The Rangers have finally done it. For the first time in December, the Rangers have gotten two points at home in regulation. And also for the first time this month, the Rangers played a complete game for all 60 minutes. Benoit Pouliot was particularly noticeable, but for good reasons rather than bad. Rangers announcer Sam Rosen even called it “Pouliot’s best game of the season”. It all culminated with a beautiful goal on the powerplay, tying the game at 1. On a saucer pass from McDonagh, Pouliot one-timed it into the back of the net, and instant replay showed that the puck was about a foot off the ice when it reached Pouliot, making the goal that much more impressive. Pouliot has only scored five goals this season, but most of them have been scored recently, and his most recent healthy scratch seems to have motivated him. His best games usually originate with his work along the boards, so it should be no surprise that he was a forechecking machine, stealing pucks, and lowering the boom on anyone who got in his way.
Hagelin, Zuccarello, and Kreider also scored for the Rangers. The only Wild goal came off a deflection from Jason Pomminville. Talbot had no chance on the play, as John Moore allowed Pominville to crash the net practically unobstructed.
Both J. Moore and Del Zotto played poorly, particularly in their own zone, giving up several pucks to forchecking Wild players. John Moore made the more egregious of the errors, as his mistake ended up putting the Rangers down 1-0 early, but neither played a game they should be proud of.
Meanwhile, the NHL has frozen the rosters for the holidays, but that hasn’t frozen the gossip. ProHockeyTalk reports that Glen Sather is believed to be willing to hear offers on everyone but Nash, Kreider, and Lundqvist. More over, he is not only shopping Del Zotto (which everyone knew), but also the stalwart Dan Girardi. The shopping of Girardi is a surprise only because of the circumstances. The Rangers have had a series of injuries on the blue line recently, but in the midst of all that, Dan Girardi has missed two games for the Rangers since 2007. The veteran shot blocker is a UFA after this season, and will demand a significant raise from his current $3.3 million per year, so if Sather already knows he doesn’t want to re-sign him, then shopping him isn’t a bad move. But it would be downright foolish to trade him before Staal returns.
Del Zotto, on the other hand, should be moved as soon as possible. His perceived value goes down with every mistake-ridden game he plays. Ottawa has reportedly been inquiring about Del Zotto, but they just don’t have the pieces (or the cap space) to make a mutually beneficial deal with the Rangers. Outside of Canada’s Capitol, however, Del Zotto isn’t known to have any suitors, especially since Sather is reportedly asking for a Top 4 defensemen in exchange. Kulikov is known to be on Florida’s trading block, and Jake Gardiner is believed to available in Toronto (for the right price), but neither of those players would likely be acquired for Del Zotto alone. The Rangers future in the trade market isn’t brightened by the fact that according to CapGeek, the Rangers a barely a million dollars under the cap, so players with salaries over $2.5-$3 million will be automatically excluded from trade talks involving Del Zotto, making the unreliable defenseman that much harder to move.
Regardless, the Rangers won’t be making any changes until after the Holidays. They play Toronto tonight at 7 PM EST, and then are off until Friday. The Leafs have been struggling to prevent goals recently, so this might be the perfect time for the Rangers anemic offense to gain some confidence. The puck drops on MSG 2.
Many were shocked today, as Tom Wilson was neither suspended nor fined after sending Brayden Schenn hard into the boards, earning himself a major penalty and a game misconduct for charging. It didn’t take long for Brendan Shannahan to announce that he wanted to speak to the 19-year-old about it.
Washington’s Tom Wilson will have a phone hearing tomorrow afternoon for charging Philadelphia’s Brayden Schenn
— NHL Player Safety (@NHLPlayerSafety) December 18, 2013
But just this afternoon the Department of Player Safety announced that Wilson would receive no supplemental discipline for the hit that even Mike Milbury said the league “should be trying to get out of the game”. A video explaining the lack of suspension was released shortly after the announcement was made, and as much as you hate to see players injured, it actually makes a great deal of sense.
