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.
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