Rangers Through Three
Usually I like to be as original and creative as possible both when naming and deciding on a theme for a blog post. Sometimes though it is just better to keep it simple. That's the case here.
I can't tell you how many "good, bad and ugly" style posts I've read before but that is the perfect theme for today's blog.
I waited until today to post anything on the Rangers start since the first two "regular season" games in Europe felt more like an extension of the exhibition season than the stat of the regular one. Now the club is back in North America and have a game under their belts in the States. So, let's do a little good, bad and ugly on the Rangers.
The First Line
It looks like Richards and Gabby are already finding some chemistry together. Richards has a point in each contest, roofed the tying goal against Anaheim late from in tight and hit Gabby with a beautiful stretch pass that sprung the Slovakian sniper for the Rangers first goal last night. Gaborik has two goals, both assisted by Richards. Their other linemate last night, Derek Stepan, made a good defensive play just before Gabby's goal and earned the second helper. Five-on-Five this line is great. If they can now start clicking on the PP the Rangers offensively will be in great shape.
Simply put, the Rangers would be pointless today without Hank's superlative play in net in Europe. With the defense in front of him banged up he will need to continue to be strong in order to keep the Rangers in games.
Yes, I said the defense. Look, MDZ, a twenty-one year-old player with defensive deficiencies, and twenty year-old rookie Tim Erixon was our second defense pair last night. MDZ and Erixon each played more than 18 minutes last night and finished fourth and third respectively in ice time among blueliners against the Islanders.
Our third pair consisted of journeymen Steve Eminger and Jeff Woywitka. Eminger was expected to be the 6th or 7th defenseman while Woywitka was claimed on waivers just last week. Eminger saw 16:48 of ice time with 4:48 coming SH.
Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, with the absence of their usual partners, Marc Staal and Mike Sauer due to injuries, were the de facto first pair. Girardi is averaging an incredible 30+ minutes a contest while McDonagh is over 25 per to date.
When looking at it that way, it's pretty surprising the Rangers have allowed just six regulation goals, not including the empty-netter last night, so far on the campaign. I have to think a return to health for Staal and Sauer will only mean good things for the defense unit.
The PACK Line
For the better part of the season last year, the PACK line was our best trio up front. All three members, Callahan, Dubi and Anisimov recorded career highs in scoring. When they were allowed to forecheck, hit and cycle, they created numerous scoring opportunities while keeping the opposition pinned down in their defensive zone.
Aside from Callahan's moster first contest, a goal and 11 shots on net, the PACK line has failed to generate the secondary offense needed. They need to get it going to take some of the scoring load off of the top line and to make the offense more dangerous.
I hate blaming the officiating for a loss and I won't do it here. Still, last night's delay of game call on Boyle was absolute BS. Boyle had been knocked down to the ice twice and was moving the puck back-and-forth with his hands. It's called a hand pass and it is allowed in the defensive zone. At no point did he close his hand on the puck and considering the Rangers were killing a penalty, it seemed to be a smart play by Boyle... until the official called the penalty. It almost appeared as if the referee took something personally and that is why an infraction was called. Maybe the official kept telling Boyle to move the puck and he didn't think Boyle was doing it. Maybe he just saw it wrong. Still, the referee who made the call was on the opposite side of the ice and had the worst angle at the play. Swallow the whistle and let your partner make a call then. Instead they whistled the play and the Islanders would go on to net the game-winner.
I know, officials either miss calls or make bad ones in every game. That particular call came at a bad time for the Rangers though. We've had a hard enough time keeping ourselves out of the box that we don't need the help of the officials. Which leads me to.....
Last season we were one of the best at staying out of the box allowing just more than three PP opportunities against. This season, through three contests, we've allowed 19 PP opportunities against, or better than six per. That is way too many even if some were border-line calls against. The fact is the Rangers have taken far too many silly, sloppy and lazy penalties. That has to stop.
How long has it been since we've had a decent PP? We signed Brad Richards and thought he would solve the PP woes. Through three games we still don't have a PP goal. Our man-advantage did look a lot better last night and got several good scoring chances for but still didn't convert. The team has scored just five goals in three games so getting some easy ones on the PP will go a long way toward helping our offense.
Again, I am not making any excuses but the Rangers travel schedule has been B-R-U-T-A-L. I heard the LA Kings announcers bemoaning the fact that club spent a week in Europe. Well, the Rangers spent two full weeks overseas and at one point played four games in five days in four different countries.
They made the full circuit playing exhibition games in Sweden, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Germany and Switzerland before returning to Sweden to open the regular campaign with back-to-backs against two strong Western Conference squads. Now, they return to the States to play a road game (thankfully in NY) against the Islanders before heading out to Western Canada for games against Vancouver, Calgary Edmonton and Winnipeg. They won't play their first contest at MSG until October 27th when they host the Leafs.
Yes, the long road trip to start has everything to do with the renovations currently being performed on MSG but that doesn't make it any easier on the players and staff. It's nice to be back in North America, finally playing games while able to hold to a normal practice schedule.
No one is worried after three games. We see signs of what this team should become. Obviously we hope to see more of that starting Tuesday in Vancouver.