Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Rangers 30-24-4   Hawks 26-25-9

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN (but with us on commentary!)

THE CITY SO NICE IT SMELLS LIKE PISS: Blueshirt Banter

The Hawks return home for just two games this week, before heading back out for what looks to be an absolute Unblinking Eye of a road trip through Dallas, St. Louis, and then Florida. Which makes these home games an absolute must, and even that probably won’t save the Hawks from having their season come to an end on that trip.

Which of course, is far too late. The deadline is Monday, and the Hawks can pivot toward the future, and successfully, if they just give in and start cashing in on Gustafsson and Lehner and maybe one or two others. Perhaps losing these two home games will finally make up management’s mind. Two games shouldn’t do that, but we know how this works. And we know how this team works, where they could for absolutely no reason other than hockey weirdness take these two games on Madison, and then at least split that trip coming up and justify the front office doing absolutely nothing come Monday. They’ll say it’s in service to their vets, but the vets will be just as pissed off come April when they’re still five points out of a playoff spot.

Perhaps that’s for another time, but tonight’s opponent should make for sobering viewing for the Hawks. The New York Rangers are in the middle of a rebuild, and yet have more points than the Hawks playing in the tougher conference. The Rags tried to soup up their arc by signing Artemi Panarin in the summer and having Kaapo Kakko fall into their lap.

While the former has performed as you’d expect, Kakko has been a disappointment. Eight goals and 19 points for a player that looked like he could belch up 30 goals per season at least. More worryingly, Kakko has been getting utterly crushed metrically, and his game clearly is going to need more work than the Rangers would have anticipated for a #2 overall pick. He isn’t even getting into scoring areas and chances as much as you would have expected, and has played himself onto the third line for the moment.

But this is New York, so that’s not the only drama going on with the team. Alex Georgiev might finally, along with Henrik Lundqvist’s age (though you wouldn’t know it to look at him, asshole), make the Rangers face the hockey mortality of their stalwart in net. Georgiev has been the superior goalie, this is Hank’s second straight subpar year, and at 38 and with only one year left on his contract after this one both Hank and the Rangers finally can see what life without each other is going to look like.

Up front, the Rangers can’t seem to decide if they want to trade guided missile Chris Kreider or make him part of the future. The package the Devils just got for Blake Coleman surely is giving them pause though, because Kreider likely gets the Rangers more than that. He’s also just about the last chip the Rangers have to play, as the rotting corpse of Marc Staal isn’t going to fetch much more than sympathetic looks and the loose change found in jacket pockets.

None of that has kept the Rangers from putting up more points than anyone would have guessed, and some of that is to do with their high octane defense. Tony DeAngelo (who really couldn’t be more perfectly named for a New York hockey player), Adam Fox, and Brady Skjei (Chance’s buddy) can all make things happen from the back, which keeps the Rangers playing at a pretty high pace.

They might not have star power up front beyond Panarin, but they do have a collection of fast forwards (including one named “Fast”) that can be hell to play against. They had won four in a row and five of six before getting kneecapped by the Bruins on Sunday. This is also their Mom’s trip, and it’s nice to see a team bring their moms to a true destination like Chicago instead of whatever backwaters the Hawks dragged their matriarchs through this year.

All that said, and even with the speed they have, the Rangers are a woeful defensive team. Even worse than the Hawks, if you can believe it. They’re last in xGA/60 and among the worst in Corsi against. So this game has a chance to be utterly hilarious in that fashion. Skjei, Fox, and DeAngelo (HEY! HE’S HOCKEYIN’ OVAH HERE!) can get up and go they can also get up and fall over in their own end. None of the Rangers young forwards have any idea what they’re doing in their own end, so the Hawks will get chances.

Does it matter? I have no idea. I think they’re toast. I don’t think they think they are, and maybe this is the death rattle week for them.

But what you should do is download the Hot Mic app on your phone, and listen to us do our inaugural broadcast on there for this one! Also use code “SAM376” when you do. We’ll be doing a whole MST3K thing with the game tonight, and it should be fun. Hope to have you along.

