The Rangers have been faced with a few line changes as of late, including the changes made as a result of injuries to Rick Nash and Ryan McDonagh and the recent act of placing Daniel Paille, the recently acquired 4th liner, on waivers.
The team has been accepting of the roster changes and several players have stepped up in times of need. With the changes that have happened, looking at how the Rangers have taken these changes is an important feat.
Nash’s Absence in Offense
Though Nash hasn’t been the goal-scorer everyone is used to seeing this season he has played an important role as a top-6 forward. His movement of the puck and effective defensive play has made his on-ice presence important nonetheless.
Forward J.T. Miller has definitely been a player to step up in Nash’s absence. The 22-year-old has NHL career highs this season with 17 goals and 34 points. His play has improved dramatically in all aspects: he’s taking more shots, he’s handling the puck very impressively, he’s playing effective defense, and is helping his team.
Most recently, Miller set up a play and assisted Derek Stepan in a tie-breaking goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He received three assists in the game and maintained a strong on-ice presence.
Forwards Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello have also stepped up in Nash’s absence and both have recorded NHL career highs in goals (Brassard with 22 and Zuccarello with 20).
The duo, whether working together or on separate lines, have excelled and exceeded some expectations, especially considering the points they’ve been gathering and the plays they’ve been performing on the ice.
Several other forwards have excelled also. Kevin Hayes has found his confidence again and has greatly improved his play, a big difference from his early season play. Dominic Moore has been a staple in the fourth line and has been demonstrating great offensive and defensive play.
The offensive play has been better for the team, especially as they play more like a unit and less individually. Though they’ve been down an important player, the team hasn’t held back and have playing harder now than they have prior in this season.
Having a player missing from the offense is tough, but captain McDonagh has also been missing from defense lately, causing some stir among the defensive pairs.
McDonagh Out, In, then Out Again
McDonagh missed some games due to the concussion he sustained, but made a brief return only to be taken out again in the team’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Feb.18.
TOR Leo Komorov receives match penalty for illegal hit to head of Ryan McDonagh…#NYR Kevin Klein 2 minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) February 19, 2016
Toronto’s Leo Komorov received a 3-game suspension for the head check and McDonagh will be sidelined for the Rangers next game against Detroit due to jaw contusion and neck spasms.
In McDonagh’s absence the defense has stepped up. Rookie Dylan McIlrath took the ice on the right with Dan Boyle playing the left (as opposed to his usual right side) to fill the space in Mac’s absence.
Keith Yandle also rose to the occasion, being beneficial both offensively and defensively as always. Marc Staal and Dan Girard also worked effectively as a pair in McDonagh’s absence.
The defensive pairs stepped up and did McDonagh proud as he, first, recovered from his concussion. The defensemen are expected to play just as well without McDonagh again on Sunday.
With Mac being such an important aspect to the team, especially in his place as a first pair defenseman, it was important for the team to rise in his absence to keep defense strong.
The defense also stepped up in defense of the captain himself. Following Komorov’s hit on McDonagh, Kevin Klein quickly lunged at the Maple Leaf to defend his teammate. Though it landed him in the box for unsportsmanlike conduct, Klein wouldn’t regret defending his teammate.
McIlrath also defended McDonagh when the Rangers and the Flyers met again on Feb.14, their next matchup following Wayne Simmonds’ concussion-causing punch to McDonagh. Almost instantaneously after the start of the game McIlrath dropped his gloves with Simmonds to defend the team’s captain. He stated later that he wanted McDonagh to know that his team would stand behind him.
Defense is gaining momentum and has been better on the ice. With or without their core players, the defensemen have proved that they are dedicated to keeping play high. Without McDonagh, the defense is still expected to play just as strong against the Red Wings, and they have proved they are capable of doing so.
Paille on Waivers
#NYR Dan Paille not skating today and was placed on waivers at noon.
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) February 20, 2016
A hole has now been created in the fourth line, since Paille was placed on waivers. Coach Alain Vigneault stated that the play being put forward from the line hasn’t been the best and wants to improve this important line.
With Moore in center, playing well, there needs to be two strong wingers on his left and right. Scouts have gone to the Hartford Wolf Pack in an effort to find the best suited winger to join Moore and Tanner Glass on the fourth line.
Vigneault said that they are looking for a strong player and checker, who can also assist on power kills and effectively move the puck. No player has been recalled from the Wolf Pack yet, but the Rangers will call up a player before their match up against the Red Wings.
The right player will confidently join Glass and Moore and will contribute to a strong line. With Glass’ strong defensive play and Moore’s effective two-way playing a new winger should help mediate between the two by assisting well and giving out strong checks of his own.
The Rangers will soon announce which Wolf Pack player will rise from the AHL to join the them on the ice in Madison Square Garden.
The Rangers will be taking the ice against the Red Wings with a not-so different, different line up. The team has adjusted to the loss of Nash and have found a way without McDonagh, therefore they will be expected to do the same when they play Detroit.
Though Paille will be newly absent from the lineup it is expected that whoever is recalled from the Wolf Pack will effectively fill the hole in the fourth line.
As far as goal-tending is concerned, Anttii Raanta, in the last two games he’s taken the ice to rest Henrik Lundqvist, has proved how good of a goal-tender he can be. Raanta made great saves against Toronto, posting 35 saves and a save percentage of .946.
The Rangers will play the Red Wings on Sunday at 7 p.m. Hopefully the team will rise with confident and strong play, as they’ve done in recent games, to seal with win against Detroit.
Alyssa is a writer here at THW as a contributor for her hometown team, the New York Rangers. She is also currently pursuing a Communications degree. Follow her on twitter for some hockey talk and Rangers updates!