Without a doubt, this has been far from a great month in terms of player safety. Nine suspensions totaling 38 games have been handed down this month so far, meaning NHL players as a whole are losing one game to suspensions for almost every 3 games played (there have been 120 in December prior to tonight’s action). With numbers like that, it’s easy to portray the NHL as an out-of-control melee instead of a carefully monitored sport. So lets examine all nine suspensions.
|12/7||James Neal (PIT)||Kneeing (Brad Marchand, BOS)||5 Games|
|12/7||Shawn Thornton (BOS)||Agressing (Brooks Orpik, PIT)||15 Games|
|12/8||Dion Phaneuf (TOR)||Boarding (Kevan Miller, BOS)||2 Games|
|12/10||Jared Cowen (OTT)||Illegal Check to the Head (Zemgus Girgensons, BUF)||2 Games|
|12/10||Richard Panik (TBL)||Boarding (Karl Alzner, WAS)||2 Games|
|12/12||David Clarkson (TOR)||Illegal Check to the Head (Vladimir Sobotka, STL)||2 Games|
|12/14||Anthony Peluso (WPG)||Boarding (Alex Gligoski, DAL)||3 Games|
|12/14||Deryk Engelland (PIT)||Illegal Check to the Head (Justin Abdelkader, DET)||5 Games|
|12/15||Corey Potter (EDM)||Boarding (Nick Bonino, ANH)||2 Games|
Removing Thornton’s penalty (since it occurred after the whistle and away from the play and wasn’t a “Hockey Play” to steal a term from American Football), you’re left with eight suspensions averaging 2.875 games/suspension. Compare that to October, which saw 10 suspensions averaging 4.4 games per suspension (or, if you prefer an identical sample size, there were six suspensions between 10/1 and 10/19, averaging 4.6 games/suspension). In the entirety of the lockout shortened 2012-13 season, there were 17 suspensions totaling 47 games, for an average of 2.765 games each. These averages are important, because they show, overall, the severity of the infractions. By the numbers, October was a much more violent month than December. The notion that this month, Professional Hockey is an veritable crime spree is a pronounced distortion of the truth.
That being said, the numbers also appear to be trending down season to season. In the 2011-12 season (a full season), for instance, there were 35 total suspensions resulting in 101 total games, for an average of 2.885 games/suspension. That was a significant downturn from the 2010-11 season which saw 32 total suspensions for 116 games, averaging 3.625 games/suspension. While the number of suspensions is remaining relatively similar, the length of those suspensions is decreasing, and not because Shannahan is going soft, either. The fact of the matter is, the while hockey is a fast game, and players continue to make split-second mistakes, the severity of those mistakes is going down. Players are more conscious of each other than ever before, thanks to the Dept. of Player Safety keeping a close eye out and communicating more than ever to explain rulings to teams and fans.
There is one problem that is getting bigger and bigger, however, but it’s not getting any press at all: thanks to these more stringent rules, players appear to be deliberately putting themselves in more vulnerable positions in the hopes that being more vulnerable will deter a hit, or at least provide a powerplay if their opponent follows through. Watch the next time you see a player move in to play a puck along the boards. It won’t take long before you see the first player in bend over with his feet apart facing the glass, daring his opponents to deliver a check that would almost certainly be called for boarding. This phenomenon isn’t specific to one team, or one group of players, it seems to be going on league-wide, and Wilson’s hit on Schenn is a perfect example. Rather than stick to the boards, wrapping the puck around the glass and getting bumped for his trouble, Schenn opts to put himself in a more vulnerable position, hoping to avoid the hit entirely. A similar example came earlier this season, when Cody McLeod was suspended 5 games for boarding Niklas Kronwall:
Again, we see a player intentionally putting themselves in a more vulnerable position to try and avoid the hit. While responsibility is ultimately on the player making the hit to make a good decision in terms of when and when not to make a check, all players have a responsibility to themselves, and the integrity of the game, to play with as much awareness as possible. And that includes the awareness that in today’s NHL, you’re going to get hit.
According to Mel Brooks, it’s good to be the King. Ask Henrik Lundqvist, however, and you’ll probably get a different remark. The Rangers netminder has been under fire recently, and quite frankly hasn’t been playing consistently at the elite level the Rangers and their fans have come to expect. On Wednesday Night Rivalry, however, Lundqvist was a man possessed. King Henrik stopped 29 of 32 shots through regulation and OT, and was a brick wall in the first four rounds of a shootout that saw one goal on 10 shots.
The consolation prize for the Rangers is that they received one point of the two possible, although it would be more accurate to say that the point fell into their laps than to say the earned it. In fact, half the goals scored in regulation can list the Hockey Gods as the Primary Assist.
Pittsburgh opened the scoring past the twelve minute mark with a powerplay goal as the Rangers defense (including the much scrutinized Michael Del Zotto) failed to clear the front of the net and allowed Chris Kunitz to get a timely whack at the puck moments before Lundqvist could fall on it. Less than three minutes later, the Rangers got it back on a beautiful breakaway, as Carl Hagelin found the five-hole of a sprawling Marc-Andre Fleury. That tie lasted until five minutes into the third, when Chris Kunitz chopped the stick of McDonagh in half. The referees missed the call (their view was obstructed by the net), and the absence of Mac’s active stick allowed Kunitz to start a tic-tac-toe passing play that was polished off by Dupuis. Almost exactly a minute later, Brandon Sutter got a breakaway of his own, and fooled Lundqvist with a brilliantly disguised backhand.
