The New York Rangers have completed their first 40 games of the season, providing plenty of room for analysis. Let’s take a look at the season thus far.
We previously looked at the New York Rangers’ first 30 games of the season. Since then, the Rangers have gone 6-4, tying their opponents 31-31. New York continues to score at an unheard of pace, averaging three goals per game over the stretch.
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Unfortunately, the defense has struggled to match the offense’s production.Rangers hockey has become a match-up between the Rangers and themselves. If the offense can manage to outscore the defense’s miscues, the Rangers win. That has not changed at any point this season.
Recently, Alain Vigneault broke up the Dan Girardi-Ryan McDonagh duo. Moving forward, that will be vital to New York’s success. Ryan McDonagh is a far better player away from Dan Girardi, and Dan Girardi is a far better (though still awful) player when he is on the third defensive pair.
McDonagh is a potential Norris candidate away from Girardi, but a baby-sitter with the anchor. The only downside to pairing Girardi on the bottom is that he must play with Brady Skjei. Skjei’s game has been a pleasant surprise throughout the season, so seeing him saddled with New York’s worst defenseman is unfortunate.
If Girardi must play, however, it’s what’s best for the team. The third pair can be sheltered heavily, and Ryan McDonagh can be set free.
Brady Skjei was benched for December 23rd’s contest against the Minnesota Wild. When benching the rookie, Alain Vigneault cited his lack of effort on the previous game’s seventh goal against.
The goal was scored with under 12 seconds left, and the Rangers were already down four goals.
One can understand why Vigneault would want to pound the idea of effort at all time into the youngster’s head, but it is irresponsible to hold Skjei accountable, but not Dan Girardi or Kevin Klein.
Girardi and Klein throw blind passes into traffic regularly, are treated like traffic cones by opposing offenses, and lazily turn the puck over more than Skjei could dream of.Yet only Skjei sits.
Matt Puempel and Chris Kreider scored consecutive hat tricks to end 2016. Puempel’s hat trick came on three power-play goals, a sign that the Rangers power-play knows what it’s doing. The belief here is that the power-play is streaky, but it can be more reliable with another right-handed weapon.
Still, good for Puempel to score the hat-trick, and good for the power-play to gain that confidence. Puempel’s concussion comes at an unfortunate time, as he was playing Brandon Pirri out of a job.
Kreider’s hat trick was far more meaningful. The speedster almost scored two other goals in the game, and all three goals were results of him being a pest in front of the net. Kreider is the rare player that owns the ability to speed past opposing defenses, or use his big body to screen goaltenders and deflect pucks in front.
He does not use his size nearly enough, and his hat trick showed what he can do if he uses his gifts correctly.
New York’s possession game appears to be improving with the splitting of Girardi and McDonagh. What’s important to remember is that Pavel Buchnevich, Rick Nash, and Mika Zibanejad will not only provide additional offense and defensive help, but also aid the team in holding the puck.
The numbers are not ideal for certain, but patience is a virtue when it comes to New York’s advanced statistics. If the numbers are still horrid following the returns of the forwards, then it will be time to sound the alarms.