Hockey

Brendan Smith – This guy was the worst player in the league in 2013, when he singlehandedly gave Game 6 back to the Hawks and changed that series. There’s always someone in your life–be they a coworker, a friend of a friend, a cousin–who has the job and money you want and for the life of you you can’t figure out how they got there. That’s Brendan Smith for everyone in hockey. He’s slow, his hands are made of cardboard, and he’s got all the instincts of a drunk raccoon. And yet here he is, closing in on 10 years in the league. The world is fucked.

Michael Haley – Likely to not play tonight but we don’t know what he’s doing here at all. There’s still some thought that a rebuilding team, which the Rangers are, need a goon lying around to protect the innocent children. That starts to come apart when you see Kakko is 6-3, Howden is 6-3, Chytil is 6-2, and so on. This guy couldn’t spell dog if you gave him all the letters to rearrange.

Chris Kreider – Never met a goalie he couldn’t run, and his facial hair makes it clear he has a drawer full of designer roofies at home.

Everything Else

  vs. 

RECORDS: Hawks 16-23-9   Rangers 19-20-7

PUCK DROP: 6pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago, NBCSN for the non-locals because NBC hates hockey

HEY I’M HOCKEYIN’ OVAH HERE!: Blueshirt Banter

So I’d get all “Harf Harf Harf!” about Original Six bullshit, except not even the people who would peddle that are going to be able to dress up a game between two of the league’s worst teams. Possibly the two worst teams. Like, seriously. The Hawks are 30th in the league and the Kings have a game in hand on them at the bottom. What makes it even funnier is that the Rangers are above them, and they planned to be here. The Hawks didn’t and are somehow doing it better. Or worse, depending on your point of view.

Anyway, the Rangers are sure to get worse after their deadline sell-off as they go through the rebuild we only wish the Hawks were capable of. Kevin Hayes is a goner, Mats Zuccarello won’t be too far behind, Chris Kreider is probably what would bring most back, if anyone will take Adam McQuaid and the only skill he has of having an angry face he’ll go too. Soon enough Dylan Strome’s brother could find himself on an NHL top line. That’s how you tank it right, folks!

The Rangers aren’t last in their division because the Devils tried the unique tack of not having a goalie all season and the Flyers being more Flyers than anyone could have possibly imagined. Because there’s nothing the Rangers are good at. They’re a stank possession team, ranking second-worst in team Corsi-percentage. They’re seventh-worst in xGF%. They give up the second-most attempts per game, and the fourth-most scoring chances. They’re shit-assed when it comes to high-danger chances against, too. They also create next to nothing, as they’re worst in attempts-for or shots-for per game at evens. This is the definition of a nothing team, as it should be when it’s in Year One of a rebuild. Whoever is going to matter when this team matters again probably isn’t here yet, aside from Filip Chytil and maybe Brett Howden. We’ll be nice and throw Ryan Lindgren on the defense on the list as well, and he’ll be playing his second NHL game tonight.

The big question that hangs over the Rangers like a noxious cloud is Henrik Lundqvist. Firstly, because he really isn’t that good any more. Secondly, because it would be hard to be good behind this team. Thirdly, because the Rangers could probably get some team to pony up to try and take him on one last run for a Cup. But King has shown on interest in leaving New York, so he and the Rangers have to be content to sit and watch each other crumble down into nothingness. Awfully handsome nothingness, though.

For the Hawks, a little news. Collin Delia will start, which…duh. Apparently Drake Caggiula is going to get a look with Kane and Strome, as the Hawks try to convince either us or themselves (it’s themselves) that Caggiula is anything but a foot soldier. He isn’t. Expect Saad back here by the second period. Or they’re trying to drive Kane to ask for a trade by playing him with bigger and bigger clods until the deadline until he just gives up. Cunning ploy that would be, but this organization isn’t capable of anything that clever.