The Rangers tried to surge back, but were largely unable to gain much sustained offensive pressure. It was a mistake by one of the young Penguins defensemen that finally allowed the Rangers to break through. John Moore slapped a shot from the top of the slot that squeaked through Fleury and sat in the back of the crease, waiting patiently for Mats Zuccarello to push it the extra few inches across the line. Derek Brassard tied the game on the powerplay after an extremely lucky bounce off the end-boards left him with a wide open net. He was at a sharp angle, but didn’t miss, and the Rangers stumbled into overtime, and finally, the shootout.
Once there, Lundqvist did an astounding job, fending off Jokinen, Crosby, Kunitz, and Dupuis before finally giving up the shootout winner to Sutter. The Rangers sent shootout connoisseur Mats Zuccarello, who was just stopped by the quick pad of Fleury after a speedy deke. The rest of the Rangers shooters (Nash, Dominic Moore, Richards, and Pouliot) were decidedly less creative, opting to walk in and fire. Fleury went undefeated in the shootout.
Lundqvist had his share of issues unrelated to the puck, as he was the victim of two Penguins penalties, once by Harrison Zolnierczyk (unsportsmanlike conduct), and a scary collision with Kunitz that left Lundqvist face-down and in pain for several minutes. You can view the video here. Kunitz was assessed a minor penalty on the play, but the Rangers failed to capitalize, leading to the aforementioned shootout defeat.
None of the Rangers who live outside the crease played particularly well, but Michael Del Zotto once again got attention for all the wrong reasons. He and John Moore had been competing to be the Rangers biggest defensive liability, but Del Zotto pulled away, ending up a -1 and being benched for much of the third, while Moore managed a +2 performance notching two assists. Rick Nash played over 22 minutes, but he mostly glided around as though he were still in practice, routinely being stripped of the puck, and missing on passes at key moments.
With the Penguins missing more than a dozen players, the Rangers had a fantastic opportunity to continue the turn-around they started against Calgary. Instead, they lose another home game (1-4-2 on the 9 game homestand) and further sully the stats of one of the league’s best goaltenders.
Sunday night, the Rangers were finally able to raise their sticks at center ice. After four straight losses at MSG (and going down 2-0 in the first 15:00 minutes) the Blueshirts battled back to beat the Flames in a seven round shootout. This is significant not just because it was a win, but because it was a comeback win that the Rangers haven’t been able to earn in the past. Sunday night marks just the second time this season the Rangers have earned two points after surrendering the first goal of the game.
But earn two points they did. Even if it did take 65 minutes and 7 shootout attempts. And the Ranger who perhaps deserved a goal the most channeled his inner Peter Forsberg for the shootout winner:
If the move looks familiar, you probably were watching when Peter Forsberg scored this goal for Sweden in the 1994 Winter Olympics:
Pouliot was one of the hardest working Rangers in the win against Calgary, notching an assist and no penalties in just under 12 minutes of ice time. But his strong back-checking (something that has been noticeably lacking) not only halted Calgary’s offense on several occasions, it also created a chance for the Rangers that Carl Hagelin wrapped around and in to tie the score at 2-2 in the second period.
Derek Stepan, who opened the scoring for the Rangers late in the first, also had a good night (he would later collect an assist on the goal by Kreider that sent the game to overtime). Stepan had been struggling to find the back of the net recently, and his goal seemed to spark the Rangers, who didn’t push very hard for the first 15 minutes of regulation.
Dylan McIlrath also help spark the team with a spirited throwdown against Brian McGrattan, marking his first NHL bout (and McGrattan’s 95th). The rookie blueliner stood his ground well as the two exchanged blows for some time before fatigue allowed the linesmen to intervene. McIlrath not only looked good in the fight, but he looked good while he was on the ice, defending the crease both before and after the whistle, and passing well. He’s looking more and more like he might remain in the NHL for the rest of the season, and perhaps give the Rangers the depth they need to feel comfortable trading Michael Del Zotto, who had several more defensive lapses, most notably when the puck was sent right between his feet on a pass that he never noticed. DZ wound up being a +2 in over 21 minutes of ice-time.
