Clinched! Rangers Are in the Playoffs!

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courtesy of NHL.com

Mission accomplished! The Rangers are in the playoffs yet again! The boys were able to get their first checkmark of the year via a 5-4 OT loss to the San Jose Sharks. Something like 11 out of the last 12 postseasons have featured the Rangers. A spectacular feat that could only be made better with the ultimate prize. The game against the Sharks wasn’t all that great. The Rangers’ latest shortcomings came to haunt them again so I decided to skip talking about that and instead look ahead to the postseason. So, let’s look at the state of the 2017 Rangers as they head to the playoffs.

  • The first thing that jumps out at me is that the team is healthy. Hank’s back. Girardi and Klein are back. Alain Vigneault literally has 5 lines and 4 defensive pairings at his disposal over the final 5 games. This is a huge win for a few reasons. First and most obvious is the fact that Hank has come back in time to straighten his game out. As we’ve all noticed by now, Henrik Lundqvist has been mediocre-to-poor after long layoffs. So, over these next 5 games he can shake the rust off and get himself sharp ahead of the tournament. Goaltending might be the single most important thing in the playoffs, so the Rangers will once again only go as far as Lundqvist (or Antti Raanta???) can take them. Second is that fact that AV can pick his spots to rest some guys over the next week or so. Having an extra line and an extra D-pair who aren’t just taxi squad call-ups but legitimate NHLers gives Vigneault the ability to stagger rest days for the more important members of the team without potentially suffering a complete derailment of the team’s system and confidence. Yes, right now the only thing that would be derailed is a middling team, but this plays into my last point: The Rangers have the time and bodies to see what works. I’d like for there to be some continuity in the lines come playoff time, but now is the time for AV to tinker with the lineup if he wants. And he has plenty of time to do it before the games matter again. 
  • Speaking of tinkering with the lineup, it’s a good time to mention that the offense actually looks pretty good right now. Stepan and Nash are hot. Kreider and Zuccarello have sneakily been very effective lately, even if the former isn’t necessarily putting up a ton of points right now. Mika Zibanejad seems to finally be rounding into form after having his season interrupted by that broken leg in the fall, and JT Miller showed signed of shaking off his recent poor play with a 2-goal night in San Jose. That being said, here are the lines I’d like to see us at least start the playoffs with:

Krieder – Stepan – Zuccarello

Nash – Zibanejad – Buchnevich

Miller – Hayes – Grabner

Vesey – Lindberg – Fast

I think that the forward lines I’ve listed make the most sense for now. The Stepan line has been together for a while now and his clicking, with Stepan himself starting to fill up the scoresheet again. I know that Buchnevich hasn’t been in great form recently, but I like the idea of coupling  his passing ability with the straight-line, power game Nash has been playing lately and the rocket shot that Zibanejad has. The third line is one we’ve seen for most of the year and I think Miller’s last game is reason enough to reunite arguably the most effective Ranger line all year. Finally, I’ve dropped Vesey to the 4th line but its not an indictment of his play. One thing I’ve noticed about him is his nose for the goal and ability to get into the tough areas of the ice and into the crease to score some greasy goals. I think that he and Fast could combine to forecheck well and create some of those grinding goals that teams find themselves looking for in these tightly-contested postseason games. And of course, Lindberg is underrated offensively, so the 4th could find itself scoring some goalscorer’s goals as well.

  • Now that we’ve covered off the forwards, I want to look at the defensive pairings and share my thoughts on what would work best. Here’s my defensive lineup:

McDonagh – Skjei

Staal – Klein

Smith – Girardi

I know a couple things immediately jump out here. The first is Brady Skjei’s spot. Yes, it’s time for him to play top-pairing minutes. His two-way game has grown so much this year; he looks like Ryan McDonagh himself out there. The next point is that I’m dropping Nick Holden. It’s a tough call, especially since he’s had a pretty solid year and played the entire season, but he’s been completely lost out there lately. As I said in my last blog, I count experience over a flash in the pan by a 29-year-old journeyman. And I don’t want to hear about how he plays PP minutes. If you ask me, there is no reason why any D-man not named Skjei or McDonagh should be on that man advantage. The subtraction of Nick Holden isn’t going to make an offensively-challenged blue line worse at all. Plus, I’ll take the savvy of our vets over the 2 points Holden will score all postseason. Plus, with the egregious defensive zone breakdowns we’ve had, it makes sense to me to dress an ultra-defensive blue line that can shoulder the load in our own end zone. With these 5 remaining games, I look for AV to mix in Klein and Girardi to get them ready for the Rangers’ run.

  • Aside from Hank’s ability to bounce back and play well, special teams is where the Rangers could make or break their postseason. The power-play has been fantastic lately. The Rangers have been moving the puck quickly, finding open lanes, and ultimately scoring goals. It’s the penalty kill that has been absolutely shambolic. The Rangers’ four-man PK unit doesn’t seem to move in concert, so as to hold their box shape. Too often you see 2-3 guys drawn to one side of the ice, leaving 1 defender alone with Hank as attacked swarm the net. I’ve also noticed that the d-men set up pretty high and allow opposing forwards to set up in front of net or get in behind them. This boils down to the Rangers’ need to be less aggressive on the penalty kill. I feel like they’re constantly looking for the shorthanded break, especially for Michael Grabner, instead of collapsing and compacting in front of their own net. Tighten up the box, boys.

In all, I’m really interested to see what happens with the Rangers this postseason. This last month of play has me worried that another 1st-round defeat is looming, but the offensive has the potential to blow anyone out, as they did in the first month of the season. Henrik Lundqvist, despite having an inconsistent year, can never be counted out and his supporting cast is filled with guys who were on the 2014 Cup Finalists and know what it takes to win in the playoffs. I’m not going to prognosticate some long run this year; a 2nd-round defeat is probably realistic given the Rangers’ defensive deficiencies. But, I can’t say I’d be surprised if this team went on a run. Hell, if the 2012 LA Kings can sneak into the playoffs as an 8 -seed and win the whole damn thing, what’s to say the Rangers couldn’t also catch fire? This is what makes the playoffs so fun: hope. 