I can’t dress this one up for you. It’s two garbage teams hurling themselves at each other for 60 minutes because the schedule says they have to. Enjoy it on whatever level works for you.

 

Game #49 Preview Suite

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Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Beth Boyle Machlan has been our Rangers correspondent for a while now. Follow her @bethmachlan.

The Rangers are at the base of a rebuild, one which some Hawks fans wish they could or would do. On the current roster, who are players that will be around when the Rangers are ready to matter again?

Who will be around? IDEFK. Marc Staal. Marc Staal will be around forever.

You must get this question a lot, but Henrik Lundqvist: not a great year for the second season in a row, and two more years to go on a deal and he’s 36. We know he has no interest in being traded. Is he just going to finish out this contract, seeing as how it’s unlikely the Rangers are going to be competitive anyway?

I really don’t see Lundqvist leaving. I think he’s going down with the ship. As for “not a great year” … in his defense (LOL), he has no defense. I mean, none. They bleed shots. He’s had some amazing games, and some terrible ones — he’s never in between. I would love to know what’s going on in his head right now about what all this means for his career, but he seems to have chosen loyalty over personal fame. I blame Alain Vigneault, but then I blame him for pretty much everything.

We know that under Alain Vigneault, some fans chafed at the under-use of Pavel Buchnevich. Does his 13 points so far make the case that maybe he wasn’t?

Ah, Pasha. Yes, AV deployed Buchnevich really poorly. But then, Buch is sort of the princess and the pea of hockey players. He really needs everything to be aligned in order to produce, but when he does, he does, and it’s really not rocket science to figure out what he needs, like a spot on PP1 (2 goals vs. Carolina on Tuesday, oh hey look at that, why is this hard?).

How much are the Rangers going to try and get rid of before the trade deadline?

Before the deadline? Depends on who comes calling. I’m thinking Zucc (sob). Maybe Kreider? Hayes is sitting in an airport somewhere just waiting to be told what flight to take. And y’all were right about Brendan Smith; I admit it. Someone take him and I’ll throw in Adam McQuaid, too.

 

Game #49 Preview Suite

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Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Rangers 3-5-1   Hawks 5-2-2

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

I WAS TALKIN’ TO MY FRIEND BOB SAKAMANO: Blueshirt Banter

The Hawks tour through the b-sides of the league this week continues with the visit of the very much rebuilding New York Rangers. Whatever problems the Hawks have, it’s easy to forget about them with the schedule put forth through the next stretch. Which could be a problem, as the Hawks and their braintrust could be deluded into thinking they don’t have to make systemic changes when you get to beat the remedial class in a spelling contest. They’ll need all the buffer zone they can get from the .500 mark, because we know that a crash toward it could come at any moment down the road.

We’ll start with the Rangers. Somehow, the big-spending, drama-filled, directionless, loud mess owned by James Dolan–no, not that team, the other one–finally convinced itself and its fans (which is the harder task I’ll leave to you) that it was time to be prudent, tear it down, and start again. No longer are the Rangers trying to plug gaps with expensive and bad veterans and making splashes for the sake of making splashes like a five-year old in a bathtub (a comparison Dolan has had levied at him by many others than me). No longer was it about chasing back-page covers on the Daily News or Post, which is a big concern for most New York sports teams (and a big reason most of them suck to high heaven). The Rangers are going to build a team the right way, given the salary cap and such.

Still, if the Rangers’ goal was to bottom out, there’s still just a touch too many good players here to get down around where you’d think the Senators (meaning the Avalanche) or Wings or Islanders could get to. They’re making a fist of it, as they currently are last in the Metro Division. And really, it’s kind of about watching the clock to see when and who the Rangers jettison this year in the pursuit of more prospects to go with their already impressive haul. All or any of Chris Kreider, Captain Stairwell (Kevin Hayes), Mats Zuccarello, Adam McQuaid (there’s always a market for an idiot d-man who’s regarded as rugged), possibly Kevin Shattenkirk (or Kirk Shattenkevin), could be headed for the door before March hits.

