Even though the Rangers have started the season 2-2, there have been plenty of reasons for optimism. The team has dominated possession and scoring chances in the two losses, and were simply stymied by two goaltenders on their game. There have been some highlights and lowlights since the season began, and as you can imagine, I have some thoughts…
1. This forward group has been really impressive so far. There is speed up and down the lineup. Oddly good chemistry has developed on certain lines very quickly (coughKreiderZBadBuchcough) and the special teams have had a much better look, as well. The sample sizes are still to small to look at efficiency or league rankings, etc., but the visual analysis tells me that it has been much improved.
2. It is really nice to have some shooters in the lineup for a change. There is obviously a point of diminishing returns with simply firing at the net with every touch, but having those guys with a shoot first instinct has made the offense much more dynamic. Mika Zibanejad has been especially impressive thus far.
3. Obviously, when Oscar Lindberg returns, Josh Jooris is going to lose his spot. I like Jooris as a player. He has a useful skillset, but is made redundant by Lindberg. The bigger issue is that there isn’t a member of the current forward corps I would be particularly happy seeing sit in favor of Lindberg. Everyone is playing well, and Brandon Pirri, who I believe would thrive given more offensively oriented deployment, has given the fourth line a more dangerous edge that keeps other teams honest.
4. I suppose these are the types of things that work themselves out naturally, through injuries or performance issues, but the depth has been superb. That said, I have a feeling that Jesper Fast sort of becomes that swiss army knife type player and I don’t think he fits that role well. To me, he is a really nice bottom six player and PK guy, but AV seems to like the flexibility to move him and up down the lineup.
5. Now, the defense. Oh, man the defense. Aside from Ryan McDonagh’s triumphant resurgence, the back line has been a total mess. Sure, there have been some goals so far that either missed assignments or poor backchecking have forced the defense into difficult circumstances, but their own gross inability to play solid positional defense has killed them.
6. I understand Nick Holden is playing his off side, and has not really been put in a position to succeed, but his positional play has been inexcusably awful. I also have the feeling AV is going to give him the Fast treatment and have him play everywhere, depending on who is in the lineup. At age 29, Holden is what he is: a bottom pairing guy who can help out a team by chewing up 12-14 minutes per game and not completely killing you. He shouldn’t be more than that.
7. Honestly, considering the fact that neither Staal or Girardi are coming out of the lineup, my pairs would look like this:
At this point, you have to pair some of the slower guys with quicker skating puck movers to try and create some balance in the pairs. I would like to reverse Skjei and Staal, but I wouldn’t play Staal and Girardi together, given their limitations. Unfortunately, I have a feeling it will be Skjei or Clendening sitting for Holden when Girardi comes back.
8. Which brings me to Anaheim. The entire hockey world seems convinced that a trade is brewing. I’m not so sure. First, hard pass on Cam Fowler. Vatanen is a decent middle pairing option, but my concern is that, even if acquired, you are just replacing Clendening with him. Girardi and Staal remain in the lineup, and you are just adding salary for marginal upgrades around the real problems. Band aid on a bullet wound.
9. A question I would pose to our readership. Would you trade Kreider for Lindholm?
10. I figure before I sign off today that I would give my two cents on the elephant in the BSB virtual room: AV v McIlrath. I will agree that this whole thing has gotten so far out of hand, it’s almost comical at this point. Here is my take on both sides.
McIlrath is not getting the shot he deserves. His skating has improved and he makes quality short, first passes. That said, he skating is still sub-par for an NHL defender expecting bigger minutes, and he misuses his physicality. There are base emotions that we have as humans that love when our team, tribe, group, family, etc., “gets” the other guy who has been physically threatening to our people. I get that. The problem is that a specific role to satisfy that emotion is going extinct in hockey. You can whine all you want that the game is soft now and a physical edge is still needed, but the reality is, even tough guys have to be more dynamic than ever before.
McIlrath has the potential to be a guy who can play some useful minutes and provide a certain physical intimidation. Don’t tell me he is necessary, though. That is just not the modern game. Like it or not, in probably the next ten years, hockey will look far more European in style than it does today. Speed and possession creates goals and wins. No such correlation exists between fighting and standing up for your teammates and success on the ice. I’ve played this game for twenty-five years and seen multiple eras of the sport. This is the future.
As for AV, he is a stubborn man. You could also argue arrogant. He believes deeply in the things that have brought him success, not all that dissimilarly to John Tortorella. There are pro’s and con’s to this type of approach. Rarely, at the pro level do reactionary decisions end up going well. However, sticking to the process through rough patches is not an excuse for an inherently bad process to begin with.
His insistence on giving his veterans hugely long leashes is problematic, but not fatally so. Rick Nash goes on a little scoring drought and want to help bring him out of it with some big PP minutes, be my guest. However, this has been years with Girardi and Staal, and it begins to look more and more like willful ignorance.
I do sympathize with what the expectations are in New York and that indulging rookie learning curves might not bode well for job security, but leaning on declining veterans isn’t the answer either. I would rather see a younger player completely screw the pooch and make a big mistake that costs a goal, than see a declining player slowly ground down to the same result because they can’t simply transition the puck the other way.
This whole thing has taken an oddly political bent (and don’t you dare start talking politics in the comments just because I said that). It’s an us vs. them mentality with no middle ground. AV has his good and bad as a coach and McIlrath has his good and bad as a player. If McIlrath is ultimately traded, you have every right to feel like he got shortchanged. However, if he is relegated to a depth role, before you go nuts, realize that there just might be a hockey justification for that.
Point is, we have a wonderful community of passionate and informed commenters here at Blue Seats Blogs and that readership is growing every day. For those who have been with us for years, thank you and we hope you will try to set an example for newer commenters about how we conduct ourselves around here.
To the newbies, welcome. We are glad you are here. Make sure when you are sharing your thoughts with the community; you share them with sincerity, thoughtfulness and respect. This is a place where everyone can discuss the in’s and out’s of our favorite team, and we want it to be an enjoyable experience for everyone. Thank you for reading and have a great weekend.