OFFENSE: C+/B-. Undeniably unreliable, but improving.
This team can score goals in bunches. Currently ranked third in the league in goals-for (30), the offense has proven its potency when it hasn’t been completely shut down. Unbridled elation was rampant following an outburst of three goals in 1:17 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, breaking open what had been a tense, tight match and spoiling the Jackets’ home opener. It was electrifying. In fact, it was so electrifying that it helped jump-start the battery that powers the John Tortorella hotline.
What is the opposite of “electrifying” following such a display? Proceeding to score a paltry three goals over the next combined 1:84:27 of play. The Rangers only lost three straight games once last season and I doubt we’ll see it again this season. I hope not. That was painful. Chalk it up to early season line-juggling (please put Kreider and Stepan together again) and having to face Carey Price and Corey Schneider consecutively, if you wish. Losing at Le Centre Bell to Price is an unpalatable, but understandable loss. Losing at MSG to the lowly Devils by the hand of none other than former Ranger mumps vector Lee Stempniak is just…not. So yes, the Rangers can score in bunches, but they can just as quickly enter a scoring void. That kind of variation is not a good sign and there needs to be a player or two who take it upon themselves to step up and do something about it when it sets in.
The top two lines have been spottily effective, at best. Mats Zuccarello has shown that he is back and ready to play hockey, Derick Brassard has rounded into form quickly and could be looking at a brand-making season. Derek Stepan has been creative and productive, but sans Chris Kreider on his left, something is missing. Kreider isn’t above criticism here by any means. He’s in a contract year and that alone should be driving him to be lethal. So far, he’s looked more like one of those Instagram parodies of himself than a 20+G/40+Pt offensive weapon.
Barring Zuccarello’s goals, the top line has been “Invisi-line.” As stated, Rick Nash’s -2 rating makes him the only Rangers player to be on the wrong side of neutral in that stat. No matter your feelings on how useful +/- really is, his Kool-Aid drinking supporters are apt to prattle on about how well he does everything, including playing defense and killing penalties. He does to those things very well, but Nash is expected to be one of the premiere scoring forwards in the league. He is paid based on that expectation and he has demonstrated that he can be exceptional over sustained stretches year-over-year. When that is possible, it throws into stark contrast those times when it isn’t happening and right now, Nash is burgling turds. He oughtta go as the Hamburglar for Halloween this year. He is THE primary offensive threat the Rangers present to opposing defenses and if this offense is going to power past some pretty stiff divisional competition, Nash cannot get by on being a good back-checker and an effective penalty killer.
Rick Nash absolutely must score and score often. If you are reading this and you know Mr. Nash, call him, text him, email him, “hit him up, yo,” do whatever you need to do to let him know that the bland, stoic “I’m doing everything I can out there” act is staid, that we’re done with it and that he is really going to start hearing it from the happy people of New York pretty soon. He needs to be better, end of story.
The “up note” here that balances out that scathing indictment resides with the third line: Oscar Lindberg and the third line have been outstanding. Lindberg came out torrid, potting four goals in the first three games of the season. His latest tally came off a deftly delivered feed from behind the net, served up backhanded by soft-handed Kevin Hayes.
It seems whoever lines up with Lindberg the Grouch finds success. Forwards Viktor Stalberg, Kevin Hayes and JT Miller all have points from assists on Lindberg goals and they all have goals of their own. Head coach Alain Vigneault (AV) wants four offensively productive lines stocked with fast, smart, versatile forwards and the third has been the model for that vision. They are young and fun to watch.
The fourth line has been workmanlike, efficient and mostly effective. Dominic Moore remains the weathered anchor of that unit, joined by Jarret Stoll and a rotating cast of wingers. Depending on where AV slots Jesper Fast, Emerson Etem is likely going to see more fourth line minutes in the wake of Tanner Glass’ assignment to Hartford. That’s a good thing. Etem is considered by some to be top-six capable, but needs regular minutes of exposure to prove it. He picked up his first point by way of an assist on Kevin Klein’s goal after getting robbed point-blank Sunday night on his only shot in 11:56 of ice time.
Oh, and a note on face-offs: Jarret Stoll has won 21/26 drops, which equates to a .656FOW% The Rangers finished 28th in the NHL last season with a team FOW rate of 46.7%. Their current league position: seventh (52.0%).
The takeaway is that the talent, experience, speed and scoring are there amongst the forwards. The Rangers are slightly above league average (2.7GPG) right now at 2.8GPG. Expect that figure to improve going forward. How much and how quickly it improves depends a lot on Nash, Kreider, Miller and Hayes.