There’s also a couple pieces they hope are part of the next great Rangers team (when was the last one? ’94? Don’t say ’14. That was the same, boring-ass Rangers team that they’d been rolling out for 10 years) already here if Filip Chytil and Brett Howden. They were part of trades for Ryan McDonagh and Rick Nash. So while they still haven’t completely torn down yet, the rebuild has already begun.

The biggest impediment to being simply awful is of course, Henrik Lundqvist. Yes, he’s just that handsome he can stop a tank, both figuratively and literally. Seriously though, he’s off to a great start which is not his usual modus operandi. He’s at .921, though the Rangers are pretty bad defensively so he’s having to stop a ton of chances.

The Rangers are kind of an odd team. They’re a bad possession team, in the bottom third in Corsi. But they’re just about break-even in xGF%, meaning that though they get less attempts by a decent margin, the ones they get are on par with the ones they give up. Which is hard to figure given that Brendan Smith, McQuaid, and Marc Staal are playing every night and all are generally facing the wrong way most times. Brendan Smith remains the worst player in the league in my mind, which is actually a good thing because we’ll always have Game 6 in ’13 to thank him for.

On the upside, Brady Skjei is basically skating top-pairing minutes, which the Rangers hope he’ll be doing for a decade. Neal Pionk is 23, and though he has a name that sounds like the sound you make when you step on a Lego (or get a bad handjob), he’s been promising so far. What you do with Shattenkirk is anyone’s guess. He’s not going to be around when the Rangers are good again, or at least he’ll be awfully old. Certainly expensive. But he does carry the puck up the ice, and that’s needed.

On the Hawks side, doesn’t appear to be any changes from Tuesday’s win. Crawford in net, Anisimov as a 2C to give me the urpies, and hopefully David Kampf replaces SuckBag Johnson in the lineup.

The Rangers are faster than the Ducks, but possibly less talented though more interested. Their coach David Quinn at least has them playing at pace, which Randy Carlyle won’t figure out from here until the sun swallows us all. We saw how the Hawks dealt with real speed against Tampa, though the Rangers aren’t there. Still, Kreider, Zibanejad, Fast, Zuccarello can be awfully annoying when they’re on song. This defense can be gotten to though, and if the Hawks are serious about making something of this season, getting points against the likes of the Rangers and Ducks and Oilers on Sunday is basically a must. You can handle getting your brains beaten in by the Tampas and Winnipegs of the word if you’re taking the points you should.

 

Game #10 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Beth Machlan writes in more places than we can possibly list. Follow her @bethmachlan and find out for yourself. 

It’s obviously going to be a long year on Broadway for the Rangers who are in the first full season of a total rebuild. Who are what are you watching on a nightly basis to make you feel good about the future?
Frankly, we’re watching David Quinn. For one: he coaches. You can hear him screaming through the broadcast. He’s used more timeouts in the last four weeks than Vigneault did in his whole time here. This is new For Rangers fans, who are used to AV, who was Sphinx-like in his silence, if Sphinxes were stupid and wasted the careers of two Hall of Fame goaltenders. Quinn tells the players what’s expected of them, and he tells the press what he’s doing. It’s a whole new world. He also apparently takes the babies, Chytil and Howden, out to breakfast on game days. THANKS DAD!
Speaking of which, Filip Chytil and Brett Howden are a lot of fun to watch, and they give us dreams of an actual future …
Chris Kreider is off to a hot start. it feels like trade rumors swirl about him every season, but is this the time he goes? He’s only got this year and next on his deal and is in the middle of his prime at 27…
 
I don’t see Kreider going. The Blueshirt Banter chat votes Hayes. Seriously, though, every season the NYR broadcast team announces that it’s Kreider’s year. He was great last season but then had that major surgery; he also has nights when he’s invisible, which is pretty impressive for a guy who’s 6’3”  and 220. Still, I hope we keep him. He and Mika Zibanejad and whoever they stick on the RW — Zuccarello, earlier this week, with great results — are among our few consolations this season.
Neal Pionk seems to be turning some heads. 
 