Patience is a Virtue; Rangers Lose to Ducks 6-3

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courtesy of NHL.com

Aaaaand let the waiting game begin. The Rangers had their first opportunity to clinch that all-important playoff spot and failed to do so, losing an absolute stinker to the Ducks, 6-3. Poor defense, offensive zone turnovers, blah goaltending and the inability to play a 60-minute game plagued the Blueshirts in this one, causing us to have to wait at least one more day to clinch. I know that the playoffs are pretty much a 100% certainty at this point, but I still just want to get it done so that the Rangers can use these last few games to tune-up for the tournament. As usual, stats and all that good stuff are courtesy of NHL.com.

Quick Stats:

First Period Scoring-

  • 5:54 NEW YORK GOAL Rick Nash; Assists: Marc Staal, Mika Zibanejad
  • 8:55 ANAHEIM GOAL Patrick Eaves; Assists: Cam Fowler, Ryan Gretzlaf
  • 14:32 NEW YORK GOAL Derek Stepan; Assists: Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello
  • 18:00 ANAHEIM GOAL (PP)  Ryan Kesler; Assists: Ryan Gretzlaf, Cam Fowler

Second Period Scoring-

  • 9:39 ANAHEIM GOAL (SH) Josh Manson; Assist: Ryan Gretzlaf
  • 13:10 NEW YORK GOAL Brady Skjei; Assists: Jimmy Vesey, Mika Zibanejad

Third Period Scoring-

  • 2:19 ANAHEIM GOAL Andrew Cogliano; Assist: Ryan Kesler
  • 4:23 ANAHEIM GOAL Patrick Eaves; Assists: Rickard Rakell, Ryan Getzlaf
  • 18:22 ANAHEIM GOAL (EN) Nick Ritchie; Assist: Corey Perry

Three Stars- 

  1. Ryan Getzlaf, ANA: 4 Assists
  2. Cam Fowler, ANA: 2 Assists
  3. Patrick Eaves, ANA: 2 Goals

 

Impressions:

  • Henrik Lundqvist has made a habit of having mediocre-at-best games after long absences, and this game was no exception. Yes, he didn’t get enough help from his defense and was facing a fairly hot Anahem team, but when you give up 5 goals, there’s plenty of blame to go around. I’m not overly worried about this performance because, as I’ve said, with the playoff spot all be sealed the number one priority is just getting Hank the reps he needs to get back to top form. And I know that his performance might stoke the goalie controversy flames (and I’ll admit that I threw a big of gas on it myself in the last blog) but no need to panic. If it’s 3-4 more games of this, then yes, I will entertain the conversation.
  • Offensive-zone turnovers killed the Rangers tonight. Zibanejad, Grabner and McDonagh all committed turnovers in the opponent’s end zone that directly led to goals. Mika’s was the worst, as he blindly passed the puck to the point on a power-play, which ended in an odd-man rush and shorthanded goal for Josh Manson. That shit might work when you’re playing NHL 17, but you can’t do it in real life. And the other two turnovers were just results of soft play. The Rangers need to be stronger on the puck, not get pushed off of it, and take better care in their possession. 
  • Ryan Kessler called up Toronto and activated the “Screw the Rangers” button. Maybe he has a cousin who works in the war room or something. The guy singlehandedly got away with murder. He deflected his 1st period goal in with a high stick and then interfered with Mats Zuccarello in the 2nd period, which didn’t allow Zucc to pick up Josh Manson on the shorthanded goal. Ridiculous. And of course all this shit happens under the watchful eye of Chris Rooney. I have to say, terrible job by him tonight. He and his crew let Kessler run wild and then made sure to blow the play dead inexplicably on the waved-off Vesey goal. I haven’t liked him since the 24/7 Rangers vs. Flyers Winter Classic documentary, when I first learned about how much Rooney loooooves the sound of his own voice. He probably thinks the cameras are still following him. Such a weenie.
  • Kevin Klein came back and played a solid 20 minutes of hockey, and managed an even +/- rating. Not bad at all, considering what a clunker the game was. I liked AV’s move here, playing Kleiner and allowing Girardi to rest his ankle in the 2nd of back-to-back games. I think Klein should keep his spot in the lineup, but I also want to see G play. My solution is to sit Nick Holden. He’s been good for us this year, no doubt. But, I truly believe he’s fizzled out. Case and point, he got caught up on the side boards and left his partner, Marc Staal, to battle 2 Ducks on the Patrick Eaves’ 1st goal. Then, he throws the puck out in front of his own net from the trapezoid, which nearly led to another Eaves goal. I get that pro athletes can sometimes be late bloomers, but I think he’s starting to show the reason why he’s only played like 200 games at 29 years of age. I realize that neither Girardi nor Klein have lit the world on fire this year, but they have the experience and know what it takes to get the job done when the games get tighter in the postseason. I think they both have a much greater probability of raising their games than a guy who is only a few years younger but has played 1/3 the amount of games. 
  • Although the defense was poor in this game, the offense continued to suggest that it could be on the cusp of a full-on explosion. Rick Nash scored yet another goal that trickled through the goalie. It’s the type of goal that only goes in when things are going well for a player, so I think we’re at the beginning of one of Nash’s hot streaks. Couple that with another goal for Stepan and 2 more assists for Mika Zibanejad, and you have a recipe for some strong, deep scoring from these Rangers. Now if only AV could figure out what’s ailing the Hayes line…
  • I have to give it up to Ryan Getzlaf. He had a hell of a game, tallying 4 assists. I absolutely love his game. He’s a straight-line, North-South, no visor, no bullshit, gritty, scoring center. He’s the epitome of old-time hockey. Guys like him are disappearing from the game, only to be replaced by ballerinas like Sidney Crosby. It’s a damn shame.
  • Fear the Beard. Patrick Eaves and his insane facial hair ate us alive in this matchup and now we have to face the godfather of NHL facial hair, Brett Burns, on Tuesday. God help us.

