Derek Stepan, just one of many reasons for optimism this season
There’s a million and one sporting clichés but one that often appears to ring true is how a team has to learn to lose and experience struggles before they can get to the top. The Rangers have struggled mightily at various stages this season. Perhaps, their struggles even began when they were outlasted by the Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals last year.
Being positive, the Rangers are blessed with a talented roster that, while currently struggling to score, in reality there is plenty of scoring talent. Rick Nash and Marian Gaborik alone should be enough that the Rangers shouldn’t own the Eastern Conference’s (current) most anemic offense. The defense has a top four that is, when healthy, the envy of almost the entire league. And in net the Rangers don’t have to bow down to a single team in any corner of any league. Yet this team is scrapping for their lives just to make the playoffs, let alone make some noise when there.
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“Line changes? what line changes?”
For the sake of himself, the Rangers, and their entire season, John Tortorella needs to do something that is almost foreign to him as a coach and stick to his line combinations for the rest of the season. The Rangers season, and indeed the coach’s own future, may depend on his willingness to do just that.
Against the Hurricanes Monday night Tortorella reverted to Marian Gaborik-Brad Richards-Rick Nash once again being on the same line. While the line didn’t score its reunion coincided with the most assertive game Richards had played in weeks (including some exceptional passes that led to scoring chances) and saw Gaborik look much more dynamic than he had done for the majority of the season. Rick Nash was simply Rick Nash; as the game developed the big winger was consistently dangerous. These lines were left the same for last night’s game, and it was one of the most complete efforts we’ve seen all year. Plus, this mega-line scored.
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Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images
Though he was last year’s playoff hero, Chris Kreider got off to a tough start with the CT Whale during the NHL lockout, and his confidence was at an all-time low when he joined the Rangers for the start of the NHL season. Kreider had been asked to round out his game in the AHL and the learning process was more difficult than he may have expected. As a result, his offensive numbers took a nosedive.
Still, the Rangers saw just how valuable Kreider could be last spring and handed him a job to start the season despite his struggles. One highlight reel goal against Martin Brodeur notwithstanding, Kreider failed to generate much of anything offensively in third line duty, so the Blueshirts made the difficult decision to return Kreider to the Whale two weeks ago while keeping 20-year-old JT Miller with the big club. Read more »
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Before the season we projected that it would take 53 points to make the playoffs in the shortened 48-game season. The Rangers are still on track to net exactly 53 points, but in looking ahead at the Rangers’ schedule, things become a little dicey.
New York has already played 15 of its 24 home games, meaning the Rangers will play just 9 of their remaining 23 games in the friendly confines of Madison Square Garden. The Blueshirts have a 9-5-1 mark at home this year, but fell to just 4-5-1 on the road with last night’s loss in Buffalo. Read more »
Del Zotto has been solid lately, much needed by the Rangers
It won’t be a popular topic with many Rangers fans, but Michael Del Zotto has quietly gone about playing some very good hockey since returning from his injury. This return to form is also coinciding with the Rangers recent strong run, which is no coincidence.
Del Zotto’s form has been overshadowed by Ryan McDonagh’s own return to form, Marc Staal’s injury, Rick Nash’s free scoring ways and the partial re-emergence of a powerplay that has begun to make a positive difference once again (finally?). Perhaps this is the best way for Del Zotto. He gets the opportunity to float under the radar, and have the attention focused elsewhere.
In not being blamed for every defensive error committed by the Rangers, and partially forgotten about on the offensive side of the puck, Del Zotto has had the opportunity to play himself back in to form in relative peace and quiet. While other players take the plaudits, Del Zotto has gotten better.
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Andrew Theodorakis/New York Daily News
The Rangers have played 24 games so far, the exact halfway point of the season. As of now, our Blueshirts sit in
second third place in the Atlantic Division and have the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference with a record of 13-9-2 and 28 points. The Rangers also have games in hand on every Eastern Conference team except the Bruins, Canes, and Caps. It’s not exactly a terrible position to be in.
