Things to keep an eye on in the Rangers final two regular season games
The New York Rangers have nothing to play for in their final two games before the playoffs. Having clinched home ice for the post season by winning the President’s Trophy last night, Alain Vigneault has the luxury to make any adjustments he likes.
This also means that the Blueshirts can choose to rest any forward who may be nursing any ailments as they did with Mats Zuccarello yesterday. The smallest big guy in the league was scratched with “general soreness” allowing James Sheppard to make his return to the lineup.
Sheppard actually scored a goal and will get two more games to try and convince the head coach he should be in the starting lineup for the playoffs. If he were to play, it would mean that Tanner Glass would get the scratch.
While the NYR fancy stats blogging community has been saying a novena for that to happen, my guess is unless Sheppard scores in each remaining game Glass is going to start game one.
Another thing to keep an eye out for is reduced ice time for the top 6 forwards and an increase in minutes for the fourth line. Dominic Moore along with Glass and Sheppard will get upwards to 15 minutes each a game. That’s because the Blueshirts can’t scratch more than one forward a game anyway. If they do, I expect Rick Nash to get at least one maintenance day and possibly Kevin Hayes.
Why Kevin Hayes? Considering he was playing only 34 NCAA Division 1 regular season games last year, this is a huge increase in workload. Another possibility could be Dominic Moore, who along with Carl Hagelin are the only forwards to play in all 80 games thus far.
On defense, things gets tricky. Kevin Klein needs to return in order to rest a defenseman, unless they drop a forward back which I don’t see happening. If Klein does return and I don’t think he will by the time the regular season ends Saturday, expect Dan Girardi or Marc Staal to get a day off. Both blue-liners have played every game this season.
Finally, expect Alain Vigneault to experiment, especially on the PP. A few different looks to see if he can get it going would make sense. I think he will try and run a few more plays through Keith Yandle or give Kevin Hayes a longer look as well.
Bottom line is this: the Rangers having won the President’s Trophy now have the luxury of playing stress free hockey. While they shouldn’t get lazy or complacent heading into the post-season, they can focus their efforts working on little things that they haven’t been able to with scarce practice time.
The Rangers will get 4 days off to rest and work on anything they need to before the playoffs open at Madison Square Garden next Thursday.