The Rangers bottom line needs fixing

Dominic Moore is being misused.
Dominic Moore is being misused.

A shutout victory against a very good team can mask a lot of deficiencies but the Rangers won’t win the Stanley Cup the way they’re currently playing – I think all Rangers fans know this. The top line can dominate all they want but they can’t play sixty minutes every game and Henrik Lundqvist can win the Vezina by a landslide but even he needs support. There is no way Lundqvist can continue this stretch of excellence unless the team start to play better in front of him.

The Rangers are winning games but they aren’t playing consistently well at either end of the rink – a handful of players aside. If it wasn’t for a potentially career year from Mats Zuccarello and Lundqvist’s sustained brilliance, what would this team’s record be? A lot closer to .500 hockey for sure.

Of course, there are a lot of reasons for optimism. The vast majority of the roster can play better, the defense certainly has the ability and collective track record to suggest they can (and will?) offer Lundqvist more protection and if team-wide discipline improves (it must) then the Rangers would spend less time in the penalty box surely resulting in more offense by default.

So With that all said, one of the major areas requiring surgery is the Rangers problematic fourth line. It has an awkward looking composition. Alain Vigneault likes to roll four lines but he can’t do it with any great confidence right now. The fourth line has been a revolving door of players both in and out of the line-up and in and out of different positions. Jarrett Stoll, Tanner Glass, Dominic Moore, Jesper Fast, Emerson Etem and even JT Miller have all spent time – to varying degrees – on the fourth line. Amongst others. Yet Vigneault still doesn’t have a combination that has served him well. No one benefits from the way the line has become a carousel roster parts.

Some of the issue rests with a recent Ranger acquisition. The Rangers made a mistake when they signed Jarrett Stoll. Not because the player can’t help the Rangers (his playoff experience, penalty killing ability and faceoff skills are certainly assets to be used) but because it meant that the Rangers were always going to be compromising the makeup of their bottom line. They didn’t need Stoll. He was a luxury acquisition.

They didn’t sign Stoll to sit in the press box but then again, Dominic Moore has proven too valuable a veteran to be out of the line-up as well. Did they need both? All of a sudden at least one square peg is going into a round hole. Neither veteran is an ideal solution on the flank. Did the Rangers obsess too much over Stoll’s winning pedigree? A better acquisition would have been a legitimate upgrade over Tanner Glass.

The Rangers have too many moving parts in the trenches. The fourth line would be best served with two natural wingers. With three players with defined roles however restricted or set in stone they may be. Right now, the fourth line looks incapable of being what the Rangers need it to be. Players are having to adapt, having to accommodate other players tendencies when the focus should be on fulfilling a fourth line role – zone time, defensive draws, reliable physical presence and establishing a consistent forecheck. Andrew Gross recently wrote that Moore and Stoll talk a lot about each others on ice needs due to, in part, Moore’s uneasiness on the wing. Credit Moore for trying to make it work but criticise Vigneault for trying to force it.

The Ranger are a better, more dangerous team when their depth is working to the team’s advantage. When they can actually roll all four lines and get good shift after good shift. The Rangers aren’t getting that kind of performance at the moment and part of it is Vigneault’s inability to develop an effective fourth line. Can the Rangers outlast the Canadiens, the Lightning and Washington come playoff time? Certainly in the case of the Caps and Canadiens, their line-ups look more in sync than the Rangers’ does while Tampa has more natural talent to fall back on; it’s a nice advantage they have.

If the Rangers are going to get back to the Stanley Cup finals and go one step further than two seasons ago it’ll be – in part – because their depth has played a major role in getting them there. It’s how this team needs to be built. Top to bottom and from the net out. Alan Vigneault needs to remedy his depth issue(s) while the season is still early and while mistakes aren’t costly. Thanks to Lundqvist and Zuccarello, Vigneault has some room for manoeuvre. That won’t always be the case.

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  • this game should be a classic with price vs Lundqvst in net this game should of been on NBCSN tonight instead of the islander and the flyers. have a great thanksgiving and stay safe.

    • Agree that we shoulda been on nbcsn instead of philly & the fish sticks. This is a huge game and a battle of the 2 best teams in the east and the entire NHL! But no they show a shitty team against an above average team instead. Don’t get it lol but nothing we can do about it. LGR!!!!

  • One can not like the look of things, but I think the results tell a different story. The two constants on the third line have Stoll and Moore. Dominic Moore is a +4 while Jarrett Stoll is a +6. That means that more goals are being scored by the Rangers than the opponents when they are on the ice. Considering the fact that these guys are being buried with defensive zone starts, these are pretty good numbers. In fact, considering even strength TOI, they are comparable to the overall Ranger average I think.

  • To Ray’s point above, I’d love to see what the War on Ice bubble charts show. Are these guys driving possession (aka shot attempts) while being buried with D zone starts? It hasn’t jumped at me that the 4th line is underperforming. Even so, how are Stoll’s #s as compared to Moore and Fast? Relcorsi should tell us a story.

    All fancy stats aside, I really have to disagree with the notion that Stoll was a bad signing. He was a no risk bargain deal. Can pretty much be buried in the AHL in full, if things didn’t work out. He gives us depth and helped us relegate Glass to the AHL. We’re only 1 injury away from incorporating all 13F into the roster on a nightly basis so I’m struggling to see the ‘logjam’ as a negative.

    Honestly, if Etem (our usual press box candidate) warranted more playing time, he would be getting it and Stoll, or whoever most deserved, would put on a quit an watch from above. If Stoll was signed at 3m or so, I’d be inclined to agree with you. But as it is, how can we call him anything other than a savvy and responsible depth signing?

