The 2015-16 season has been an inconsistent, tumultuous ride for the New York Rangers. A 16-3-2 start was nearly negated by an awful December slide, but then the club appeared to find its footing again in January and February, playing solid hockey and getting the results in the win column.
March, however brought more struggles, and an apparent return to rock bottom with a 4-1 loss at San Jose last week, in which the final score did not do justice to how lopsided the game was (the Rangers were out-shot 52-26).
Perhaps that lit a fire under the Rangers, as they have gone 3-0-1 since then. Besides the wake-up call, another reason might be the new forward lines head coach Alain Vigneault has put together.
Kreider, Brassard Torch Montreal
With Chris Kreider having an up-and-down season that has been in many ways a microcosm of the club’s 2015-16 campaign, Vigneault might have made one of his more shrewd moves in what has also been a mediocre season for him, as he put the Boston College product on a line with Derick Brassard and Rick Nash.
The move was made after some juggling, albeit little, had been done earlier in the week in home wins over Florida and Boston. Kreider responded by tallying two goals and an assist against a depleted Montreal team, including a breakaway marker where he once again victimized
the man Carey Price and Montreal fans should really be mad at for what happened in the 2014 playoffs Canadiens defenseman Alexei Emelin.
Brassard also had a three-point night of his own, picking up a goal and two helpers. He and Kreider teamed up on the goal that put the Rangers ahead to stay in the second period. After the game, Brassard expressed his excitement about the sight of a reinvigorated Kreider.
“We’re trying to find the right chemistry between lines right now,” said Brassard. “Chris is a big part of our team, he scored two goals like that and (to) be involved in the game, that’s something we’re pretty excited about.” (Ranger Rants)
Third and Fourth Lines Also Coming Together
Vigneault also might have found something in his newly-assembled third line that features Kevin Hayes in the middle, with Eric Staal and Jesper Fast on each wing. The line looked dangerous in its first game (in Montreal), and accounted for the only two goals in a hard-fought 3-2 overtime loss to the surging Pittsburgh Penguins, with Staal lighting the lamp both times.
There are several things that Rangers fans should like about this line. One is that Staal has shown signs of getting his game going, after what has been a slow and difficult adjustment since the trade that brought him to New York. Both he and Vigneault have said they like him more at center, but after finally putting him on the wing, it’s hard to argue with the production from that spot.
Staal moving to the wing allows Hayes to slot back in at center, where he has looked much better all year than when he has been on the wing. Playing center, he has the puck more and becomes a more confident playmaker in that role. It’s where he excelled last year in his rookie season, posting 45 points.
Lastly, Fast provides a nice complement to the line. While a very solid, dependable, and cerebral player, Fast’s game is best suited for a bottom-six role, rather than the top-six deployment he had been getting for much of this season.
Elsewhere in the lineup, the Rangers’ fourth line of Viktor Stalberg, Dominic Moore and Tanner Glass was put together a few games earlier, and has played solid hockey for New York ever since. Even though the possession numbers might not always be in their favor, they have not really made critical mistakes, and have also had some effective forechecking shifts. The line was the team’s best in what was otherwise a disaster in San Jose, and helped the club to the victories over the Panthers and Bruins (yes, you read this correctly. I am praising Tanner Glass).
While it is unfortunate that a good player like Oscar Lindberg has become the odd man out in New York’s new forward lines, the team is playing too well right now to change anything up (there is even justification for leaving Glass in the lineup…for now).
The Rangers look like they are finding chemistry up front at just the right time, with the playoffs right around the corner. For all of their flaws, if they have their forwards playing well in addition to the stalwart Henrik Lundqvist in goal, they could still be a dangerous team in the playoffs.