on almost every successful roster.
With New York it obviously begins with Rick Nash ($7.8 million) , Brad Richards ($6.667 million) and yes, Henrik Lundqvist (at present, $6.875 million). When judging the financial returns solely on this season, none of the critical trio named are giving the Rangers acceptable production. Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, and in fact almost every Ranger player on a sizeable cap hit hasn’t produced.
Whatever the mitigating circumstances, the underwhelming returns continue with Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan, Michael Del Zotto and, until recently, Derick Brassard. No ‘core player’ has produced as anticipated. Considering cap hits of $2 million dollars and above, it can be argued only Ryan McDonagh and Mats Zuccarello have produced above expectations. When you consider, from a financial perspective, almost an entire roster hasn’t lived up to its billing it’s a huge area for concern.
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