MusingsState of the Rangers

Pleasant surprises dotted through Rangers’ early struggles

Lee Stempniak has been the best Ranger to start the season

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.

Lee Stempniak. Everything about him. Stempniak has been the team’s best player since opening night and he’s chipped in everywhere: scoring goals, setting up plays, taking the body, defensively, on special teams…you name it, Stempniak has done it. Every time he’s on the ice, Stempniak is making something happen through a nice mix of talent and hustle. He can’t possibly play this well all season, but Stempniak looks like he’s going to be an outstanding addition to the third line.

The goal-less power play. I don’t care that the Rangers have zero goals on the man advantage, they’ve looked great on the power play. Especially without Stepan and Boyle, and Stempniak as the lone righty shot, it’s a miracle that the team has been able to move the puck effectively and generate chances without giving up a million shorthanded opportunities. Even though he’s played just one game, Ryan Malone looks like he could be a difference-maker in front of the net, Anthony Duclair clearly has the talent and vision to be a season-long contributor, and Nash, Stempniak and Martin St. Louis have all proven to be effective options at the point. There are a ton of reasons to believe this power play is going to be pretty solid once its two most important players return.

The positive signs from Duclair, Kevin Hayes and Jesper Fast. Ironically, Duclair has done all his damage feeding his teammates, but his lightning-quick release has been on display repeatedly. Duclair isn’t great defensively, but his offensive ability more than makes up for it. Hayes took a while to get going in the preseason and as he rehabbed from a shoulder injury, but he’s looking very much like a long-term option as the third-line center. Hayes’ confidence seems to be building with every shift, and though he’s taking a split-second too long to make decisions and is hell-bent on making one too many moves, he’s seeing the ice very well and has been better than expected in his own end. And Fast – though he was removed from the lineup last night in favor of Malone – is already one of the team’s better defensive forwards and should be a mainstay on the checking line and penalty kill this year. None of these three is a finished product, but none of them seem overmatched by regular season action. They could all become key pieces in short order.

St. Louis at center. Obviously it would be great if the Rangers weren’t in a position where they needed St. Louis to fill in as the top-line center, or play the position at all. But that’s not the point. St. Louis has almost never played in the middle during his 16-year NHL career, but he’s made leaps and bounds in just four games at a completely new position. And of equal importance – he’s setting a terrific example for his teammates that the team is bigger than the individual and whatever sacrifices or adjustments must be made for the good of the squad are well worth it. Ryan Callahan used to do the same thing, albeit in a very different way – it’s outstanding leadership.

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  • It would be interesting to see if Hayes takes off and starts playing some great hockey.

    Just a quick question, not to rattle anyone, “what would you think of Hayes being the 2C when Step comes back”, and move Brass back to the 3C position???

    As for Stempniak playing well, I said that would be the case when we signed him, and I’m very pleased that management pulled that deal off!!!

  • The lousy play at home is one thing AV has not fixed. And again, aside from Nash, scoring is an issue. When you outshoot a team 21-8 and don’t score, it always comes back to bite you. I knew this would happen with Kostka, he stunk in TO too. Forget him, he’s a minor leaguer. If Hunwick can’t do the job then its time for Allen or McIlrath. Both those guys are better than Kostka right now. Stemp is 10X better than Pouliot. The D was really brutal last year early on and it makes me wonder about Ulfie. If the Rangers are going to be a serious contender they have to stop laying eggs at home. And it starts with AV because putting Kostka in there last night was abject stupidity on his part.

    • The Vancouver Canucks were notorious for slow starts under AV and that trend continues in NY. Why only 6 preseason games instead of 8,9 or 10 like the other teams. At least then you know what you have for a lineup when the regular season begins.

      • So the Canucks were “notorious” for slow starts under AV? I’ve seen that alleged “fact” repeated a few times here so I thought I’d see if there’s any truth to it.

        Not a bit.

        Here’s Vancouver’s record over the first 10 games of each season under AV:
        2006-7: 5-4-1
        2007-8: 4-6
        2008-9: 5-5
        2009-10: 5-5
        2010-11: 5-3-2
        2011-12: 4-5-1
        2012-13: 6-2-2
        Total: 34-30-6

        • You forgot to add last years dismal start to your list, which gives him a losing record overall. With the exception of the 2012-13 season his record is not stellar (unless your an islanders fan). So why not have the team ready before the regular season begins instead looking like they just stepped off the golf course?

          • Because it’s a long season and you’d rather peak closer to the playoffs than in October.

            The Rangers just came off of a 107 game season (with some Olympic Hockey mixed in for good measure). We hope and the organization hopes that they are looking at another 107 or so games this season. Why would you want the team to add even more meaningless preseason games to that count?

          • I didn’t forget to add last year’s dismal start to the list. You said that AV’s Canucks teams were “notorious for slow starts”. Its’s not true.

  • anyone who says they expected hank to start the year by giving up 6 goals apiece in his first two home games is either lying or an islanders fan!

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