So Close to the Playoffs, Baby! Rangers shut out Kings 3-0

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courtesy of NHL.com

I was so worried about last night’s game. With the Rangers limping through the last month or so, hovering around .500, I figured that the Kings’ size and grit would see us drop this one. The trip out to the West Coast seems to have screwed it on straight for the Rangers. Antti Raanta was superb, they managed to win the special teams battle, and the Kings actually weren’t able to physically dominate the Rangers. All in all, a great showing for yet another road victory that sees the Rangers a mere 2 points away from clinching a playoff spot. As usual, stats and all that good stuff are courtesy of NHL.com.

Quick Stats:

First Period Scoring-

  • none

Second Period Scoring-

  • 13:02 NEW YORK GOAL Derek Stepan; Assists: Brendan Smith, Mats Zuccarello

Third Period

  • 1:50 NEW YORK GOAL (PP) Ryan McDonagh; Assists: Mats Zuccarello, Mika Zibanejad
  • 18:52 NEW YORK GOAL (EN) Rick Nash; Assist: Mika Zibanejad, Dan Girardi

Three Stars-

  1. Antti Raanta, NYR: 30 Saves, Shutout, Win
  2. Derek Stepan NYR: 1 Goal
  3. Ryan McDonagh, NYR: PP Goal

 

Impressions:

  • Antti Raanta earned the Broadway Hat after turning in perhaps his best performance of the season. The Rangers were pretty stout in front of him, but he still was called upon for a number of timely saves. He was able to stop Tyler Toffoli, Nic Dowd and rookie Jonny Brodzinski on breakaways en route to a 30-save shutout. It will be tough to sit such a hot goalie with Hank returning to the lineup, but AV could certainly always go back to him. I know its pretty blasphemous to suggest that Henrik Lundqvist ever be sat in favor of his backup, but ultimately it’s about winning a championship. The Penguins sat Cup winner Marc-Andrea Fleury, riding backup Matt Murray to a championship. I’m not necessarily saying it should happen, but its nice to have the option.
  • The countdown begins. This huge road win sees the Rangers only 2 points away from playoff qualification. With Henrik Lundqvist returning from injury against Anaheim and Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein also regaining their health, clinching soon helps the team so much. With that all important checkmark, the pressure will be off and team can focus on improving certain areas of play, specifically defensive assignments and the PK, ahead of the playoffs.
  • The Kings have one of the worst offenses in the league, which is why they’re all but out of the playoff race. But, they still have that great physical edge to their play that makes them a tough opponent on any night. Surprisingly, the Rangers were able to match the Kings’ level of physicality. I really liked Chris Kreider and Oscar Lindberg crashing the net and mixing it up with Jonathan Quick. It definitely seemed to get Quick pissed off and off his game. The best play in this department had to be Mats Zuccarello’s effort on the Stepan goal. He used his speed to negate an icing and then won a puck battle below the goal line against a much bigger Anzer Kopitar, which led to the scoring chance. The Rangers are not constructed to be a bruising team like the Kings and some of their Western Conference peers, but its crucial that they continue to sprinkle in some physical play.
  • Some of the Rangers’ key top-6 forwards had great offensive showings. Derek Stepan punched home a rebound to record yet another 50-point season, Mika Zibanejad had two assists, and Mats Zuccarello also tallied two helpers to make it 8 points in his last 7 games. All three of these players have had recent stretches of goal or point droughts, so its a huge boost for the team that these key guys are recording points right before the playoffs roll around. Derek Stepan will want to improve on his 21% face-off win percentage, but it otherwise was a productive evening for three of the most important Rangers.
  • The Rangers finally won the special teams battle and snapping the ugly 8-game streak of conceding at least one power-play goal. Not only did they kill all 4 Kings’ power-plays, but they did so in the third period to protect a lead. This included a sequence of 2 consecutive penalties by Chris Krieder, who ended up with a hat-trick of penalties in the 3rd period. During the last Krieder penalty, the Rangers even killed off over a minute of 6-on-4 time. The PK units did a great job holding their shape and not getting drawn to one side of the ice, as they have been for weeks now. The performance of the special teams was the single biggest takeaway from this game.
  • Dan Girardi returned to the lineup after missing a ton of time with that pesky cut on his ankle that just wouldn’t heal to turn in an excellent performance. He played over 20 minutes, drew crucial PK time, and even tallied an assist on the Nash goal. It was a great return for a guy who, like it or not, is a crucial piece of the defense. It was also interesting to note that Girardi came back into the lineup, but Kevin Klein was still held out, despite being declared healthy. AV said that he did not want to dress 2 newly-healthy defensemen in the same game, but I think it all relates back to my and basically everyone’s opinion that AV favors Girardi and would play him over Klein once the entire defensive corps is healthy. Klein’s opportunity to play may be further limited in the interim but Nick Holden’s play to disrupt Tylor Toffoli on his breakaway. That play alone was probably enough to save his job for the time being.