All told, the Rangers eked out a win in the shootout, and Henrik Lundqvist’s reaction sums up the Rangers victory nicely (skip to the 7:00 mark or click here if you don’t want to see the whole thing):
With the win against Calgary behind them, the Rangers will look to beat the Penguins on Wednesday night. The Penguins are atop both the Eastern Conference and the Metropolitan Division, but are severely short-handed. Missing from the line-up for Pittsburgh are Thomas Vokoun, Brooks Orpik, Beau Bennett, Andrew Ebbett, Tanner Glass, Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Rob Scuderi, and presumably Evgeni Malkin, although he is still a possibility to play. Also out of the lineup will by James Neal, who will serve the fifth and final game of his suspension on Wednesday night, and Deryk Engelland has an in-person hearing with the Department of Player Safety on Wednesday, meaning he will miss the Rangers game as well. For those of you playing the home game, that’s 10 players from the starting lineup (not counting Vokoun), including 3 of the Penguins Top 4 defensemen. Combine that with the fact that the Rangers have finally snapped their losing streak, and Wednesday’s game against the Pens suddenly looks a whole lot more winnable.
The game will air on NBC Sports, as their Rivalry Night game.
With the Rangers dropping four games at home in the wake of poor defense and inconsistent offense, heads are starting to turn towards GM Glen Sather. Many considered Head Coach Alain Vingeault’s comments on Wednesday to be a subtle shot across the bow, when he claimed “I have an idea of how I would like it to play, not quite sure we have the personnel to play the type of game I would like to play.” For many players in the system, there has been a revolving door in the lineup. Kreider finally earned a permanent spot after being sent down and coming back up again, and J.T. Miller has been playing hard and finishing checks, but for now he’s back in Hartford (for the third time this season after cracking the opening night roster out of camp).The Rangers Press Box has been home to a number of healthy scratches this season, including Taylor Pyatt, Benoit Pouliot, Justin Falk, and perhaps most notably, Michael Del Zotto. Along with the fact that most line combinations haven’t lasted more than a period so far this year, and it seems clear that the Rangers have done about as much shaking as the current roster will allow. So what can be done to help improve the Blueshirts?
Moving Del Zotto
There has been much speculation about the potential trading of Del Zotto, who was once considered to be an untouchable prospect who would blossom into Leetch-like talent. But he has failed to produce, even under the tutelage of Vigneault, and his defensive abilities have left much to be desired for several years now. According to the Ottawa Sun, Sather set the price for Del Zotto at a Top Four Defenseman, and while the Senators GM remains interested, they were unable to reach a deal. The appearance of Dylan McIlrath might loosen alter Sather’s strategy, however. If McIlrath can play well enough to secure a more permanent roster spot, Sather might be willing to look at propositions involving forward talent, not just blueliners. McIlrath is still far from a lock though. He will be watched closely, and Sather may opt not to move Del Zotto until he knows what he has for defensive depth that is NHL ready. Sather has already missed the window for getting maximum return for Del Zotto. The smart move now is to wait and see if the Rangers can replace him with in-house talent before dangling him for a defenseman.
Give J.T. Miller a Spot
J.T. Miller may not have put up a lot of points, but he was still a factor during his 17 NHL games this year. Miller routinely finished checks, fought hard to keep possession, made good passing decisions, and was one of the better forecheckers on the team. And yet, much like Kreider before him, he seems to spend more time on the bus between New York and Hartford than he does at either destination. The reason for his repeated demotion is to get him more ice time, but for a string of six games in late october, Miller was getting 13-14 minutes a game. He played hard and well during that time, despite only having one point and a plus/minus of zero during that time, but he proved he could handle the minutes at the NHL level, and it’s not as though other third and fourth line players are racking up goals. Miller is a hard worker who just needs some NHL experience, and there’s only one way to get it.
Scratching John Moore
When Del Zotto was playing poor defense, the Rangers sat him to voice their displeasure. But now, John Moore is the one who seems to be getting beaten regularly in his own zone. Moore is a victim of trying to play the puck instead of the man, but he doesn’t have the control and stick skills that McDonagh does. He needs to start taking the body more, but more immediately, he needs to get his legs back so that when he does get caught off balance he is able to recover and get back in the play before the lamp is lit behind him. Vigneault is certainly not averse to benching players for defensive lapses, and Moore won’t escape his scrutiny for much longer.
