Rangers continue to forge ahead regardless of obstacles

 Kevin Hayes #13 and Kevin Klein #8 of the New York Rangers celebrate their win after the game against the New York Islanders at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on February 16, 2015 in Uniondale, New York. The Rangers defeated the Islanders 6-5. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)

Kevin Hayes and Kevin Klein celebrate win over the Islanders (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)

This 2015 Rangers team is nowhere near perfect but they’re certainly firing on all cylinders right now. Fifty-nine (59) games into the season, the Rangers are one of the top offensive teams in the National Hockey League. Before play on Sunday, the Rangers were second in the league in goals per game average with a 3.14 and now lead the East with a +41 goal differential.

They haven’t been great defensively lately but the Blueshirts are fifth in goals against with an average of 2.40. These are indicative of a dominant team and perennial cup contender.The Rangers are in the same discussions as the élite teams in the NHL.

"Rangers

There are still some deficiencies in the Rangers overall game. They have a shortage of offense and puck possession from the fourth line that could become a problem in the playoffs. The Rangers went as far as their depth could take them last season without their sniper Rick Nash performing at the level he is this year. They were able to put their fourth line out against the oppositions top line and pin them in their end but that hasn’t been the case this season. The depth on the back-end could become a problem as well but that could easily be repaired. In any event the 2015 New York Rangers are rolling like a well oiled machine.

The Rangers have nine guys up front that are capable of winning a game for them. When Rick Nash is having a dominant game teams fall asleep on Carl Hagelin and Chris Kreider and their speed. Kevin Hayes has grown into a very consistent two-way pivot as well. Nice to see him take that shot in the first period on Sunday against Columbus.

The Rangers have gotten some solid efforts from some underrated players.

Rangers

JT Miller (NYDN)

In all the games and all the forwards the Rangers have that can beat an opponent, it’s easy to forget about the work of J.T. Miller this season. He had a rough start after working hard in training camp. It seems like he and Alain Vigneault have found a common ground.

Maybe they even kissed and made up because Miller is playing with confidence, authority and poise. He plays with an edge but he has good puck skills and he sees the ice well.

Miller complements Carl Hagelin and Kevin Hayes well and has given the Rangers a solid third line. It will be interesting to see what head coach Alain Vigneault does with his lineup when Jesper Fast returns.

It’s been reported the young forward began light workouts and will skate this week. Will Fast go in for Miller or will Lee Stempniak be the odd man out? I would love to see Tanner Glass be the scratch and the Rangers to go with Fast and Stempniak on the checking line. Glass was guilty of a defensive gaffe on Columbus’ second goal by Artem Anisimov after a face-off loss.

The Rangers have a group of forwards that are able to take games over.

There’s s a solid group of players the Rangers can use to take over any given game. So why sit back on leads against teams they should beat like Columbus? There are no easy games in the NHL but Columbus isn’t in the Rangers class on their best day. In my humble opinion the shootout win on Sunday is a classic example of Alain Vigneault laying back.

The Rangers had a three goal lead when Columbus was able to skate right down the ice and score a quick goal after being dominated for twenty-two minutes of play. From that point the Rangers go into a shell and the forecheck goes from aggressive to conservative.

The Forecheck strategy the Rangers use with a lead needs to change.

It bothered me the way the game was coached on Sunday against Columbus. The problem is with the way the Rangers forecheck becomes non-existent when playing with a lead.

The 1-2-2 and 1-1-3 left-wing lock strategy AV uses doesn’t work as a moderate forecheck or neutral zone trap. Not the way the Rangers have been using it with third period leads. They have a dominant group of forwards and defenseman so they can afford to blow leads because they have the ability to score a late third period goal to win the game. On the other hand in the playoffs you need to be able to hold a lead when you get one. They are too hard to come by in the tighter checking games that are the NHL playoffs.

Ranger Netminder has a ton of pressure

Talbot before Sunday’s game (Bruce Bennett/ Getty Images)

The players that were a concern two weeks ago are now playing dominant hockey for the Rangers.

This latest string of games in which the Rangers have blown third period leads is certainly something to keep an eye on. However, it shouldn’t be a point of emphasis going forward. The Rangers are undefeated in games in which they’ve had a lead after two periods. The only game they have lost was a shootout loss to Colorado.

Cam Talbot has a ton of pressure on him right now as the starting goaltender in a huge hockey market. This is the New York Rangers that Cam Talbot is holding the fort adequately in. He must be commended for his effort in Henrik Lundqvist’ absence, even if he has let in some soft goals. Cam Talbot isn’t “the King”,  the organization and fans don’t expect him to be. We do expect him to play his game and to continue to pile up the wins while Lundqvist is out with his vascular injury.

[su_quote cite=”BlueShirtsUnited” url=”http://www.blueshirtsunited.com/article/rangers-edge-blue-jackets-4-3-shootout-victory?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=tweets&utm_content=twitter_1424664502″]”We are finding a way to get points and get wins in different fashions,” stated team captain Ryan McDonagh. “That’s the biggest thing at this stage of the season. Everyone is fighting. It’s turning into playoff mode here, trying to find a way to get into the playoffs. This last stretch here we’ve done a pretty good job of that.” BlueShirtsUnited [/su_quote]

The Rangers continue to win with their backup, second year pro goaltender and they’re getting contributions up and down the lineup. Martin St. Louis has returned to the player we expect him to be. Mats Zuccarello is shooting the puck again which makes him dangerous to the opposition. Rick Nash seems to have found the fountain of youth this season as he may end up having a career year at age thirty.

As we’ve said here ad nauseam in the past, there are some issues the Rangers must fix. Down the stretch the Rangers must continue to improve as we approach the playoffs. Good teams have gotten bounced from the first round of the playoffs before and had to endure an entire summer as spectators. This Rangers team has the potential to go either way, it is up to the veteran leaders in the locker room as to how far they want the New York Rangers to go.