“Who We Playin’ Rammer?!” Rangers Lose Crucial Game to Islanders 3-2

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The Rangers 100% played like this was some throw-away game up in Rochester. I hate losing to the Islanders in general but there was so much at stake here, ego aside. These were 2 crucial points that would’ve given us confidence at home and get us that much closer to clinching a playoff spot. There seemed to be zero sense of urgency until the last 5 minutes of the 3rd period. Horrible, terrible stuff right before the playoffs. The chance to cut the magic number was wasted and the Rangers also dropped to an abysmal 19-16-3 at home. Disgusting. As usual, stats and all that good stuff are courtesy of NHL.com

Quick Stats:

First Period Scoring-

  • 2:46 NEW YORK GOAL (PP) Mats Zuccarello; Assists: Mika Zibanejad, Derek Stepan

Second Period Scoring-

  • 3:40  NY ISLANDERS GOAL Anders Lee; Assists: Anthony Beauviller, Nick Leddy
  • 6:36 NEW YORK GOAL Rick Nash; Assists: Oscar Lindberg, Nick Holden

Third Period Scoring-

  • 5:01 NY ISLANDERS GOAL (PP) Nikolay Kulemin; Assists: Anthony Beavuillier, Joshua Ho-Sang
  • 12:38 NY ISLANDERS GOAL (PP) Andrew Ladd; Assists: Anders Lee, John Tavares

Three Stars-

  1. Anders Lee, NYI: 1 Goal, 1 Assist
  2. Anthony Beauvillier, NYI: 2 Assists
  3. Rick Nash, NYR; 1 Goal

 

Impressions:

  • The Rangers are now 19-16-3 at home. AT HOME. At MSG, the world’s most famous arena. A place where the team is revered and fans, like myself, yell and scream and curse and pay obscene amounts of money to attend. It’s pathetic how bad we are at home this year, and I honestly can’t point to any specific reason. Chalk it up to complacency, I guess. The Rangers have been so good at home for so long that it could very well be that they take home ice for granted. I tell you what: any inclination I had to further spend money on tickets is gone because I know that if I go to another game, I have a 50/50 chance of seeing an absolute stinker of a game. No way I put myself through that agony.
  • The Rangers are way too passive in front of their net. The Anders Lee goal saw Brady Skjei not pick up his man, but rather puck-watching. The other two goals are a product of the Rangers getting pulled to one side, leaving one defenseman in the crease and no backside support from a forward. Sure, the Islanders’ first power-play goal was the partly borne out of two consecutive deflections, but what you also see is the Islanders’ ability to set up in front of net. It was the same deal with Ladd’s goal; only one Ranger defending the crease and Ladd all alone to score the goal. I watch countless other teams collapsing and compacting into their own crease, but the Rangers find themselves constantly setting up higher in the slot than they should, getting stretched out, getting  pulled away from the net, and allowing attackers to skate in untouched. This bad habit seems to be cemented into the team;  Jeff Beukeboom better lock himself into a room with a whiteboard and figure this out.
  • The defensive woes saw the Rangers lose the special teams battles yet again. 2 more power-play goals given up in the third period of a really tight game to extend the streak to 8 games with a PP goal conceded. Yes, the powerplay once again scored, but the lack of execution on the PK lost the Rangers this game. Honestly, I’m sick of talking about this. The special teams issues are always mentioned in my postgame impressions; it’s getting annoying. I wish the Rangers would fix this, if for no other reason than to make my writing less redundant.
  • The Rangers did a pretty good job of taking the puck to the net. Mats Zuccarello, the smallest guy on the team, managed to convert on the power-play but going straight to the net. And of course, Rick Nash made a hell of a move to put the puck past Thomas Greiss while falling to the ice. Chris Kreider also had a really good game in front of net. He did not score, but I thought his play in and around the blue paint was very noticeable, but at even strength and during the man advantage. He really did well to establish net front presence.
  • This is the second straight game in which Rick Nash has scored a goal as a result of some power forward moves and taking the puck to the net. That’s now 20 on the year for our big winger. I get the feeling that Nash’s 30-40 goal years are behind him, but he plays such a great two-way game and has been really strong of late, even before the puck was going into the net. Let’s hope these two goals are the start of a hot streak that could make the Rangers a sneaky contender in the postseason.
  • The Rangers will regret some missed opportunities during that furious barrage at the end of the 3rd period. It was by far their best sequence of possession in the game, but they missed chances time and again. The worst of these missed opportunities was obviously Kevin Hayes whiffing on a wide-open net. Hayes has had an excellent year for the Rangers and has made a believer out of me, but he needs to convert there. That’s inexcusable at a time when the team needs it most.
  • AV continues to baffle me with his over-reliance on veterans or guys that he just seems to really like. He inserted Tanner Glass for Buchnevich, which I don’t really like but can understand, given some of big boys on the Islanders. And Tanner did well to beat the shit out of a much bigger Scott Mayfield. That being said, what in the hell is Jesper Fast doing on the 3rd line at the expense of Jimmy Vesey?! The insertion of Glass on the 4th line instantly takes that unit back to its defensive, checking role. Jesper Fast is much better suited for that than Jimmy Vesey and likewise, Jimmy Vesey provides much more offense to what should be a 3rd scoring line than Fast. I’m not saying this lost us the game because it definitely didn’t, but AV is hamstringing the lineup in this case. A suddenly balanced scoring attack now has a huge offensive disparity between the top- and bottom-6.
  • Speaking of AV, I think that the coach’s post-game comments concerned me more than anything I saw out on the ice. As reported by SNY, Vigneault said in the post-game press conference, “The way we came out, we played a strong game. We had some real good looks, defensively we didn’t give up much…We came out and played a good game, it was a hard fought battle and we just got on the wrong side of a couple of bounces in the third.” Was this guy watching the same game? Was he watching his team lose a home match against a heated rival that could’ve cut the magic number in half? Was he watching a loss that saw his team drop to a pathetic .500 record at home? Was he watching the defensive lapses that saw one defender in the crease against 2+ Islanders time after time? Was he watching his PK unit give up the lead and fall behind on consecutive kills? Did he see Kevin Hayes miss an open net to remain behind by 1 goal? Clearly not. I’ve always supported AV; he may very well be the best coach without a Stanley Cup in the league. But his comments suggest a loser’s mentality to me. Would Joel Quenneville or Darryl Sutter be satisfied with this performance? I doubt it. Those guys demand 110% effort from their squads, especially at this time of year, and both have multiples Stanley Cup rings for their trouble. AV’s comments immediately gave me the feeling that he does not have what it takes as a leader of men to get the Rangers over the hump and deliver a championship to New York. To be satisfied with this performance is embarrassing and shameful.

