Reasons for optimism up front in New York
The quality of opposition hasn’t been the toughest in the past few games but deadline day acquisitions, the return to form of several players and recently found consistency among the forward ranks has seen the Rangers production up front really take off in recent games. All this bodes well for a trip to the playoffs and, perhaps most promisingly, beyond this season.
Whether the Rangers retain a Ryane Clowe, re-sign Mats Zuccarello or push through a JT Miller or Chris Kreider remains to be seen but the way some of the younger forwards have developed this season means the forward group’s well documented struggles this year may have been overblown. Kids such as Stepan and Hagelin have, for the most part produced while the team has changed on the fly.
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AP Photo/Matt Slocum
When Taylor Pyatt was signed, he was brought in to help replace the departed combination of Ruslan Fedotenko, Brandon Prust, John Mitchell, Brandon Dubinsky, and Artem Anisimov. In those departed five players, the Rangers lost a lot of depth, but more importantly players capable of eating big minutes against tough competition. Suffice it to say, he hasn’t lived up to expectations so far.
Even off the score sheet, where Pyatt is well below is career averages, the big forward has been struggling to find consistency on the defensive front as well. During last season, Pyatt was a reliable defensive forward, facing decent competition (.140 Corsi Rel QoC) and starting just 41.2% of his shifts in the offensive zone. His RCorsi of -9.3 wasn’t stellar, but this is more a factor of zone starts. It’s tough to maintain a shot attempt advantage when starting 60% of your shifts in the defensive zone.
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Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
I am one of those who has never really doubted that the Rangers will make the playoffs. It’s been a bumpy ride for sure, but this club is in the middle of a great run in March, that is propelling them to a playoff spot. They are 7-2-1 in the month of March, and while some will have short memories and remember the 6-1 and 8-4 wins over the Panthers and Sabres, let’s remember that the Rangers played some tough teams in this stretch too.
They beat the top seed in the East (Pittsburgh) 6-1, and completely dominated them in another 2-1 shootout loss. They beat the playoff bound Leafs one out of two. They shutout the Islanders. They beat the Jets 4-2. That’s five games against teams in the playoffs, and another game against a team that can still make the playoffs. Not exactly an easy schedule until the past two games.
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Photo: Kevin Hoffman, USA TODAY Sports
Brad Richards has been a bit of a disappointment this year. He hasn’t been consistent, and he hasn’t been that top line center and powerplay quarterback that the Rangers thought they were getting. That said, Richards has been getting hot at the right time, and his hat trick last night could be just the beginning of a strong run for the veteran center.
In ten games this April, Richards has been scoring at a point per game pace, with five goals and five assists. The points have come in bunches (eight were in three games, five in the past two games), but there’s more to this than the scoring. Richards is finally starting to do the little things, and his luck is beginning to change as he is starting to get those bounces he wasn’t getting earlier this season.
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Photo: New York Times
When the Rangers traded Marian Gaborik to the Columbus Blue Jackets at the deadline this year, the concern was adding more grit and toughness to the lineup. Having already added Ryane Clowe, the attention turned to what Derick Brassard and Derek Dorsett bring to the group. John Moore was something of a mystery player. He wasn’t a throw in by any stretch, but he was a player that most of the fan base was unfamiliar with, and thus has no idea what we were getting back in the former first round pick from Chicago (hometown, not drafting team).
During his abbreviated tenure in New York (eight games, to be exact), Moore has been impressive. It’s becoming clear that he is becoming more comfortable in the system and is starting to make some really intelligent hockey decisions to go along with his raw tools. Read more »
An increasingly rare pose; Brad Richards goal celebration.
Who knew Brad Richards’ fall from grace would be so quick, so sudden? In what looks like an irreversible decline in both form and ability, Brad Richards offering up the occasional solid period here or decent game, won’t likely be enough to stop his premature departure from the Rangers. Not many people anticipated him fulfilling his free agent contract but few will have seen his potential departure coming so soon.
Richards’ had a decent, if somewhat underwhelming first season in New York. In his defence, an abbreviated, compressed season with almost no training camp that was further hindered by the flu bug certainly didn’t help the veteran reach his expected level this year. Though, even with all that considered he still doesn’t look right.
There is surely no way Richards sees anywhere close to the end of his contract. Much like Wade Redden, Richie’s deal is already almost untradeable (especially with Bob Gainey no longer running hockey operations in Montreal). Indeed, Richards’ deal is especially untouchable considering the reduction in the salary cap next season.
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Brassard has a great chance to re-establish himself with the Rangers
With every additional pass like the perfect defense splitter that set up Dan Girardi’s huge goal against the Islanders, Derick Brassard is positioning himself to be the Rangers second option at center beyond this season. The ramifications from each additional impressive Brassard display from here on in are huge. His form makes Brad Richards that much more of a luxury, makes Richards’ future that much more tenuous and it makes the Rangers summer that much more of a decision filled affair.
While in Columbus, Brassard flashed glimpses of skill but with careful analysis it was actually more than that. Like Rick Nash, Brassard was surrounded for the most part by subpar talent, with defensive coaches and yet was still able to put together some productive campaigns. His problems in Columbus were his ability to stay healthy and the expectations that go with being a top ten draft pick. If Brassard can stay healthy the ‘Marian Gaborik trade’ could be a rare hockey trade that becomes a win-win.
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Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac
Last night’s game was one of the most hard-fought and entertaining games we have seen in the past decade. It was one of the most important games of this season, and possibly the most important game in the Rangers/Islanders rivalry in almost 20 years. This is the type of game where –given coach John Tortorella’s penchant for leaning on his most trusted players– you would expect some of the depth players to see maybe four or five minutes of ice time. That was not the case last night.
Save for Arron Asham, each Ranger player spent the appropriate amount of time on the ice as per their role on the team. Darroll Powe, who is a fourth line player that kills penalties, saw 13 shifts and 9 minutes of ice time. Eight minutes of that was at even strength, and another minute was on the penalty kill. Taylor Pyatt, Powe’s linemate, does not kill penalties. He saw 8:15 at even strength and that was it (I’m discounting the four seconds of PP time for both, as that was the end of the PP for matchups).
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Barton Silverman/The New York Times
By all accounts, tonight’s game against the Islanders appears to be a must win game. After all, the Rangers sit in eighth place in the East, two points behind the Islanders with a game in hand (and if they win, the tie breaker). The Jets sit in ninth place with the same 44 points that the Rangers have, but the Jets have played two more games than the Rangers. A single point in those two games separates the Rangers from the Jets. The presence of the Jets seems less of a threat than the Islanders.
And now tonight we have the Rangers on Long Island to face the Islanders, who are 8-1-1 in their past ten games, and riding this streak to their first playoff berth since 2007. The Rangers, who are 4-1-1 in their past six, are trying to just hold on to that eighth seed. Seeding seems irrelevant at this point. The only thing that seems to matter is two points. Keep winning, and you have nothing to worry about.
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Stepan for the Steven McDonald?
Unless your name is Ryan Callahan, then you likely haven’t even come close to winning the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award. Cally has won three of the past four awards, and will certainly be in contention this year for his second in a row and four in the past five years. But, there is a growing sentiment that Derek Stepan should garner most of the attention this year, and this isn’t without cause.
Stepan has been unreal this year, better than anyone could have imagined. Currently second on the team in scoring (14-20-34 in 40 games), Stepan is on a six game point scoring streak, and has 24 points since the start of March (21 games). The offense is impressive and a true testament to Stepan’s skill, but it’s on the other side of the puck where he has made the most improvement.
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