The New York Rangers have long been regarded as one of the NHL’s best teams, an original six team, and an elite organization, but it doesn’t take much for one to see that the team has been in a bit of a slump lately.
Since the Rangers’ win against Anaheim on Dec. 22, the team has been on an up and down pattern; they rise for a win and then fall to a loss, only to repeat the cycle the next game.
The team, predominately composed of the same key players that helped bring the team to the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, and the Stanley Cup Finals the year before, has been struggling, but still manage to bring themselves back to play for a “comeback kid” performance.
Every win makes it seem like the Rangers might have their feet back on the ground, but every loss seems to set fans back to square one. The occasional lack of scoring and weakened defense can take hits on the team, but where is the moment when the team can finally aim themselves in the right direction?
Head Coach Alain Vigneault has been switching the lines around, looking to find the perfect match, and GM Jeff Gorton isn’t being quiet about possible trades anymore. Forward Emerson Etem, acquired from Anaheim over the summer, was traded to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for the Wolf Pack’s new right-winger, Nicklas Jensen. Gorton has also discussed future possibilities of trades and the uncertainty of defenseman Keith Yandle’s future as a blueshirt.
The forwards have been working on their offensive play, and have been searching for every scoring chance they could find. Though frequent line changes have been disrupting some harmony among the players, the lines have been falling into place and working to their advantage.
The seemingly unstoppable pair, Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello, are still succeeding. They’ve excelled in each other’s company; Zuccarello leads the team with 16 goals and 32 points, followed by Brassard who sits behind him with 15 goals and 31 points.
Though some have been insisting upon the Rangers’ need for a new top-six forward who can get more goals on the scoreboard, there has been a revival of some of the less suspecting forwards on the team. Fourth-line winger Viktor Stalberg has three goals in the last five games and Oscar Lindberg and Jesper Fast have also gotten their names back on the score sheet.
The recently criticized Kevin Hayes, who was criticized very publicly by Vigneault, has come back with better play after being scratched. Perhaps the pressure to prove himself has pushed for an improvement in Hayes’ defensive play and has helped him get his name back on the scoreboard, a goal he scored against Washington on Jan. 9.
AV says he sees a better "battle level" from Kevin Hayes w/ and w/o puck since he re-entered lineup after two game benching.
— Andrew Gross (@AGrossNewsday) January 11, 2016
The newest blueshirt on the roster, Jayson Megna, has also brought a new liveliness to the team, especially when it comes to on-ice speed.
Mega Jayson Megna
Megna joined the Rangers when he signed as a free agent this past July, but the 25-year-old didn’t make his official blueshirts debut until Jan 5, the Ranger’s game on home ice against the Dallas Stars. The speedy forward exceeded expectations and notched himself a goal and an assist in his Rangers debut.
Fans were excited about Megna’s debut goal and the play he demonstrated against the Stars. His strong offensive play and his speedy skating have won the hearts of both the fans and the team, a contributing factor that led to his continuing place on the team, in Etem’s place.
The newly-added Megna has already made an impact on the team. He’s brought good puck handling, exceptional speed, and smart play to the ice. He joined the Rick Nash-Derek Stepan line in the Ranger’s win against Dallas and hasn’t left their side yet due to the sound chemistry the line has had since their joining.
Megna is bringing a new air, and a new speed, to the Rangers’ play. This certainly can be a small factor that could help keep the team on a good, and winning, note.
Defense Walls Up
The Rangers’ defense has been inconsistent, which has contributed to the offensive play provided by the forwards. Having a pair of strong and sufficient defensemen on the ice at all times is important for a team who needs to stop goals, and then find some.
Criticism has been high on top-pair defenseman Dan Girardi, who has fallen to too many giveaways and hasn’t been who he used to be on the ice. The defenseman returned from his knee injury with little improvement to his play, only to take the fall for a goal he gave up to Alex Ovechkin in the Rangers’ matchup against the Washington Capitals due to a bad pass he aimed to forward Dom Moore.
When Kevin Klein was sidelined with injury, rookie defenseman Dylan McIlrath rose to the occasion. He made his mark on the ice with strong defensive play, a fearless approach when it comes to hits, or even fights, and even grabbed himself a goal and an assist during his play.
While defense hasn’t been at its peak, especially when it comes to the team’s veteran defensemen, this doesn’t mean that play will keep falling short. Play has been on the increase as of late, both offensively and defensively, and as it’s been said, the Rangers aren’t strangers to a ‘comeback kid’ attitude.
Taking on the Isles
The Rangers have come back from losses before. Facing the Islanders in Brooklyn will be a test for the Rangers, but it certainly isn’t something they can’t handle. The Isles’ will be without defensemen Travis Hamonic and Johnny Boychuk, as they recover from injuries for the matchup. Girardi is also listed by the Rangers as day-to-day due to a hand injury he sustained against Washington; it is still unknown whether or not he will play.
AV says less than 50/50 that Dan Girardi will play tomorrow vs. Isles (which would mean Dylan McIlrath back in after 6 games as scratch)
— Andrew Gross (@AGrossNewsday) January 13, 2016
In the last matchup between the two rivals the game ended in a shootout, a close call that ended in a win on the Isles’ behalf. The two in-game goals came from Islanders forward John Tavares and the Rangers’ Stalberg, who tied the game.
If the Rangers can bring their top game to the ice, the rivalry matchup will be a good one. Their offense needs to stay on their feet and keep up their speed; players like Megna and Chris Kreider can keep the puck moving on the ice, and with the help of their good puck handlers should be able to get it in the back of the net.
If the forwards channel their speed, they can beat out the Islanders’ defense and will have the opportunities to take the shots they need, because, more shots equal more goal-scoring chances. If the defense can stay strong, with help from consistent d-men, captain Ryan McDonagh and Keith Yandle, the Rangers can keep the Isles’ top goal-scorers from getting the chances they need.
The matchup will be a good one, and the New York rivalry will be in full swing when the two teams take the ice. If the Rangers go in with a good mindset their play will reflect it and they can pull a win, and beat their past win-lose pattern.
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) January 12, 2016
The Rangers and the Islanders will meet on the Islanders’ home ice in Brooklyn on Thursday night at 7 p.m.
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!