I Hate The 3-on-3; Rangers Fall to Devils 3-2 in OT

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courtesy of NHL.com

I hate the 3-on-3. You’ll all think I’m being a sore loser, and maybe I am a bit, but I think it’s a really annoying way to end a hockey game. The NHL was looking for a way to ensure that games end with wins and losses, so they artificially manufacture a set-up that creates bogus chances and odd-man rushes. And that’s what happened tonight. As usual, stats and all that good stuff are courtesy of NHL.com.

Quick Stats:

First Period Scoring-

  • None

Second Period Scoring-

  • 15:16 NEW JERSEY GOAL (PP) John Quenneville; Assists: Joseph Blandisi, Pavel Zacha
  • 16:53 NEW YORK GOAL Oscar Lindberg; Assists: Jimmy Vesey, Pavel Buchnevich
  • 18:22 NEW JERSEY GOAL Taylor Hall; Assist: Kyle Palmieri

Third Period Scoring-

  • 1:31 NEW YORK GOAL (PP) Rick Nash; Assists: Kevin Hayes, Brady Skjei

Overtime Scoring-

  • 4:05 NEW JERSEY GOAL Joseph Blandisi; Assist: John Quenneville

Three Stars-

  1. Joseph Blandisi, NJD: 1 Goal, 1 Assist
  2. Cory Schneider, NJD: 38 Saves, Win
  3. John Quenneville, NJD: 1 Goal, 1 Assist

 

Impressions:

  • Like I said, 3-on-3 overtime can be thrilling with the back and forth chances, but I generally do not like it. And this isn’t sour grapes over a loss. In fact, the Rangers’ OT record this year is pretty solid. I just don’t like when Bettman crawls out of his cave to adversely affect the game. This rule artificially engineers wins and losses before the shootout. Personally, I’d prefer going back to 4-on-4 OT hockey. It’ll provide that extra bit of space that could lead to a goal, but it won’t feel nearly as cheap as the current format does. When, in regulation, do you play 3-on-3? Exactly, it never happens.
  • Putting aside my gripes about OT, the Rangers could’ve done better in the extra time. I can’t believe that the Devils survived that scramble in front of net, where Kevin Hayes notably was robbed by Schneider. There were pucks and bodies to the net; you have to find a way to score there. Also, you’ll hardly ever hear me say this, but Ryan McDonagh’s singular poor play led to the Blandisi winner. Mac skated into the slot to take a shot that ended up missing the net and pretty much served as a perfect breakout pass for the Devils. He has to hit the net there. With how much space there is in 3-on-3, there’s no reason why shots should ever be blocked or miss the net.
  • The 5-goal headline may have you think otherwise, but goaltending was superb in this one. Schneider and Raanta matched each other save for save. Antti stood up to the task tonight, notably stopping Taylor Hall on a breakaway in OT. But, Schneider was really excellent tonight. He was dialed in from the get-go, with that awesome glove save on Zibanejad in the first period and carried it right through overtime, stopping that mad scramble in front of his goal and executing a perfect poke check on Michael Grabner’s breakaway.
  • Special teams were an issue again tonight. Sure, the Rangers potted another power-play goal with a great power forward’s move out of Rick Nash to beat Schneider 5-hole after establishing excellent net-front presence. But the penalty-kill surrendered another goal. That’s 7 straight games. I place a lot of blame on Raanta for not sweeping the puck out of the crease on the Quenneville goal, but it was also a matter of the PK unit getting drawn to one side of the ice and allowing a player to sneak in backside for a goal. Quenneville’s goal was from a bit further out, but it was very much like the Matt Dumba goal in the Minnesota game.
  • The Rangers have suffered from streaky scoring this year and I think it’ll be a big reason (besides of course our blue line) why the Rangers don’t go far into the playoffs. Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello both hit posts tonight on pretty nice shots. Both also recently snapped double-digit goalscoring droughts. Rick Nash was set to have a double-digit drought of his own, if not for the power-play goal (SNY). If there’s one common denominator among Stanley Cup teams, its not only the depth of scoring but the consistency. You won’t win with core players struggling that badly.
  • The rookies and young players made a great impact tonight. Oscar Lindberg benefitted from offensive wingers but scoring another goal tonight. I’d say keep this line together but it causes Jesper Fast to play in the top-9, thus hurting our balance. But it certainly helps to know that Lindberg, Buch, and Vesey have chemistry. And good on Jimmy Vesey for dropping the gloves tonight. It was a scary hit on Miles Wood by Nick Holden, but it was a clean one too. Wood shouldn’t have gone nuts afterward, but Vesey and Holden both answered the bell. Finally, Brady Skjei had such a strong effort tonight. He collected yet another assist, but my favorite play of the night was how he stepped up in the neutral zone to negate a breakout pass to Taylor Hall. If he misses the play, Hall’s gone. But he didn’t. He showed his poise and confidence to read the game and make the play.
  • The Rangers’ magic number is now down to 7 (Zipay). They are super close to clinching and getting AV’s first “checkmark” of the year. They’re pretty much cemented into that first wildcard spot, so these last few games still mean something but should mostly be used to find chemistry and scoring. It’s been reported that Hank is feeling much better and could be back over the weekend. Kevin Klein is also really close, with Dan Girardi not too far behind him. It’ll be good to get the team completely healthy right before the playoffs begin, so that AV can figure out his optimal lineup for the tournament.

A Look Back at the 2014 Stadium Series

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NYRangers-411 original photo

I’m so late to the game here, but its been reported that the Rangers will be playing the Buffalo Sabres in the 2018 Winter Classic. That, coupled with tomorrow’s matchup against the Devils, had me feeling nostalgic and thinking back to one of my favorite days as a Rangers fan: January 26th, 2014.

