Rangers bottom six has been the fix in latest hot streak
The New York Rangers have been on a tear of late. Winners of five in a row and thirteen of the last fourteen. The Rangers are now third in the National Hockey League in total offense and seventh in total defense with the leagues second best goal differential at plus twenty-six(+26). With the play of Rick Nash, Henrik Lundqvist, Kevin Klein, Chris Kreider, and Mats Zuccarello, it wouldn’t be hard to overlook the play of the younger players that have made a difference.
I wanted to take a look at a couple of young players that have stepped in and helped the team move up the standings. J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast have realized some of their potential, playing important roles on the New York Rangers bottom six.
JT Miller bounced around a lot since making the New York Rangers during the 12/13 season under John Tortorella. He played twenty-six games scoring 2G-2A-4Pts before Torts sent him back to Hartford. He made the Rangers for thirty games last season with the same result and he was returned to the Wolf Pack.
Miller showed up for camp on time that season but the veterans told him that wasn’t the way to make the New York Rangers. Not when most regulars were already there for a couple weeks during optional workouts. So this season the 2010 Rangers first round pick (15th overall) was one of the first players at camp. As of now it seems to have at least played a role in him having a more secure spot on the team. Playing top six minutes in the face of injuries on the top line and playing well didn’t hurt his chances either.
Jesper Fast moved from the bottom line to play with Hayes and Hagelin.
After a 3-2 loss to the Stars in Dallas, Alain Vigneault tweeked his lineup a bit. He moved Jesper Fast up a line and inserted Lee Stempniak on the bottom line. Since the loss to Dallas, AV tried to put his players in better position to succeed and the move has benefited both players.
Jesper Fast is a 45.7% on ice Corsi for and -4.7% relative Corsi for the season. The relative corsi is the Rangers corsi% when Jesper Fast is not on the ice. The negative number is partially due to the fact he was only starting 30% of his shifts in the offensive end making it difficult to get shot attempts for.
Since the move to the third line, Fast is starting more shifts in the offensive end. He is now a 50.5% Corsi for during the last five games. This shows that it’s not until a player is in the right position before he can show what he’s capable of.
Things weren’t always going well for the Rangers bottom six.
Remember that this season like last, began as a work in progress after all the roster turnover. After losing all the players the Rangers did, balance in the lineup can be elusive but the Rangers played .500 hockey while they dealt with injuries.
Without Rick Nash, the Rangers may not have. The Rangers were hit hard by injury with Dan Boyle, Ryan McDonagh, and Derek Stepan out with injury. There was also the Mumps epidemic that hit during that rough patch to add to the growing list of casualties. Derick Brassard, Lee Stempniak, and Tanner Glass all contracted the Mumps virus taking at least two more starting players out of the lineup.
#NYR Stats: The Rangers are the only team in NHL in the top 5 in G/GP and GA/GP
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) January 11, 2015
Aside from a spot on the bottom six, JT Miller is playing on the second PP unit.
JT Miller replaced Derick Brassard on the top line between Mats Zuccarello and Rick Nash and held his own for a couple games. He bounced around the lineup a bit since his recall from Hartford, playing right-wing alongside Kevin Hayes and Carl Hagelin.
J.T. Miller played well enough that Alain Vigneault has him on the second power play unit as the pivot for that group. Alain Vigneault decided to install Miller on the fourth line to help add depth to the bottom six and the change has not disappointed so far. He is the Rangers leading possession player with an on ice Corsi for percentage of 55.4% starting about 48% of his shifts(after a whistle) in the offensive end. Those are some real good possession stats for a young player that had a hard time staying in the National Hockey League.
By moving his bottom six, AV has the entire team pulling on the same rope!
In looking over the recent winning streak the Rangers are on after Saturday night’s win in San Jose, it’s easy to overlook the contributions the Rangers have gotten from the bottom six.
Carl Hagelin and Kevin Hayes have played together for a while now. bringing Jesper Fast to the mix adds more speed, defensive ability, and some depth scoring to the Rangers third line. The fourth line has been counted on more of late to play hard minutes in the defensive end. JT Miller, Dominic Moore and Lee Stempniak make a solid line with some good forechecking thanks to the play of the aforementioned Lee Stempniak.
Are the Rangers set with there bottom six going into the playoffs?
The top six seems pretty set as long as there are no serious injuries. The only thing the New York Rangers lack is size on the bottom six. Kevin Hayes helps out a lot down the middle with his size but going into the playoffs the Rangers will run into some big forwards.
Playoff hockey makes it hard to create any time and space and power forwards are at a premium. Glen Sather and management will have to look around the organization for a possible deal around the trade deadline.
A big physical forward may not cost much in the way of assets but it could pay huge dividends having another possession forward somewhere in the bottom two lines. It will be a hard decision for the coaching staff as to who to take out of the lineup with the two lines playing so well and Tanner Glass trying to find his way back into the lineup.