Getting to this point has been a bumpy ride. After starting the season 1-3-0 and 3-3-0, the Rangers essentially played .500 hockey until the end of February. The Rick Nash injury threw a wrench into their mid-February winning streak where they went 5-1-1. Their 0-3-1 record without Nash during that stretch eliminated any momentum and kept the Rangers at .500 (5-4-2 until their most recent stretch).
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A microcosm of Bickel’s last year in blue.
When Stu Bickel came to the Rangers as a midseason call up last season, he made a lasting impression on the team, the coaching staff, and the fans. He played with that edge that the Rangers lacked since Michael Sauer went down with his concussion. But, we started seeing some questionable aspects about his game, and it started affecting his ice time last season, specifically in the playoffs.
On the ice, Bickel has been nothing short of a disaster. His skating isn’t what Torts needs it to be (he looks like a pylon), he misses assignments (both on forward and on defense), and he contributes nothing offensively. A physical presence only gets you so much, and all this is evidenced in Bickel’s ice time. Bickel is lucky to get five minutes per game when playing defense, and luckier to get eight minutes per game while playing forward. Torts simply appears to have lost trust in Bickel. That is not a recipe for success.
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Hamrlik brings balance to the force.
Last night, Roman Hamrlik made his Rangers debut just hours after being claimed off waivers. Harmlik did not register a point, he was not on the ice for any goals, and he only recorded one shot on goal and one hit. But, Hamrlik instantly made the Rangers better. Yes, Marc Staal is out, and Hamrlik pretty much represented the only option. But regardless of Staal’s presence in the lineup, Hamrlik balances out this team.
For weeks now, we’ve seen Torts juggle between Stu Bickel, Steve Eminger, and Matt Gilroy on the bottom defense pairing. Very rarely did any of them see more than ten minutes per game. Last night, Hamrlik played 15 minutes (as did Eminger). With Hamrlik, the Rangers finally have a bottom defense pairing that the coach can rely on. Those extra five minutes means five minutes of extra rest for Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Michael Del Zotto, and Anton Stralman.
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“Shortening goalie pads is more important to me than this “concussion” nonsense”.
Every once in a while, something happens in the hockey world that compels me to get up on my soapbox and rant about it. The last time this happened, it was the heated debate over the Milan Lucic/Ryan Miller hit. That one helped get me a gig writing for BSB, so unfortunately for all of you, it has emboldened me to stand up on that box once again…
Goalies are getting in the way. Their entire existence is devoted to removing the most exciting play in hockey: the goal. Everyone wants more scoring; the league, the fans, the analysts. Casual fans get into 7-6 barn burners way more easily than 1-0, tightly checked, defense-first games. Ever since Lockout II in ‘04-‘05, the league has looked for ways to improve goal scoring to broaden hockey’s appeal.
They have toyed with wider, bowed-out nets, they have limited the goalie’s ability to play the puck, and implemented a wide range of physical limitations on the size of the equipment goalies wear. Most famously, limiting the width of leg pads from 12” to 11” (which, was a good thing). Not to mention the breathtakingly long list of proposed improvements that the NHL has not allowed for, and incremental disallowance of many commonly used protective features, which could, in theory*, give the goalie an undeserved advantage.
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The Rangers need Gaborik and the offense to help accommodate for Staal’s injury
It may seem an odd statement to make in light of an important defenseman being lost to injury, but the Rangers offense will need to produce consistently now more than ever. Despite the addition of Roman Hamrlik and the presence of multiple defensemen on the roster, the Rangers cannot reasonably expect to fill the void Marc Staal will leave. This is despite the presence of Henrik Lundqvist and the still impressive, remaining top four blueliners.
Any time a team loses a player of Marc Staal’s ability it’s going to hurt. When Staal went down the Rangers lost their best offensive blueliner (going by points alone), and lost a player that had returned to his All Star defensive best. Take an All Star who plays over twenty three minutes a game out of any line-up (except maybe the Blackhawks…) and you cannot reasonably expect the same performance level.
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