Bottom six addition make the NY Rangers a deeper team
The big trade deadline moves stole most of the NHL headlines over the past week. The NY Rangers acquired Keith Yandle from Arizona for two young players and future considerations and re-signed fan favorite Mats Zuccarello to an extension. However, the Rangers fortified their bottom six, giving the team more depth for the stretch run and into the playoffs.
The subtle additions can become the biggest assets come playoff time. There’s no doubt the Rangers gave up a lot to get Keith Yandle and they’re a better team for it in the short-term. I wanted to use a post to take a look at what the Rangers bottom six will look like the rest of the 14/15 season as we get closer to the playoffs.
The Rangers have added a solid player to their bottom six
Newly acquired forward James Sheppard brings size, defensive play, physicality, and from what we saw of him in his debut, he makes smart plays with the puck. The Rangers are a more complete four line team with James Sheppard in the lineup. It’s obvious that Tanner Glass was not the answer on the fourth line so anything is an upgrade.
Alain Vigneault doesn’t look for much offense from his fourth line. If he can get offensive zone time from them, they have exceeded their job description. Wearing down the oppositions defenseman with the fourth line is a good trade-off for any team.
The Rangers have had a hard time putting 3 players together for an extended amount of time on the fourth line.
The Rangers fourth line has been a work in progress all season and Dominic Moore is the only constant back there. The fourth line goes as Moore does and fails when he does. Moore is a 45% Corsi for while on the ice. Considering he starts less than 25% of his shifts in the offensive end and played with Tanner Glass (42%CF) much of the time it’s not too bad at all. A well rounded player like James Sheppard will help Dom Moore and the entire fourth line drive puck possession. When the playoffs begin in April, the Rangers will need veteran forwards like Moore and Sheppard to step up and lead the charge.
The Rangers 4th line begins when the opposition starts a shift in the Rangers end.
Newly acquired forward James Sheppard is having his best NHL season. He has a modest 13 points on the year in 58 games between San José and the Rangers. With the Sharks he started only 40% of his shifts in the offensive end yet held a 49.5% Corsi for. Again considering the hard minutes he played those are very solid numbers. With 19 games left in the 14/15 season, it’ll be interesting to see how good the fourth line is with two players that can drive possession. Sheppard, Moore, and Fast will most likely make up the fourth line the remainder of the season. Speaking of Jesper Fast, he is the next player of mention in the Rangers bottom six.
Jesper Fast returns from injury to take over the bottom six right-wing and should help immensely
For much of this season the right side of center on the fourth line has been like musical chairs. Lee Stempniak held it down for parts of the season in a platoon but the defensive oriented minutes were too much for him. There was no room for him in the top nine and as a liability in the defensive end, the Rangers felt they could do better with Fast. Now that the proverbial music has stopped Jesper Fast appears cemented into the lineup. Early on Fast fell victim to the lineup carousel, moving from fourth line to third and now back to fourth.
The Rangers bottom six now becomes a position of strength.
During the month of January Fast led the Rangers forwards with a 56.2% CF playing third line (59.2% Ozone starts) minutes with Carl Hagelin and Kevin Hayes. Fast possesses good defensive instincts and his puck skills are progressing at the NHL level. With Fast now healthy and the left side of Dominic Moore occupied by James Sheppard, the Rangers fourth line might become a strength they can use against opposing teams. A checking line that can play physical, shut down teams in the Rangers end, and own the puck while on the ice. That’s more than anyone could ask for from their bottom line.
Possession Stats are courtesy of Waronice.com
The Rangers third line remains intact after the deadline for a reason!
It was a game in Nashville on February 7th when Jesper Fast suffered a knee injury that caused the right-wing to miss 12 games. Alain Vigneault had been adjusting his lines to find balance for his bottom six. The next night was a home game against Dallas in which J.T. Miller had been given an opportunity to earn a full-time spot in the lineup. Since then Miller has remained with his line mates on the third line and the Rangers have been a better team.
In that stretch of games not only has JT Miller earned Vigneault’s trust but so has the entire third line. AV likes to give his third line some of the lightest minutes on the team. By light I don’t mean easy, they still have to produce. The Rangers coaching staff uses the third line in the offensive end for over 60% of their shifts at even strength. AV tries to keep them out of the defensive zone as much as possible but when needed Carl Hagelin is the possession beast.
Carl Hagelin is one of the Rangers better two-way forwards and Kevin Hayes has progressed into a reliable forward. The Rangers need depth scoring from the third line and this trio has delivered since Miller has been an every day forward. Since February 6th, in 14 games, the Rangers have gotten 23 points from the third line alone. Led by Hayes’ 11 points, Hagelin’s 8 points, and Miller’s 4. Pretty solid contributions from the third line in only a month of work.
The Rangers need the second line to get back to producing!
Of late the Rangers have had to rely on Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello and the bottom six for scoring. The Rangers have not gotten very much from their second scoring unit made up of Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan, and Martin St. Louis. Of the three players, only Kreider has done much of anything the last 7 games. Statistically Stepan and St. Louis have been pretty bad driving possession. Stepan (46.6%) and St. Louis (48.3%) Corsi for, have gotten into trouble in their zone and to make it worse the scoring has dried up. Neither player has a point since February 22, against Columbus. All three players had the ability to take over a game but as a group they haven’t contributed to the score lately.
McKenzie clarifies comments on Lundqvist’s return to Rangers.
Can the Rangers continue to win without their second scoring line and starting goaltender?
This may become problematic for the Rangers who are one of the top 3 offensive teams in the NHL. They have had to win a lot of high scoring games with backup netminder Cam Talbot in for Henrik Lundqvist.
The Rangers as a team are shooting above league average with a team wide shooting percentage of 9.7%. It’s possible they hit a rough patch of low scoring games in the next week or so. It’s impossible to know for sure but the Rangers need their bottom six forwards to play well in low scoring games. Cam Talbot has to continue his recent strong play but the Rangers also need depth scoring from their second and third lines. Strong defensive play and puck possession from the fourth line will be equally imperative.