Right? Imagine how many he’d turn if he wasn’t stapled to Marc Staal.
Confirm what we’ve always claimed: Brendan Smith is the worst player in the league, right?
 
Did I mention Marc Staal?
 
Dude. Smith has made a hell of a comeback, really. He was a major casualty of AV’s coaching style — “I won’t tell you what I want, but I’ll bench you until you give it to me” — as well as who the hell knows what going on in his personal life — but it’s past now. He now looks like a second pair defenseman (for NYR, anyway) as opposed to just a pile of cash lit on fire. I also appreciate scrappiness that actually responds to circumstances on the ice as opposed to the fans’ “old timey” desires.
Are Rangers fans, a notoriously cantankerous bunch as any group of New Yorkers tend to be, really understanding of what’s happening here and how long it will take?
 
No. But then Hank announced that they’re playing to win, so who are we to judge?

 

Game #10 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

For seemingly eons now, the New York Rangers have been foisted upon the general hockey viewing public based solely due to the city they play in despite being boring as shit and never winning anything, culminating each spring with the torpor of yet another series against the Capitals. Mercifully they spared everyone another round of that misery by being particularly terrible last year and missing the playoffs, and will no doubt do the same this year as they enter a full-on rebuild with no real clear plan in place.

’17-’18: 34W-39L-9OT 77PTS 231GF 268GA 21.2%PP 81.4%PK 45.92%CF 7.55%SH .9222%SV

 

Goaltending: Obviously the discussion here begins and ends with Henrik Lunqvist and just how much of this shit he wants to put up with when he’ll be turning 37 in March. Lundqvist isn’t what he once was, throwing a pedestrian-to-bad .915 overall and .919 at evens last year, but given that he was under seige behind a team with a league-worst share of shot attempts that was going nowhere, he could hardly be blamed for selling out. He could probably still help a team that felt it needed goaltending help, but having the heftiest price (and mostly deservedly so based on past performance) and full no-trade protection, it makes any deal dicey. There’s also the question of if Hank would entertain leaving Broadway for one of the NHL’s lesser outposts that might even put him to use in the spring, as it’s never been any secret that the impossibly handsome Lunqvist enjoys everything that Manhattan affords a man of his wealth and good looks. Marek Mazanec and his 25 career starts and .895 overall will be backing Hank up to start, so he could very well play 60-65 completely meaningless games, and it’d more than likely be nobody’s choice but his.

Defensemen: The Rangers promptly diving face first into the shitter is hilarious on a lot of levels, one of the best ones being that Kevin Shattenkirk (Kirk Shattenkevin) basically telegraphed for two years that he was going to sign here, and then sucked to high heaven along with the rest of the team when he finally got to MSG. Shat has always been a bumslayer that flatters to deceive as a true top pairing guy, and there will be no hiding him as this team routinely gets its skull kicked in again this season. Blog favorite Brady Skjei got long term paper over the summer as an RFA, and he could usurp Shattenkirk as the Rangers’ best option to move the puck from the blue line, as Skjei’s defensive zone instincts aren’t nearly as abstract. Marc Staal is still alive, but has about the same pulse and moves at about the same rate as moss on a downed tree branch does. And Rangers recently just went out and traded for Adam McQuaid, as if Staal by himself wasn’t slow enough, they needed to and slow and stupid and always hurt to the mix. And it’s not like they didn’t have the market cornered on stupid to begin with in the form of Brendan Smith, who somehow makes Trevor van Riemsdyk seem decisive and heady in his defensive zone approach.