My Rangers fanhood has been frenetic and has followed quite the odd path. I never played or so much as ice skated as a kid, but I started watching the Rangers because a couple of my buddies in elementary school played and would talk about the sport. So right around age 10, I decided to check it out. It’s funny looking back on this time because I became a fan in the midst of the Rangers’ most recent dark era: the early 2000s. The team was mediocre at best but I found myself tuning in every night to listen to Sam Rosen and John Davidson call the games. I got a poster of Mark Messier, Eric Lindros and Theo Fleury for my room. Ah, Theo Fleury! It wasn’t until later that I learned about the tough life he had, but as a kid, it was fun to watch this little troublemaker buzz around the ice, score goals, and piss everyone off. I was slowly getting hooked to this awesome game.

As I grew up and eventually got to high school, I have to say that my interest in the sport waned. Ironically enough, this coincided with my attending the alma mater of Chris Drury, who left Buffalo and would become the Rangers’ captain during my high school career. Sure, I paid attention and watched the occasional game, but I’d seemingly lost my love for the sport. College saw it comes back a bit. One of my best friends at school just so happened to be on the hockey team, so I started to catch some of his games and pay closer attention to the NHL. What really brought me back to the game, however, was the 2012 Winter Classic, when the Rangers visited the Flyers at Citizens Bank Ballpark in Philadelphia. I started watching the HBO 24/7 documentary and fell in love with the players, the personalities (who doesn’t still laugh at Ilya Bryzgalov’s musings on the universe???) and all that went into what ended up being an epic game. And a huge shoutout to Mike Rupp. I’m a huge fan of the tough guy and for him to bring home the game for the Rangers with two goals was awesome. Winning aside, the game brought me all the way back. It was so cool watching two teams go at it outdoors, wearing eye-black, fighting the elements while still delivering such an amazing product to the fans.

Fast forward 2 years and the NHL announced that the Rangers would be playing games against the hated Islanders and Devils at Yankee Stadium. I was pretty pumped at the prospect of catching two awesome games on TV, but hadn’t given an real thought to attending either game. I was honestly more concerned with planning a banger for my 24th birthday. I succeeded. I went all out on the night before the Rangers-Devils matchup. I mean all out. Steak dinner, bottle service, ending up at a cigar bar in the West Village at 1 AM. I did it all and looked forward to nursing my hangover while taking in the game from my couch the next day. Fast forward to about 9 AM on game day. I wake up and its struggle city. I muster the strength to take a few sips of the Gatorade on my bedside table and grabbed for my phone. I’m on a text thread with some of the boys from work, all of whom are huge Rangers fans, and I figured I’d wake up to some excited chatter about the the Stadium Series game. Well, the thread had BLOWN UP. Literally, I had about a half-dozen missed calls and tens of text messages. The boys were desperately trying to wake me up. One of my buddies in the group, Steve (not Stevie Says, but just as irreverently funny) had an extra ticket the the game. I’ve never experienced such a huge jolt of adrenaline. I suddenly had a ticket to THE game of the year and I had to leave NOW to get there. I raced to shower, throw on my beloved Ryan Callahan jersey, and hustle to the train station. I can’t explain the excitement. Every passing second heightened my senses. When I finally got to Yankee Stadium, the atmosphere was unlike any sporting event I’d ever been to. I’ve never been to a Stanley Cup game, but I’m really confident that the crowd at the stadium that day could’ve outdone any playoff or Finals game. Rangers fans, Devils fans, Blue, Red. It was bitter cold, but every single person was dialed in for the game. It was a total carnival. Most of the game is a blur to me now but I still remember some pretty spectacular moments. I remember Dommy Moore’s tying goal, Stepan’s snipe of a penalty shot in the 3rd period, and giving Martin Brodeur so much shit when Peter DeBoer pulled him midway through the game. But my favorite moment had to be at the beginning of the 2nd period. The Rangers were down 3-1 at the time and I was feeling pretty down about it. I hate losing to the Devils, so this was devastating to me. Then, it started to snow. Wow. What aa scene. For those few moments when I looked up at the sky and then looked back at the players cutting through the snowflakes as they flew up and down the ice, I was reminded of the pure goodness of the sport. I felt like I had a bit of an insight on how a kid from Manitoba or Minnesota feels in the winter time, as they lace’em up and hit the pond or the backyard rink with their friends. The game was an amazing 7-3 win, but the snow will always stick with me. It was everything that was good and right about the sport. And as we gear up for another potential outdoor game, I can’t help but feel such a rush of love for this crazy, rough, amazingly beautiful game.

 

Rangers Win “Home” Game 3-2 vs. Wild

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courtesy of NHL.com

No, this wasn’t an actual home game, as the Rangers had to quickly digest a terrible loss and board a plane to Minnesota to play a great, albeit struggling, Wild team. It was, however, a homecoming for Brady Skjei, Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh. Obviously, the Rangers already had the motivation from a crappy effort versus Florida, but playing in front of family was definitely a lift for some key Rangers and their teammates had their backs in delivering a league-leading 26th road win. As usual, stats and all that good stuff are courtesy of NHL.com

Quick Stats:

First Period Scoring-

  • 12:54 MINNESOTA GOAL Eric Staal; Assists: Martin Hanzai, Matt Dumba 
  • 16:01 NEW YORK GOAL Brady Skjei; Assists: Mats Zuccarello, Adam Clendening 

Second Period Scoring-

  • 7:46 NEW YORK GOAL Oscar Lindberg; Assists: J.T. Miller 
  • 17:34 NEW YORK GOAL Jimmy Vesey; Assists: Oscar Lindberg, Pavel Buchnevich

Third Period Scoring-

  • 4:51 MINNESOTA GOAL (PP) Matt Dumba; Assists: Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle

Three Stars-

  1. Ryan McDonagh, NYR: +1 Rating, 4 BLKS, 26:14 TOI
  2. Oscar Lindberg, NYR: 1 Goal, 1 Assist
  3. Eric Staal, MIN: 1 Goal

 

Impressions:

  • The Rangers continued their road dominance with a league-leading 26th road victory in Minnesota. The Wild have been losing games lately, but this was still a quality road win against a team that is a true contender and my pick to come out of the Western Conference. It was also a win that had special meaning for some key Rangers, as Stepan, McDonagh and Skjei all hail from Minnesota. All three no doubt had huge contingents of family and friends in the stands, so they had to have been spurred on to great games. Skjei in particular scored an awesome goal, which he called a “dream come true” on MSG. I’m glad our Minnesota boys were able to pull off a tough win.
  • Antti Raanta continues to cement his status as the best backup in the league and someone who could very easily start on most teams. His play was especially important in the first half of the 1st period, when the Rangers started slow and were being out skated, outshot and outchanced by the Wild. His point blank save on Eric Staal was particularly important during that sequence of play and it set the tone for the rest of his outing. It also allowed the Rangers to find their legs a bit and ultimately climb back into the game. He ended with 25 saves and another impressive win under his belt. I almost wish Raanta came along more towards the end of Hank’s career because I would love to see him as a starter on this team. Consequently, I’d hate to lose him to another team but would love to see him finally get a chance to be the guy somewhere, a la Cam Talbot.
  • The lines were shuffled up a lot today, and to varying degrees of success. I didn’t love the Hayes, Grabner and Fast line. I’ve talked before about AV falling too in love with players and one of the worst examples is playing Jesper Fast in the top-9. He’s great at his role but I don’t think his game has nearly enough offense to justify even the occasional promotion. I did, however, like the Vesey, Buchnevich, Lindberg line. They created a goal that was borne out of good possession by Lindberg, a nice pass by Buch and netfront presence by Vesey. I actually think this would be a good line to keep together, but only if they play more than the 4th line minutes that they received in the game. Lindberg is a 4th line center due to his smarts and defensive responsibility, but he was on the 1st PP unit in Hartford and has top-9 ability. Couple that with the slick passing of Buchnevich and the nose for goal that Vesey has and you could have yourself a hell of a bottom-6 scoring line. Plus, with the amount of great defensive and face off ability that the Rangers have in each line, they don’t need a traditional 4th checking line. Rather, they can roll 4 defensively responsible and offensively gifted lines with ease. So my message to AV is simple: keep this line together but make sure they get at least 10 minutes a night.
  • The front of the net is always a principal battleground in any hockey game, but tonight it seemed to be even more highly contested than usual. Both teams gave up 2 goals from in tight. The Rangers conceded two maddeningly easy goals to Eric Staal and Matt Dumba, net-front. Both guys seemed to cruise in uncontested to fire home from close range. These were horrible defensive lapses that need to be corrected, with the Dumba one annoying me all the more because it continued our streak of futility on the PK. The Rangers goals in front, however, were less to do with defensive breakdowns and more just a matter of winning one-on-one battles in front. Both Vesey and Lindberg converted chances from close range with plenty of Wild players around them. They just outworked their competition and it was great to see that kind of will and skill from two smart but undersized players.
  • Besides the defensive breakdowns in front of their own net, the Rangers will definitely look at this game film and do some work on their transition game. In the 2nd period alone, they got caught in their own zone 4 times, and thus had to deal with the Wild breaking out quickly for 2-on-1 chances each time. The first chance ended in a great save by Raanta on Erik Haula and the second was a misfire by Charlie Coyle. I do, however want to give credit to Brendan Smith and Mats Zuccarello for getting back to break up the 3rd and 4th 2-on-1s, respectively. It was tough to watch these chances because the Wild were playing the speed game that we are so used to seeing from the Rangers themselves. So, this is definitely a point to take away from the next practice.
  • Speaking of the Brendan Smith, its nearly time to wonder how the top-6 is going to pan out for the defense. Kevin Klein and Dan Girardi have both been skating, so they’ll probably both be back soon (with Klein probably being the first of the two back). What does this mean for this unit? The most obvious spot to be opened back up for one of our returning vets is the 6th spot being shared by Steven Kampfer and Adam Clendening. Personally, I would bury Clendo and have Kampfer be the 7th guy, because he’s shown me a lot more. After that, however, finding a spot is difficult. Frankly, I wouldn’t bench Smith for either of the two injured d-men and I hope to God that AV doesn’t find some idiotic excuse to scratch Skjei, who has been a stud this year. Assuming the Rangers keep Smith after this year, we could see this as being the beginning of the end of one of our two beloved blueliners. Now, I love G and Kleiner both very much. That’s right, love. Girardi has been a great player and person for this franchise. Klein has obviously been here for less time than Girardi, but has also represented the organization well. If I had to pick one to sit out right now, it’d probably be Dan Girardi. It could also be a fair, more realistic play to rotate G and Kleiner in that lineup spot to keep them both healthy and fresh.
  • At the end of the day, hockey is a game. Its fun to play, its fun to watch and its full of colorful characters. There were a couple things in this game that reminded us of that. First, was the Martin Hanzal “goal” that actually just hit the outside of the net. He half-celebrated when the lamp was lit and had a pretty funny, smug grin on after it was waved off. He knew it wasn’t a good goal, but had a laugh about it. And did any of you notice the Hanson Brothers on the broadcast? Yup, they were there, 2 of the 3 brothers. And they were sitting right behind Bruce Boudreau, who some of you might recall was an extra in Slapshot. See how it all comes together? Pretty funny stuff.