Grow From Within
With several prospects in the system, we may see more than just McIlrath getting a shot this season. Danny Kristo was acquired earlier this summer, and Oscar Lindberg continues to be one of the more talked about youngsters in the Rangers system. Whether they are ready for their turn at MSG remains to be seen, but the Rangers are barely treading water, and if at the end of the season they are on the outside looking in, many will turn to this homestand as the turning point in the season where the Rangers either proved they were a playoff team, or dug a hole that was too deep to climb out of.
Whatever he decides, now the Lundqvist is locked down tight, Glen Sather has plenty of other things to keep him busy.
For most, there’s no place like home this time of year. For the Rangers, their franchise record nine-game homestand can’t be over soon enough. The Blueshirts drew ire from the crowd on Thursday night, as they dropped their fourth straight game (all at home no less) to the Columbus Blue Jackets, a team they were allegedly fired up to play.
But the game would get away from them early, as the newly re-crowned King Henrik allowed three goals in just over 11 minutes, and was replaced by Cam Talbot. Talbot, who’s proven his worth as a stalwart backup, allowed another goal in the third to put the game away. The Rangers managed only two goals on 34 shots on net, despite playing against a backup’s backup for two-thirds of the contest.
So what went wrong?
BLOCKED SHOTS: Columbus finished with 19 blocked shots, and while that might not seem like much considering the Rangers got 34 through to the net, many of those blocks were at key times and lead to clears for the Jackets.
PASSING: The Rangers repeatedly attempted blind passes along the entire length of the ice. From behind the Columbus net, to their own defensive zone, the Rangers repeatedly turned the puck over by passing without looking. And even when they did look, passes were often out of reach, careening off the boards, or predictable enough to be intercepted.
ZONE ENTRY: The Rangers played dump and chase all night, mainly because every time they tried to enter the zone, the bounced off a wall of Blue Jackets. Particularly on the PK, Columbus stood tall at their own blue line, with as many as four players lined up to prevent any penetration. The Rangers never really got their forecheck going, and Columbus players were quick to the puck and made sure they always had numbers in battles along the boards.
POWERPLAY: Once again, the Rangers were stymied on the PP. They went 0/3, and were regularly booed as they went back to fish a freshly cleared puck from deep in their own end. They were unable to establish pressure for any significant length of time, even with the man advantage.
For those optimists who search for the positives, there were a few to be had: Dylan McIlrath was a -1 in just under nine minutes of playing time, but he looked good, played hard minutes, drew a penalty, took some shots, and made a couple hits. All in all, he didn’t look like he was playing his first NHL contest. It remains to be seen if he has earned a spot beyond Thursday night, but his performance in the time he was given was solid. The Rangers 3rd/4th lines played reasonably well, but combinations of those players were so varied it was difficult to tell which line was which. Pyatt, Boyle, and Dorsett were easily the best forecheckers of the game, providing the only sustained even-strength shifts of the game. Pouliot also looked much better tonight than he has recently, a good sign for the Rangers, who could really use a hot stick right now.
After this loss, the Rangers drop to 6th in the Metropolitan Division and drop to a dismal 5-9-1 at home. Their next game is against the Calgary Flames who are 11-15-4, and sport the Western Conference’s worst goal differential, at -21. The game will be this Sunday at 7:00 PM EST, and televised on MSG.
Thanks to this year’s divisional restructuring, a budding rivalry between teams that have swapped both star talent and supporting cast became a heated emotional battle for playoff position. And tonight we see the second of six games to be played between the Rangers and the Columbus Blue Jackets. Fueling the fire headed into tonight’s are emotions that Brandon Dubinsky plans to keep in check.
“You’ve got to channel those emotions the right way. It’s going to be a little different being on this side of the ice to start the game. I think after the first couple of shifts I’ll settle in.”
It will also mark the first time that Rick Nash has ever suited up against the Blue Jackets.
“A lot of emotions, I’ve seen a lot of familiar faces around rink this morning..but at end of day we’re in it for 2 points”-Rick Nash #NYR
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) December 12, 2013
In the race for 8th place (and a ticket to the playoffs) both Columbus and NY have disappointed so far, capturing only 29/62 and 31/64 possible points, respectively. Despite lukewarm numbers, the Rangers are only a single point behind the 8th place Hurricanes, and Columbus trails the Canes by only three points.
Over the past two years, the rangers have acquired Rick Nash, Derick Brassard, Derek Dorsett, and John Moore (as well as prospects Steven Delisle and Blake Parlett), while Columbus came away with Marion Gaborik, Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, and Tim Erixon. It’s worth noting that of those players, all except Gaborik were jettisoned by their first NHL team as part of the two blockbuster trades. That can lead to bruised pride, which is a great motivation to leave everything out on the ice.