654959152_slide

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.