Home Sweet Home? Rangers Lose to Panthers 4-3 in Shootout

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courtesy of NHL.com

I was excited for last night’s game. I really was. Just got home from London, looking forward to some hockey, it’s St. Patty’s Day so it’s the perfect excuse to have a couple beers. And I had to watch the Blueshirts blow another game at MSG. There’s no excuse to blow a 2-0 lead at home, even if they ended up with 1 point. As usual, stats and all that good stuff are courtesy of NHL.com

Quick Stats:

First Period Scoring-

  • 2:34 NEW YORK GOAL (PP) Mats Zuccarello; Assists: Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan
  • 4:11 NEW YORK GOAL  J.T. Miller; Assists: Brendan Smith, Mika Zibanejad 

Second Period Scoring-

  • 1:25 FLORIDA GOAL Jonathan Huberdeau; Assists: Jaromir Jagr, Alex Petrovic
  • 6:41 FLORIDA GOAL (PP) Jussi Jokinen; Assists: Thomas Vanek, Jason Demers

Third Period Scoring-

  • 7:23  FLORIDA GOAL Aleksander Barkov; Assists: Jaromir Jagr, Jonathan Huberdeau
  • 11:45  NEW YORK GOAL Mats Zuccarello; Unassisted

Shootout-

  • Mats Zuccarello, NYR: SAVED
  • Vincent Trocheck, FLA: SAVED
  • Mika Zibanejad, NYR: SAVED
  • Alex Barkov, FLA: SCORED
  • Michael Grabner, NYR: MISSED

Three Stars-

  1. Jaromir Jagr, FLA: 2 Assists
  2. Mats Zuccarello, NYR: 2 Goals
  3. Jonathan Huberdeau, FLA: 1 Goal, 1 Assist

Impressions:

  • The Rangers suck at home. I realize that’s a strong statement, given that their record is a few games over .500 at MSG, but it just isn’t good enough. This is especially bad because this team has one of the best road records in the league, which will no doubt be a huge boost in the playoffs. The Rangers had been getting better at home, but have now dropped something like 4 of the last 6 at home. Not to mention the fact that this effort was not a complete 60-minute game. The Rangers came out fast and scored two beautiful goals, only to come out flat in the second period. This is the wrong time of year to start falling into bad habits.
  • The divergent paths of the the two Rangers’ special teams units continues, as they both scored and gave up a power-play goal. Obviously, its great to see the man-advantage continue to find the back of the net, but the uptick in power-play goals conceded is alarming. It was especially bad in this game, as it played a part in reversing a red-hot start by the Rangers and ultimately seeing them lose their lead.
  • Jaromir Jagr is a freak of nature. He had a beast of a game with two assists and the first star of the game. I think his assist on the Huberdeau goal was the play of the night from the big Czech winger, as he cut through the crease, drew Nick Holden with him, and allowed Huberdeau to score. Even at 45 years of age, he plays a great physical game and continues to score. My buddy, Stevie says he wants Jags to play into his 50s a la Gordie Howe. Honestly, I see no reason why he can’t reach that milestone.
  • It was great to see Mats Zuccarello pot a couple goals in this game. Everyone’s been talking about Stepan, who definitely has missed the mark this year way too often. But Zuccarello’s had just as tough a year in the goal-scoring department. These two have been picked up by others, with Hayes and JT Miller immediately coming to mind, but increased goalscoring from Zucc and Step would catapult this team into elite territory.
  • This isn’t the reason why the Rangers lost but why in the hell was Buchnevich scratched tonight? I’ve written about how much I like Tanner Glass and how the Rangers needed him around, but I also insisted that he shouldn’t take the place of any regulars. Jesper Fast came back into the lineup, which was great, but it should’ve been at the expense of Glass. I really have faith in AV as a coach, but I’m starting to wonder about his stubborn insistence on playing his “trusted” veterans over rookies that need to be given the time and opportunity to play. Whether it’s Girardi or in this case, Tanner Glass, AV needs to think with his head rather than his heart.
  • Since we’re on the topic of AV’s strange decisions, what was with Grabner  being given the opportunity in the shootout? It was literally his first opportunity in the shootout this year. I get that he usually converts on breakaways but a penalty shot is a different animal. It’s not as fast, nor it is as sudden a change in play as a breakaway. A more proven entity like Stepan or Nash would have been a more appropriate choice.

Game Log 3/13: Rangers fall to Lightning 3-2

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courtesy of NHL.com

Quick Stats:

First Period Scoring-

  • 5:53 NEW YORK GOAL Steven Kampfer; Assists: Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider
  • 7:43 TAMPA BAY GOAL (PP) Brayden Point ; Assists: Nikita Kucherov, Jonathan Drouin

Second period:

  • 5:04 TAMPA BAY GOAL Gabriel Dumont; Assist: Jason Garrison
  • 10:22 NEW YORK GOAL Michael Grabner; Unassisted

Third period:

  • 13:32 TAMPA BAY GOAL Brayden Point; Assists: Ondrej Palat, Kucherov

Three Stars-

  1. Brayden Point, TB: 2 Goals
  2. Nikita Kucherov, TB: 2 Assists
  3. Michael Grabner, NYR: 1 Goal

 

Stats courtesy of NHL.com

Game Log 3/12: Rangers beat Red Wings 4-1

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courtesy of NHL.com

Quick Stats:

First Period Scoring-

  • 19:33 NEW YORK GOAL (SH) Ryan McDonagh; Assists: Kevin Hayes, Michael Grabner

Second Period Scoring-

  • 5:35 DETROIT GOAL (PP) Frans Nielsen; Assists: Gustav Nyquist, Justin Abdelkader
  • 16:50 NEW YORK GOAL  Ryan McDonagh; Assists: Marc Staal, Pavel Buchnevich
  • 17:27 NEW YORK GOAL Kevin Hayes; Assists: J.T. Miller, Grabner

Third period:

  • 16:01 NEW YORK GOAL (PP) Derek Stepan; Assist: Chris Kreider

Three Stars-

  1. Ryan McDonagh, NYR: 2 Goals
  2. Kevin Hayes, NYR: 1 Goal, 1 Assist
  3. Gustav Nyqvist, DET: 1 Assist