Forwards: There are some halfway decent constituent parts up front for the blue shirts, as Mika Zibanejad is a fairly dynamic center, and Chris Kreider, while never living fully up to expectations, plays like Brandon Saad on a bottle of Jager and a bag of meth. Vlad Namestnikov was a possession darling in TB before coming over in the McDonagh deal, but he’ll be hard pressed to be as territorially dominant without the benefit of how stacked the top of the Tampa lineup was. Ryan Spooner would be a fine fourth line energy center but he’ll be playing second line minutes here. And the dipshit college boys in Kevin “Captain Stairwell” Hayes and Jimmy Vesey remain here and continue to underwhelm. There’s no underlying thought process or unifying theory of what the Rangers want to be as a forward group, so they’re left with this quarter-cooked crockpot ful of crap to run out the clock on an entire 82-game season with.

Outlook: Bad, and made even worse by virtue of the fact that this team will still be on national TV constantly just because of their laundry. GM Jeff Gorton went out and  grabbed David Quinn from Boston University to replace Alain Vigneault as head coach, which at least shows he’s trying to approach things differently. But the entire season is basicaly a formality in finding out if Henrik Lunqvist can be moved for a KING’S RANSOM (GET IT?) to jump-start this full-on rebuild job that’s barely accumulated any real prospects to date.

 

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Detroit Red Wings

Buffalo Sabres

Boston Bruins

Florida Panthers

Montreal Canadiens

Ottawa Senators

Tampa Bay Lightning

Toronto Maple Leafs

Carolina Hurricanes

Columbus Blue Jackets

New Jersey Devils

New York Islanders

Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Hawks 18-14-6   Rangers 21-13-5

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN – It’s Rivalry Night, don’t ya know?

NEW YORK MIGHT BE THE WORST ST. VINCENT SONG EVER: Blueshirt Banter, @HockeyRodent

It’s not officially cold until it gets cold in New York, which it has been now, and you can hear their bitching about it from Oregon. Meanwhile this is par for the course for us, but who gives a shit when we’re here in the middle, busy sending all of our creative talent there to do the work they take credit for? Exactly. Anyway, it’s rivalry night apparently and I guess this counts because it’s two Original Six teams, though you’re forgiven if you forgot that the Rangers were an O6 teams because really… what’s Rangers tradition?

BUT THAT’S NOT WHY YOU CALLED.

The Hawks wrap up this weird six-game trip that’s bounced from Texas to the East Coast, to Western Canada, back to the East Coast, rippin’ and rompin’, North Cak-a-laka and Compton (not actually Compton). It wrapped around Christmas so the Hawks didn’t have to do it all in one, but it also makes it seem like it’s gone on forever. The fact that the Hawks piled up only one win during it, three terrible losses and one credible point I guess in Cal And Gary only made it seem longer. Which leaves us in this state of ennui we currently find ourselves.

As far as on the ice. there will be more changes. Because of course there will. Once again, Richard Panik goes from top line to pressbox in Q’s Rotation Of Confusion, with Vinnie Smalls getting a chance to do whatever it is he does with Toews and Saad. Patrick Sharp comes back from exile (handsome exile!) to be on the other side of David Kampf from Top Cat, forcing Top Cat back to the right side because whatever Baby Sharp wants Baby Sharp gets, I guess.

It spreads to the defense as well, where Gustav Forsling will slot back in to pair with Cody Franson, which won’t have the Rangers forwards giggling until they foam up at the mouth or anything. Personally, I can’t wait for Forsling to get horsed in the corner, the puck making its way to the slot and Franson kind of staring at it with a bemused expression as one might a squirrel dragging a too big piece of food up a tree. After starting the shift in their own end, of course.

Jeff Glass gets his third straight start, as horse-player Q thinks this is finally the Pick 3 he’s going to hit. This is simply asking for trouble, as the “spark” Q was looking for by starting this good story has not materialized, and has in fact has had his skaters playing terrified and panicked in their own zone as Glass spits up another rebound. It has the double effect of fucking with Anton Forsberg’s head, and with Corey Crawford nowhere on the horizon that seems a real problem. Glass is going to give up a touchdown somewhere around here, because he’s not Tim Thomas, and it’s going to be in a game the Hawks can’t really afford to just punt. Forsberg has had his spotty games for sure, but also has the better chance of holding a team below two which he’s done as well. But Q gets to play his hunches because fuck you.

