Better But Still Not Good
After opening the campaign winless through three, the Rangers broke the ice with road wins over Vancouver and Calgary. The team then turned in an uninspired effort against Edmonton in a 2 - 0 loss to the young Oilers Saturday. They conclude their long road journey tomorrow in Winnipeg before heading home for the season opener at MSG Thursday against the Leafs.
Getting a couple of wins was nice and a 2 - 2 - 2 record to start given the difficulty of the travel schedule isn't so bad but we still haven't seen the team play like the squad we expected to see. Here are some thoughts on the team so far and some random musings on a couple of the teams the Rangers have seen on their schedule to date.
- If Hank plays all year the way he has started he will easily win the Vezina. He single-handedly stole the Vancouver game from the Canucks holding the offensively skilled defending Western Conference champions off the board despite 40 shots on goal. He has made highlight-reel saves in every game he has played and the only reason the Rangers aren't 1 - 5 is because of Hank.
- Gabby looks as good as I've ever seen him. He is skating with a purpose and that purpose is to score goals. He has been a threat in every game so far and is the only Ranger consistently creating scoring chances. Assuming relatively good health, Gaborik could challenge the 50-goal mark this year.
- Ryan McDonagh is making it a little easier for Blueshirts fans with Marc Staal out. He is playing 25 minutes a night, partnered mostly with Dan Girardi, and has shown good offensive instincts. He has two goals in his last three games, including the OT winner against Calgary. He shows a good feel for when to jump in to join the offense and might end up leading Ranger defensmen in scoring this year.
- The Pack line has been horrible this year. Last year they were the Rangers best line but can't get anything going this season. Is it the added pressure of expectations that come from big new contracts? For the Rangers to be competitive they need to get this line going.
- The Oilers have assembled a nice blend of skill, toughness and experience up front. RNH has the skill to stick and be a star very early in his career. Paajarvi has legit wheels; he showed that last night by chasing down the very nimble McDonagh. Eric Belanger was a nice pickup and having Ryan Smyth basically fall into their laps was exceptionally fortuitous. They also boast other former first-round picks in Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle. Don't be surprised to see them hang in the playoff chase as long as Khabibulin and Dubnyk can continue to play well in net.
- The Rangers are getting their chances but are missing the net on too many of them. They are being outshot by an average of roughly 9 per night. That's not a good sign. 100% of the shots that don't end up on net, don't result in goals.
- The power play needs to produce. They have just one PP goal through six games and 23 opportunities. Their conversion % is the worst in the league. They blew a lengthy 5-on-3 last night and despite a solid setup there were a few occasions shots were bypassed. It looked like they were more interested in setting up Gabby for a one-timer or letting Richards run the op. That can't work.
- The Rangers were only shorthanded four times last night; a huge improvement over earlier contests. Still, the undisciplined and needless penalties have to stop. Kris Newbury was whistled for a slash in the closing seconds of period two and after killing that penalty the club had to go back on the PK when Mike Rupp took a hooking call. Yes, the hooking call was ticky-tack but the refs usually always call that play so it shouldn't have been a big surprise.
- If Marc Staal is going to be out long-term then the Rangers are going to need to be aggressive in their pursuit of a legit top-four blueliner. Larry Brooks suggested the club should call Nashville about Ryan Suter and that makes sense. The price tag would be quite high in terms of players and money should the club have designs on extending Suter. But the Rangers are going to have a tough time making the playoffs again if Brendan Bell, Jeff Woywitka and/or Steve Eminger see extensive action. Those guys are 6/7 defenders; not to be trusted with regular shifts on a nightly basis.
All in all the Rangers are still in a decent spot. With a win over Winnipeg they will return home with a winning record. Hopefully the team can start playing like we envisioned they would following the addition of Richards this summer.