With the playoffs looming in the distance, it’s time to take a look at where the New York Rangers stand. Could this team contend come April?
Mr. Speaker, the New York Rangers.
Ok, there won’t be any handshakes or standing ovations (hey, I’ll take all the clapping I can get), but March has arrived and with March comes playoff races and a good amount of stress.
It’s that time of year in which fans begin to focus their microscopes on their team’s abilities and ask questions.
What will it take for my team to clinch a favorable playoff berth? Will my team make the playoffs? Will the moves made at the trade deadline benefit my team down the road?
These are all good questions that will be answered in April.
As far as the New York Rangers are concerned, the immediate future is full of questions.
Sure, last night’s victory over the Boston Bruins was a huge comeback win following two very underwhelming losses to the Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals.
The game certainly had a playoff feel to it. Both teams were very physical, Henrik Lundqvist was the royal version of himself and the Rangers’ lead never felt safe.
That’s Rangers’ playoff hockey in a nutshell.
The Blueshirts won 2-1, but there are plenty of concerns to be had by the Rangers’ faithful.
Injuries have suddenly become a significant issue at the worst possible time of the season.
— Brian Heyman (@bheyman99) March 1, 2017
AV says Michael Grabner left practice with a hip injury. He’s “up in the air a little bit for tomorrow” in Boston. #NYR
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) March 1, 2017
Jesper Fast believed to have suffered shoulder separation. Sidelined indefinitely. #Crossover
— Larry Brooks (@NYP_Brooksie) March 1, 2017
Add to these a Dan Girardi ankle injury and we might as well start a Rangers M.A.S.H. unit.
Sure, the playoffs are still over a month away, but these injuries could sideline deep playoff hopes for the Blueshirts before they even hit the ice.
Depth will be a big concern for this Rangers team come April. We have all witnessed how explosive and dangerous the Rangers can be when everyone is healthy and the offense is hitting on all cylinders.
On the other hand, we have also witnessed how anemic and uninspiring the Rangers offense can be when just one person misses time due to injury.
The team was noticeably slower last night without speedster Michael Grabner. The Rangers’ transition game wasn’t as quick as it has been in previous months and the forecheck wasn’t as dangerous.
You would never describe Jesper Fast as a great player, but his strong play on he boards was also sorely missed last night.
Brendan Smith was, and will continue to be a strong addition to the Rangers blue line. His strong defending and gritty play around Hank is just what the doctor ordered. After all, it seems as though no one else on the Rangers will stick up for their teammates.
Check out what happened when Brandon Pirri was dumped by Colin Miller right in front of Hank last night:
— Elite Sports NY (@EliteSportsNY) March 3, 2017
Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
Toughness is overrated in today’s NHL. Talent and speed will trump a tough lineup just about every game.
But there is a big difference between a tough style of play and defending your own players. How Oscar Lindberg just stood in the slot and watched Miller crosscheck Pirri from behind without repercussion is disappointing.
Lindberg didn’t need to start a fight (taking a penalty against Boston is a bad idea), but he could have given Miller the business at least.
The good news if that it seems as if Henrik Lundqvist is back. The King of New York made some impressive saves and shut the door in the closing minutes of the game.
That’s the goalie which Rangers fans know and love.
When it comes right down to it, the Rangers will need health and a bit of luck to make a deep playoff run this season. Not only has the injury bug decided to bite at the wrong time, but players like Pavel Buchnevich and Jimmy Vesey are still very green when it comes to the NHL game.
Give these players another summer to develop, buyout Dan Girardi in the off-season, and this team looks really strong come next fall.
For now, if the Rangers were to make a competitive second round appearance, I would consider this season a success. Anything past the second round would be gravy.