  • While AV likes rolling 4 lines, the 4th line needs to be a shutdown line. While the composition of the line is odd at best, are they doing what they need to – limit the oppositions chances in our zone? I think they are.

  • I couldn’t disagree more. I wasn’t sure about Stoll at first, but he has played well. Stoll, Moore, and Fast are our best 4th line since Prust, Fedetenko, and Boyle.

  • I don’t think line 4 is the Rangers’ big weakness at all right now. On the contrary, they are taking heavy minutes and defensive draws as the game winds down, which suggests that they are one of the big reasons driving the team’s success in spite of the lack of production from lines 2 and 3. Last year, both lines 3 and 4 were unreliable defensively, requiring AV to play 1 and 2 in defensive situations. It’s amazing what having a reliable shutdown line at 4 does for the rest of the forward lines.

    No. The team is struggling in possession because lines 2 and 3 have not gelled and are underperforming. The question is where to play Hayes and Miller. If Hayes plays on 2 then Lindberg needs to fill the role of 3C. That will take time. Playing Miller on 2 might work but hasn’t so far. There seems to be a lack of chemistry between Hayes, Stalberg and Lindberg.

    Three players in particular are not playing up to expectations:
    -Kreider is not scoring on the breakaway and is not paying the price in front to score the greasy goals.
    -Miller is not comfortable and not getting in the offensive flow. Maybe he has been moved around too much?
    -Stalberg has the scoring touch of Hagelin (none) and less of the breakaway speed and defensive acumen of Hags

    This is why it would be nice to see more of Etem.

  • Chris, I am forced to agree with the rest of the gang here and disagree with you. While there is some truth to the notion that the 4th line is a bit odd in its configuration in that you have two centers as opposed to two wingers, I’m not sure your overall premise is correct.

    First of all, this isn’t a department store where you can pick up any item you want. The Rangers were tight against the cap, and options were limited. To say that the Stoll signing was a mistake, you’d have to tell me what the alternative was? Stoll is two time SC champ. He provides depth and experience on a team that right now, has only on other guy who has lifted the silver chalice (Boyle). He was also signed to address a specific need–that of winning faceoffs, an are in which the Rangers struggled mightily last season and still have issues with. And he’s affordable. Sounds like a classic bargain signing to me.

    While it’s not perfect, this 4th line is far better than last year and at least comparable to what it was two seasons ago. I’ve heard some writers say it’s the best of the AV era. As I see it, right now, the 1st and 4th lines are the two that have been most effective to this point. Yes, there has been tinkering, but AV always tinkers at this time of year.

    What I would have preferred is an analysis of the inconsistent play of the 2nd and 3rd lines. Is Kreider an up an coming player we can count on or just a tease? Is Miller a head case who can’t find a way to stay out of AV’s doghouse? Should one or both be traded? Is Stalberg a liability or an asset? Where, how and if does Etem fit in? Where does Hayes best fit and with whom? Those would appear to me to be the far greater question for the Rangers to answer. The fourth line is pretty low on the list of things to worry about at the moment.

    • Good points. The original argument seems to be that it would have been nice to have gotten a winger as good as Stoll and at the same price; that was likely not possible,

  • I think we’re fine. The only stats that matter are wins and losses, and right now, we got a lot of Ws. Doesn’t matter how, just keep getting them.

  • 16-3 record an we need to fix the 4th line. REALLY. How about the Trainer is He working as much as last year.?? I also think the guys taking the tickets as you come into the garden are not as quick as last year. I blame the Coaching staff.

  • Chris, I’ll be the outlier and totally agree with your assessment. Neither Stoll nor Moore is comfortable on the wing, so it’s like trying to fit the square peg into a round hole. But blame AV to an extent because his interminable “tinkering” is enough to drive me to drink. Sometimes I really wonder if he knows what in hell he’s doing. I think a guy who would be great on that 4th line is Ryan Bourque but that would never happen with AV. He’s a great skater, plays with intensity, and can kill penalties too. I too am not sold on Stoll. It’s he who should have sat out 2 games, not Moore.

    • That would the the same Ryan Bourque that passed through waivers–that NO NHL team wanted? So I guess AV sees it the way the other 29 coaches see it.

      Just because a guy has success on the AHL level doesn’t mean that translates on the NHL level.

      Maybe, just maybe, he’s a career minor leaguer like his head coach Ken Gernander was. It’s not a knock on him, but it may be reality.

      More wins than any coach in the past two years. More post season wins than any other team than the Hawks. Somehow, just somehow, I think he might know a little something about how to coach.

    • One additional point for you to ponder Paul on this Thanksgiving here in the States….

      You say….

      “Blame AV to an extent because his interminable tinkering is enough to drive me to drink”.

      So on the one hand, you don’t want AV to tinker. But on the other, you want Etem and McIlrath rotated in on a consistent basis. Isn’t that tinkering to the Nth degree? Which is it?

  • This obsession with the lower lines is silly. Moore and Stoll are not costing the team games. It’s inconsistent play from Kreider, Girardi, and others that’s hurting.

    This connects to my belief that, while its important, depth alone doesn’t win games; its having your top players play at a high level that’s far more important.

    Chicago won a cup NOT because their blueline was stacked; they won because Duncan Keith played at a superhuman level. LA won because Gaborik, Carter, and Kopitar elevated their games. Depth helps, sure, but it’s not the most important aspect.

    Until Nyr’s top guys can dominate, it doesn’t matter who’s on the other lines.

    • I largely agree. While it is important to have four strong lines (AV likes rolling with all four), you are right. It’s all about your best players being your best players. Kreider, Miller, Stepan all have to be better. The defense as a whole needs to be much better.

      • Last I saw my rangers are #1 on goals against.Our problem we need a sniper who actually can hit the net plus some toughness.

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