To the Rangers, who are one of the weirder statistical teams you can find. They’ve fallen six points behind the division leading Caps, but have two games in hand. What’s bewildering about the Rangers is that they’re one of the worst possession teams in the league, and yet they create the best chances out of the limited attempts they take. They’re #1 in expected goals at evens per 60 minutes, even though you’d be hard pressed to find a genuine first-liner anywhere on this team. They give up a lot of attempts as well, but not that many great chances.

It also helps that Henrik Lundqvist went a bit bonkers in December, with a .936 SV%. So that talk of him being finished in October seems to have dried up a bit. That helped the Rags to a 7-3-3 record in the month, and they’ll be coming off a truly inspiring OT win in the Winter Classic against the modern day irresistible force that is the Buffalo Sabres.

The Rangers are a little beat up at the moment, as Chris “I Still Give Guys Swirlies” Kreider is out indefinitely with a blood clot in his arm, and so is Jesper Fast. The Rangers weren’t blessed with a huge amount of depth, so it’s kind of stripped their second line. Unless a troika of Buchnevich-Desharnais-Vesey scares you. The top unit of Alleged Wiener Tucker and The Two Z’s has been dynamite possession-wise but not a whole lot of end product yet. It’s the bottom six where the real threat lies, with Michael Grabner and 18 goals, Captain Stairwell, and J.T. Miller always possible to pop up with a goal. There are no big names–Nash really isn’t a top line player any more–but the foot soldiers have gotten enough done.

They’ve had problems getting Kirk ShattenKevin to fit in all season, and he’s currently on a third-pairing with worst player in the world Brendan Smith. Most of their push comes from Chance-Made-Me-Famous Brady Skjei (and the funny thing about that sketch is that Skjei is American). McDonagh and Holden take the human shield assignments, and expect Schmaltz and Kane to see them every shift.

Feels like every time I show up here and say the Hawks need to kick it into gear and blah blah blah, Kesha. Perhaps it’s just not going to happen and this is what they are. The Hawks are going to pack in the games now before their bye week, with seven games in the next 12 days. It is likely that when we get to the end of that stretch, we’ll know if the rest of the season is worth any give-a-shit or not.

 

Game #39 Preview

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Beth is our Rangers correspondent, and she’s just about thawed out from the Winter Classic. But dying of frostbite is still better than watching the Mets there. Follow her @bethmachlan.

The Rangers are kind of weird. In the past few weeks they’ve managed to beat the Kings and Bruins while also losing to the Senators and Red Wings. They seem to go to OT/SO a lot. Are they just a middling team and this is what it looks like or is it something more?
Here’s the thing about the Rangers. They can beat anyone; they can also lose to anyone. And this isn’t just the unpredictability of hockey. It’s something about the team’s core psyche, if such a thing exists. They often come out for sequential periods looking like completely different teams. I would love to know what goes on in that room, I really would. But even the team that went to the SCF was like this. I call it “Going to the Bad Place.” As for the going to OT/SO … often, it’s that they’re not generating enough shots, and they’re relying on goaltending, not defensive strategy, to stop shots on them. Watch them; they often seem to wait for the perfect chance instead of just bashing the puck at the net, and I’d argue that you have to do both to win hockey games.
It seems like Rangers fans have been bitching about the use of Pavel Buchnevich for a while. But he’s spent most of the season with Kreider and Zibanejad, and he’s third on the team in scoring. What’s the problem here?
The Buchnevich problem is a Vigneault problem. He’s not a 4th line winger, and he seems to pay a higher price for mistakes (demotion, significantly reduced TOI) than, say, Jimmy Vesey. He plays beautifully on the KZB line, but unfortunately that’s kaput now without Kreider. And AV won’t let him get comfortable or develop chemistry anywhere else. It’s irritating, because when he’s confident and in the right place, he is so much fun to watch.
Meanwhile, Michael Grabner, who plays on the bottom six most of the time, is on pace for another 25+ goal season. How does this work?
I said Grabner wasn’t going to cool off, and he didn’t. Who knows why. And this is with him also MISSING some of the most perfect setups I’ve ever seen. That said, yesterday was his first goal in 2-3 games I think, so maybe the run is ending? But no question he ends with 25+.
The Rangers only have one player on course for even 60 points. Do they need to find a way to get a primetime scorer like…oh we don’t know, Max Pacioretty?
I honestly don’t think it’s that they need a goal scorer. I think it’s a system issue. First of all, and I think I said this before … Rick Nash is the unluckiest man in hockey. If his shot can be stopped by a post or a stick knob or a dirty look or a passing pigeon, it will happen. I think the guys they have need to stop with the fancy setups and put more pucks on net. Kevin Hayes is a beast with possession but where are the goals? Rookie Vinni Lettieri scored on a one-timer against Detroit and I swear it was the first one-timer I’ve seen from this team in I don’t know how long. SHOOT THE PUCK. Frankly, I’m more worried about the effect of losing Kreider’s perfect screen.

