Another Lead Bites the Dust
The Rangers lost yet another disappointing contest on Saturday, as they fell to the Detroit Red Wings by a 3-2 final at Joe Louis Arena. After the Rangers jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, two mental lapses on the back-check cost them dearly, as the Wings proceeded to score twice in 61 seconds during the second period.
Ultimately, the game was still tied at that point and well within reach for New York, but after allowing a third period goal to Darren Helm, and failing to cash in on multiple power play opportunities late in the game, the Rangers were unable to earn even one point. While Alain Vigneault felt that the power play did some good things – hitting a post and a crossbar – ultimately they didn’t light the lamp when it counted most, and that just wasn’t good enough.
Unfortunately for the Rangers, though, this is not the first time that one mental breakdown has snowballed. After Chris Kreider’s lackadaisical back-check in which he drifted to the right, leaving Riley Sheahan wide open from where he eventually beat Cam Talbot from the bottom of the left circle, the Rangers were unable to tighten up, and allowed another Detroit goal less than a minute later.
A good, strong team should be able to recover after a breakdown like that. This season, however, the Rangers have struggled mightily in that regard, as we saw once again on Saturday.
But as frustrating as the loss was for the Rangers, Kevin Klein continued to shine and prove his worth, as he scored his fifth goal of the season, setting a new career high for himself.
Klein, or as others have so aptly nicknamed him, “Kleisenberg” – referring to his strikingly similar looks to Walter White of Breaking Bad – or “Optimus Klein,” is off to quite a start to the 2014-15 campaign.
On his goal against Detroit, Klein appeared to channel his inner Rick Nash with a tremendous effort in front, as he topped off the play with a nice backhand finish right in front of Jimmy Howard’s crease. The 29-year-old blue liner has now set a career high in goals, with five through 24 games this season, and the case could be made that his acquisition through a trade which sent Michael Del Zotto to Nashville, was one of Glen Sather’s best in recent memory.
But as well as the Klein trade has seemed to work thus far for the Rangers, I feel some sort of obligation to say first, that I’m not sold Michael Del Zotto was ever really given a fair shot in New York. Many defenseman don’t truly reach their prime until they are in their mid to late twenties, and Del Zotto is still just 24.
Del Zotto, who spent the better portion of five seasons with the Rangers, posted pretty impressive numbers during his time in New York. In his rookie season when he was just 19-years-old, Del Zotto netted 37 points, and two years later in 2011 when he was 21, Del Zotto led all Ranger defenseman with 41 points, and was a plus-20 on the season. He also scored the winning goal in game seven during their second round series against Washington later that season.
Still, Del Zotto was criticized for never growing into a quality NHL defenseman. Now sure, it is true that during the final season and half with the Rangers his productivity did tail off a bit, and Alain Vigneault wasn’t shy about being critical of the blue liner. However, the guy was, and still is very young, and I believe it was too early to pass judgment on him.
All of that said, however, I do believe the now 24-year-old Del Zotto was in need of a fresh start, and the trade was both in his, and the Rangers best interest. The MDZ saga had become stale in New York, and when push has come to shove, it’s pretty clear that Kevin Klein has worked out rather well, and he has become the perfect fit for the Rangers defense core.
Upon joining the Blueshirts in late January of 2014, the NHL veteran of six seasons fit in nicely on New York’s third defense pairing, and it didn’t take long before the trade began to pay off.
Klein went on to play in all 25 of the Rangers playoff games during last season’s run to the Stanley Cup final, as he padded the already deep New York defense, which at the time also still included Anton Stralman. He was a key member of the Rangers then, and has become that to an even greater extent this year.
Now we’re over a quarter through the 2014-15 season, and in addition to being sound defensively, Klein is also leading the Rangers defense core in offensive contributions with five goals and four assists, and is a plus-eight rating. His prior career high in goals was four, in 66 games with Nashville four seasons ago. I don’t think many could’ve predicted his offensive prowess this season…
Klein’s five-on-five Corsi-for percentage is also above 50 percent – second to just Matt Hunwick among Ranger defenseman who have played in at least 20 games – and his Corsi QoC is fourth on the team (0.572) out of their seven current defensemen. Put all of that together, and it’s easy to see that Kevin Klein has done exactly what he was brought to New York to do, and more.
With the way the first quarter of the season panned out for the Rangers defense – riddled with injury after injury – Matt Hunwick may have been the short-term hero for the way he stepped up to the task and helped the team stay above water, but Kevin Klein has quietly been a rock for this team. He has been steadily consistent in his play, and whomever he’s been paired with this season, his game has remained true.
It’s too early in my opinion to pass a final judgment on the Klein-Del Zotto swap, for in my opinion Del Zotto still has a few years before he hits his prime, but as of this very moment, that trade has looked mighty fine on the part of the Rangers.
Well done, Mr. Sather. Well done.
Jake Gittler is now in his second season as a contributing member of The Hockey Writers. After spending the 2014-15 season working in Communications for Adirondack Flames of the AHL and covering the New York Rangers here for The Hockey Writers, Jake’s coverage has been switched over to the Colorado Avalanche for the 2015-16 season. Jake can be reached via email at Jakegittler@gmail.com, or on Twitter @Jgittler_hockey.