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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The Rangers were able to salvage their franchise-record homestand with wins over Minnesota and Toronto, but things still need to change if the Blueshirts are going to turn their season around.
New York’s 27th-ranked offense has been carried by the likes of Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider and Benoit Pouliot over the last two weeks, while the team’s top players continue to struggle. Rick Nash hasn’t scored in any of his last six games, and has just one goal in his last nine. Brad Richards hasn’t scored in eight games and Derek Stepan has just three goals in his last 23 games. Not coincidentally, those cold streaks have coincided with the team’s worst stretch of the season.
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If Heath Ledger’s iconic turn as The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s epic 2008 crime drama “The Dark Knight” has taught us anything, its that as long as everything goes according to plan, everything is fine. Even if the plan is horrifying. When the Flames lose 50+ games this season, nobody panics. When franchise players are flipped for unknown prospects and picks, everything is fine. But when one little ol’ contender struggles, especially in New York, well, then everyone loses their minds.
This year’s New York Rangers club has fallen well short of expectations thus far. This team was supposed to be the cream that rose to the top of the less-than-stellar Metropolitan Division and carry Stanley Cup aspirations into the late spring months. Alain Vigneault was supposed to be the final piece of this puzzle, taking a team more offensive talented than the 2012 team that grinded their way to the Eastern Conference finals to the next level.
Clearly, the transition has been sandpaper smooth to this point. The team in general (but, especially the defense) have had a difficult time going from John Tortorella’s straight forward 2-1-2/low zone collapse to AV’s more complex, matchup oriented overload system. Henrik Lundqvist has been mortal to this point, and our beloved Blueshirts are clinging to playoff contention more as a result of the weak Eastern Conference and weaker Metropolitan Division than of the quality of their play. Read more »
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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Will the real Rick Nash please stand up. (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)
When the Rangers traded for Rick Nash, it was with the intention of finding their offensive saviour. It hasn’t happened. The Rangers still struggle to score goals consistently, and while Nash has flashed his obvious and undoubted brilliance, he hasn’t (yet) been the player the Rangers were looking for. Nash’s first regular season as a Ranger was a solid one (42 points in 44 games), but the season ended in underwhelming style as the team (and Nash) left the playoff party without much fight.
This year Nash obviously suffered the concussion, but has also been caught in the same quicksand that the entire Rangers offense has found itself in. With 12 points in 17 games and just 6 goals, Nash needs to produce more. A lack of reliable line mates or an injury simply can’t count as excuses any longer. When a player is drawing a $7.8 million annual salary he needs to be doing more. No one will criticise Nash for missing time through an unfortunate injury, but when he’s healthy the most talented Rangers forward has to deliver more consistently and in fact more in almost every way.
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I know you just had the musings yesterday, but I have a bunch of thoughts I want to share that aren’t worth a full post. Deal with it. Here’s some thoughts following the Rangers 3-2 win in Dallas last night…
- Is there really anywhere to start but with Hank? The King was absolutely out of his mind last night. Watching the game, there were several times I found myself gasping at his awesomeness. Dare I say he out Tuukka’d Tuukka’s performance from the other night. Hank’s positioning was spot on, he tracked the puck exceedingly well, and he hung with very tough second and third chances. He was an absolute wall.
- Man, it’s nice to have Rick Nash back. I absolutely love watching the guy play. His size, speed, and fluidity are all sorely missed when he’s out of the lineup. He has this way of just mesmerizing opposing D-men as he nonchalantly glides into the zone. I can totally understand why sometimes his teammates just stand around and watch him. Read more »
Per Andrew Gross, Rick Nash is good to go and will play tonight. He will take J.T. Miller’s spot in the lineup, as Miller will be a healthy scratch with Michael Del Zotto. Nash had been out since the third game of the season with a concussion.
Per Pat Leonard, Rick Nash is wearing a full contact jersey today in practice. This is nothing short of great news, as his time table for return –which had been as long as week-to-week earlier this week– is now day-to-day. The Rangers are that much closer to their best player returning to the lineup.
Also per Leonard, Michael Del Zotto appears to be a healthy scratch, as he is paired with Nash on defense. Justin Falk is skating with John Moore. Leonard also notes that Dominic Moore is a go for tomorrow, and Brandon Mashinter will be scratched.
A strong, prolonged period of results was slightly tarnished with the sloppy, unnecessary loss to the Devils earlier this week. Sloppy goals, defensive lapses and a lack of finish had many reminding us of the early season edition of the Rangers. With games against the Canadiens and Kings on the weekend it’s a big couple of days for the Rangers. On to the musings
Generally speaking, the Rangers have played well in recent games and this has highlighted the contributions from the youth on the roster such as Chris Kreider. With the Wolf Packing doing pretty well too, it makes the Rangers prospect ranking of 27th on Hockey’s Future (if you buy into that kind of thing) pretty farcical.
Danny Kristo, JT Miller, Jesper Fast, Kreider (still not classed as ‘graduated’), Dylan McIlrath, Oscar Lindberg and ‘Boo’ Nieves highlight a pretty talented pool if you ask me. There’s a ton of NHL upside in the Rangers system and the best part is none of it needs to be rushed. The only area of real concern (in my humble opinion) is in goal.
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Is Kreider a Calder candidate?
It’s come a year later than expected, but Chris Kreider is finally making his own way as a New York Ranger. During the Rangers recent stretch of good form, Kreider has arguably been the biggest physical force on the ice for the Rangers, using his body to great effect on countless occasions. He’s been producing offense, getting under countless opponents’ skin (hello Sidney), and generally playing the most consistent hockey he ever has done, at the pro level.
As with all projections and forecasts, when you’re barely a month into a seven month season, there is much scope for change. But there is no reason Kreider – who still qualifies as a rookie – shouldn’t be in the reckoning for the Calder trophy come the end of the season. If it’s down to opportunity and ability he’ll be in the mix.
Assuming Rick Nash returns soon – which every person associated with the Rangers hopes – Kreider will not be affected adversely as some may speculate, in fact quite the opposite. With Nash attracting the attention of most team’s best defensive lines, the theory is Kreider and his linemates will have weaker opposition to exploit. With 8 points in 10 games to date, and as one of the current focal points of the Rangers offense, Kreider has proven he can handle tough assignments so it stands to reason he should benefit from the attention Nash garners.
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