Derek Stepan’s return is imminent, Dan Boyle’s recovery is also in it’s final stages, and John Moore’s suspension will be over after Sunday’s game. Kevin Klein could follow soon after, though no official prognosis has been made on his foot injury.
So how will things change in the coming days and weeks?
For one thing, the return of Stepan and Boyle should, should, get the power play on track. Statistically it can’t be much worse than the three-for-32 slump to start the season (Pittsburgh has 19 power play goals already…), but even a mediocre stretch by the man advantage would mean an extra goal every few games, a not insignificant padding for the patchwork defense.
Stepan’s return should also help the penalty kill and provide some stability to the line combinations, which have been in a constant state of flux due to coach Alain Vigneault’s search for a competent center. Slotting Stepan and Derick Brassard on the top two lines and Dominic Moore on the checking line leaves only one spot between Kevin Hayes and Chris Mueller. It should be much easier to find longer-term trios with that settled.
The biggest question is on defense. Ryan McDonagh’s extended absence will give Vigneault time to make a decision, but the top-six has been clouded with the emergence of Matt Hunwick, who has outplayed Moore, Klein and, at times, Marc Staal. Staal and Dan Girardi are the acting top-two, while Boyle will also become a big part of the puzzle. But where do the other three fit in? Heck even Mike Kostka has been more than serviceable since his first-game disaster, and a guy like Conor Allen could make things interesting, too.
When everyone is healthy (knock on wood), Hunwick could squeeze out Moore or Klein. And if the Blueshirts are thinking seriously about assembling a package for Andrej Sekera, another D-man, or even a center, then Moore and odd-man out J.T. Miller make for a very logical starting point.
Sather’s failure to acquire adequate center depth and decisions to let Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman go have been the story of the early season, but things aren’t nearly as bad as they’ve seemed. The Blueshirts are hanging close in the standings – impressive given all the turmoil – but they will soon be in position for their considerable depth to pay major dividends. Our first chance to fairly evaluate the 2014-2015 Rangers is nearly upon us.