With three games left for the New York Rangers, here are some late season musings about the state of the team. Chris Kreider‘s absence, due to hand surgery, has created more problems for the team than I think many anticipated. His absence on the top line’s left-wing position has inspired no suitable replacement. This is causing a destabilizing ripple effect throughout the lineup. First, J.T. Miller was slotted there and then promptly demoted back to the AHL for the nine millionth time…I exaggerate…only slightly. Something must have gone down off the ice we don’t know about; from where I sit, Brad Richards makes as many mistakes as Miller. For some reason he is still reliably used out on the point of the now powerless play, only to force passes and make unforced errors. When he didn’t score in the shootout versus the Colorado Avalanche, I thought Richards, who is now stone cold, isn’t looking too different from his “off-year” last year.
Back to Miller. The coach publicly claimed he needed more commitment both on and off the ice. We can’t see his behavior off the ice, but can only guess. Miller should have been the best Kreider stand in we can suit up. I don’t buy that young players need round after round of seasoning in the minors, particularly when the coaches there see a player who is at the top of the AHL game. I subscribe to the other adage that you only get better by playing against better competition. Welcome to the NHL Miller. But you say, it’s not the best time to have a rookie making mistakes as the Rangers try to close out second place in the Metropolitan Division, and thus gain home ice in the first playoff round. It is also not the best time to wreak havoc on what had been a very impressive fourth line of Brian Boyle, Dominic Moore, and either Daniel Carcillo, or Derek Dorsett. Placing Moore, Carcillo, or Boyle on the top lines, as Coach Vigneault has tried, limited the time the fourth line hems the opposition in its own end, and does nothing to add to the offense. I believe Mr. Richards is the larger problem (see him forcing his passes to Martin St. Louis, rally killers). Miller still could have provided the missing fore-check and offense. If not Miller, another scorer from the AHL would have worked better for the whole of team balance.
Speaking of players missing, as we know, the Rangers’ emergent defensive leader, Ryan McDonagh was felled by a vicious hit late in the game versus the Vancouver Canucks. There was talk that the most glaring Ranger weakness is that no one sufficiently came to his aid. In the game versus the Senators, there was similar talk about no one coming to the aid of Marc Staal when Chris Neil hit him late near the boards. While “lateness” was the focus, what it really was, was charging, like an errant elephant trying to catch up to the herd. More than three steps to make a hit and you’ve charged; Neil was a misguided missile flying across the length of the ice. Did the Rangers came to Staal’s aid this time? Well yes, with the mighty Napoleon, Mats Zuccarello leading the brigade. How Staal gets the only double minor, effectively ending the Rangers comeback momentum, is beyond me.
This leads to the real problem with the game we love. There are four officials on the ice and I bet every team would claim that routinely, the calls they make are wrong, poor, or biased. Putting aside the subjectivity of a home team fan, refs simply blow a lot of calls as borne out by slow motion replay. It’s a tough game to officiate, I know. But when refs miss the call on players taking liberties with other players illegally, they invite teams to take matters in their own hands; thus the referees keep the “goonery” necessary.
I’d rather hear the coaches’ instruction to not retaliate because we now have a power play. When the Rangers take Richards off of their power play, then maybe they can start making teams truly pay. How about Zucc’s line, with McDonagh and Raphael Diaz who has a great shot and sees the ice well, at the points…oh yea, McDonagh is day-to-day and Alexandre Burrows, who hit him and was penalized, did not miss a game. Where is the justice in the NHL? For now it remains in the hands of teams whose mindset is retaliate and ask questions later. With games on the line and in the upcoming playoffs likely for the Rangers, will this team adopt this mindset? They’ll have to.
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