Here is my Quick Hits recap of the Rangers 7-6 loss to the Stars
Kreider-Stepan-Zuccarello – With the Rangers forward group back to full strength, AV kept this line together. And he was rewarded. Derek Stepan got the Rangers on the board just 27 seconds into the game, with both assists coming from his line-mates. Then, with the Rangers down 7-3 at the start of the third, Chris Kreider got the Blueshirts going with a PPG. And yes, both assists came from Zuccarello and Stepan. And finally, just 2:20 after the Kreider goal, Derek Stepan scored his second of the night, with the secondary assist coming from Zucc. The line combined for eight points, and has found their stride as a group over the last few weeks.
Buchnevich-Zibanejad-Nash – Aside from the fact that his team lost, it couldn’t have been a better first game back on the ice for Mika Zibanejad. Mika had a pair of goals and an assist, and was dangerous every time he had the puck. If he can play like this in his first game back after an extended absence, then he will be fine the rest of the way. As for his line, the group also registered eight points, with Nash picking up two assists and Buchnevich registering a goal and two assists. This line was dangerous all game, and looked like they were playing together all season.
Kevin Hayes – If there was a statistic for not shooting when the lane is there, Kevin Hayes would be the league leader. On a few occasions in this game, and throughout his entire career, Hayes is always looking to make the extra pass and set up his teammates. And that’s all well and good. But you can’t keep passing up shots. Forget the fact that it gets us fans crazy, it doesn’t help the team to hold onto the puck for an extra few seconds for, what usually ends up as, a low percentage play. Hayes has the talent to be one of the best centermen in the NHL, but when he makes plays like these, he not only kills a scoring chance, he forces his teammates into a play they may not have been expecting. He can create chances by shooting the puck and forcing a goalie to make the save. And who knows, maybe a few of them will go in.
Special Teams – The Rangers power play converted on it’s only attempt in this one, with Chris Kreider tapping in a beautiful pass from Mats Zuccarello. As for the penalty kill, the unit went 1/2 on the night. The goal that was allowed came from quick puck movement by Dallas, a shot from the wing, and outnumbering the Rangers in front of Henrik Lundqvist. The PK is middle of the pack right now, but if this team has any hopes of a deep playoff run, it will have to improve a little bit.
Team Defense – Coming into this season, the biggest question mark for the New York Rangers was their defensive group. And if for whatever reason you haven’t seen it, there is no denying that the team defense was putrid in this one. On Dallas’ second goal of the game, Holden fanned on a breakout pass and Dallas turned it into a goal in a mater of seconds. On the goal by Jamie Benn, a centering pass at the other end of the ice went right to a Dallas player, and Benn got a partial breakaway with three Rangers chasing him. The fourth goal was a turnover behind the Rangers net, and a centering pass for a one timer from the top of the blue paint. On Sharp’s wraparound goal, Henrik does not track the puck well, but three Rangers were standing at the side of the net and nobody picked up Sharp. The Cracknell goal was off of a turnover, and Cracknell split two defenders at center ice before placing a perfect wrist shot under the bar. And finally, on Cody Eakin’s goal the Rangers were caught flailing away at a bouncing puck and nobody picked up Eakin in front.
Bottom line is that the Rangers defense as currently constructed will not get the job done come playoff time. McDonagh had an okay game, Klein had a solid game for the first time all year (Assist, +2). Skjei has hit the rookie wall, making mental errors in his own zone. Clendening didn’t have a good night, even though he picked up an assist. Holden had an off night, and Girardi was -1, but he racked up five hits. This team needs a defensive upgrade, and it needs it fast. Jeff Gorton has some young players, both in New York and Hartford, that he can shop around for a defenseman. But if he thinks that this group is going to take his team deep into the playoffs, he may need to have his head examined.
“We played two periods of hockey where we leave our goaltender out to dry. It’s quite embarrassing.” – Derek Stepan
Goaltending – The Rangers goaltending situation is really shocking. Henrik Lundqvist has been off of his game, for whatever reason, for the majority of the season. He hasn’t been his usual self. And while the defensive system doesn’t change based on who is between the pipes, I do believe that mentally the defense relaxes a little bit seeing King Henrik in the net. They’ve seen him do it for this franchise time and time again, and its possible that they expect him to come up with the saves. It seems to me, that with Antti Raanta or Magnus Hellberg, or any other of the Rangers backups for that matter, the defense plays a more conservative and simple game. The forwards have to commit to playing a full 200 foot game, regardless of the net-minder. The Rangers generate a lot of chances in transition, and that starts in the defensive end. We know that the defensive group isn’t as good as in years past, but if they simplify their game and communicate, which they didn’t do in this one, it will go a long way.
“It’s tough. I feel like it’s embarrassing, frustrating and disappointing at the same time.” – Henrik Lundqvist
And when Henrik was pulled at the start of the third, he looked ashamed, embarrassed and maybe even depressed. But on the positive side, Hellberg came in and played well. He only had to face four shots, but this save on Sharp off of a 2v1 helped keep the Rangers comeback hopes alive. Henrik will find his game, and as long as the backups can hold down the fort, the Rangers will be okay heading into the postseason.
Resilience – If there is one thing this team showed, is that they never give up. Being down 7-3 entering the third period, the Rangers scored three goals in 4:15 to cut the deficit to one. MSG was buzzing, the Rangers had some jump, outshooting the Stars in the third period 25-4. When the Rangers were forced to simplify their game, and just start throwing everything to the net, they showed why they lead the NHL in goals scored (156). It is this kind of effort and heart and energy that goes a long way, both with fans and within the locker room. Yes the Rangers lost this one, but it proves to the room that this team can deal with anything and find ways to put the puck in the net.
NEXT GAME: The Rangers will look to end their three game skid when they take on Auston Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Puck drops at 730.