The Rangers are in the middle of a bit of a rough stretch in the schedule, playing almost every other night for the rest of this month (and next). Aside from the Carolina game, where they may have suffered from ceremony lag, the Blueshirts have been playing a lot better. The wins haven’t been there, but they’ve had better process.
1. The better process is clearly visible both watching the games and looking at the possession numbers after, so there really shouldn’t be any dissenting opinions on that. The Rangers are getting more sustained pressure in the offensive zone while limiting chances in the defensive zone. You know, hockey 101 stuff. They’ve certainly been carried offensively by the top line, but the rest of the club isn’t getting shelled completely.
2. I haven’t gone back to watch video yet, but my theory is that a lot of the recent play is due to a little shift in zone entry prevention. Before, the Rangers used to concede the blue line and let forwards enter the zone with speed. That led to a lot of time for the Rangers running around in their own end. Lately, it appears as if the Rangers have started pressuring the rush between the blue line and the top of the circle, which has led to disruption and some turnovers. I’m looking forward to taking a deeper dive into this.
3. On the trade front, the Brian Boyle deal bodes well for the Rangers. The Devils got a 2nd round pick for a 4th line center who kills penalties. That’s a steep price. With the Rangers looking to trade Kevin Hayes, Mats Zuccarello, and possibly others, that price will be looked at as the low bar. We knew Hayes would fetch something good, but Zuccarello’s season, until recently was looked at as a hindrance. With Zucc returning to form, he should fetch more than Boyle. Should.
4. When it comes to the trade deadline, the common prevailing theory is that the Rangers will want, or should target, future assets. First round picks, high ceiling prospects, etc. That’s good stuff, and things you want to see them get. However I won’t exactly be losing sleep if the Rangers acquire a prospect who is significantly closer to the NHL at the cost of a higher pick. For example, a high ceiling player who is still 3-4 years away and a 1st is nice, but a high ceiling player who is 1-2 years away and a 3rd may be better, given where the Rangers find themselves.
5. The current blue line situation is something to look at. Not in terms of talent or performance, but in terms of pure bodies they have. Marc Staal, Kevin Shattenkirk, Brady Skjei, and Brendan Smith are all signed for the next two seasons (or more, for Skjei). You have to assume they want to extend both Neal Pionk and Tony DeAngelo. There are three prospects the Rangers traded for who may need roster spots before those spots become open. There isn’t an urgent need to clear roster space, but it’s just something worth noting.
6. Jeff Gorton has done a pretty good job since the last trade deadline. This trade deadline will be another measuring stick to see if this is an extended rebuild or a quick turnaround. He has three more weeks until the deadline.