 

 

 

 

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 vs. 

RECORDS: Rangers 9-7-2  Hawks 8-8-2

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN, because it’s Rivalry Night donchaknow?

WAITING FOR THE 3 TRAIN: Blue Shirt Banter

It’s an Original Six tilt on the Westside tonight, not that anyone really cares about that much anymore. Then again, not too many are going to care about two middling teams that both sit outside of the admittedly embryonic playoff picture at the moment. And the Rangers had to tear ass just to get here. We seem to say this every night now, but there should be a whiff of desperation to this one, as these teams don’t really have the option of passing on points right now.

And the Rangers have played like that of late, winning six in a row. This is probably not the time to be catching them. They started off terribly, and a good portion of that was put on Henrik Lundqvist’s shoulders. And with good cause. Before the winning streak, his SV% was below .900. He’s picked it up of late, but he’s had some help.

The biggest aid for him has been the newly formed top line of Kreider-Zibanejad-Buchnevich, with Buchnevich shooting about 879% during the streak and piling up three goals and five points in his last five games. The second line with Alleged Weiner Tucker-Captain Stairwell-The Hobbit has also lit it up, and Nash in particular is on fire. He’s got four goals and six points during this streak.

But this being the Rangers, the problems are the same as they’ve been for years. They don’t have a real #1 center, or maybe any centers at all. They’re a team filled with fast, small wingers you’d probably confuse in a lineup, save Nash. There’s a nifty fourth line here with Michael Grabner pouring in the goals again, and at least Alain Vigneault is fine with making his fourth line fast and skilled as he can.

Also, the problem of who to play with Ryan McDonagh is still lingering. AV is reluctant to put Kirk ShattenKevin there, so right now it’s Nick Holden and that’s not going well at all. Steven Kampfer took a turn and that went worse. Brendan Smith is in the pressbox for $4 million a year, which brings enough light into my dark little life to be excited about waking up in the morning. ShattenKevin and Brady Skjei are playing together, which pairs their two puck-movers at the same time. But when you’ve won six in a row, you’re not changing much.

For the Hawks, not too much change. Ryan Hartman looks to be drawing back in at center on the 4th line, and while that seems weird if he comes out with a wild hair on his ass because of a healthy scratch everyone will be happy. Top Cat will continue to have his time wasted with Patrick Sharp and Tommy Wingels and on the wrong side. At least until the Hawks need a goal and he’s vaulted into the top six. So the second period.

The pairings could look like anything, though after giving up a touchdown and PAT it’s unlikely Q will dress seven d-men again. Look for Kempny to continue to sit for no reason other than REASONS. Crow gets the start.

The Rangers are a team that can play awfully fast when on song. That used to be a good thing for the Hawks. It probably isn’t anymore. But this defense isn’t very quick other than Skjei and ShattenKevin either, so they could trade chances all night. In theory, the Hawks should have more finish. But that’s hardly a sure thing.

 

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