NYR 1, MTL 4 - Rangers Closer To Locking Up First Wild Card

Some games throughout the season don’t deserve a highlight-by-highlight walk through from the first quality scoring chance to the final goal of the game. When the Rangers faced off against Montreal on a Saturday night in early March, it was one of those games.

So I won’t tell you in any detail about the puck that deflected past Henrik Lundqvist in off Adam Clendening that would have missed the net by 15 feet, nor will I walk you through the one meaningful Rangers goal scored by Chris Kreider on a rebound of his initial shot.

This game was decided in the first five minutes when the Canadiens hemmed the Rangers in their own zone, recovering pucks, keeping them in at their own blueline and peppering New York’s net with pucks. The rest of the period and through much of the game, Montreal disrupted the Rangers’ attack through the neutral zone and pinned them deep.

The Blueshirts would have moments in the second period. They would even dominate for a few consecutive shifts. They would get some decent scoring chances, but they still ended a frame that had significantly more good moments than the first by giving up two more goals.

In the third, the barely described Kreider goal would create some short-lived enthusiasm from the Rangers’ crowd, but newly acquired Canadiens defenseman Jordie Benn would score the fourth goal for Montreal and any hope of winning a game they were badly outplayed in would fall by the wayside.

There was a single bright spot for the Blueshirts and that was Pavel Buchnevich. If the rest of his teammates were operating at about a four out of ten, Buchnevich was up near a nine. He was quick on pucks, battling and more importantly playing creatively and opening room on the ice.  He got good, hard shots on goal, made defenders run out of position and passed to send in players who should have gotten quality scoring chances. On his best play, he froze Carey Price and then instead of shooting, hit a streaking Rick Nash for a tap in. Only Nash inexplicably tried to cut to the middle rather than bury the puck and ended up bowling over Price as he tried to recover. No penalty was called as the Canadiens goalie was well out of the net.

The Rangers would go out with a whimper. The only bright side to this game and their overall lack of scoring over the past eight games is that they are improving their chances of finishing in the first Wild Card spot and escaping the dominate Metropolitan division.


Assorted musings: The Rangers failed to generate any power plays; Oscar Lindberg has three goals on eleven shots in his last seven games, tonight’s included; Kreider scored his career high 24th goal of the season; The Rangers lost their third game of their last four.

New York Rangers @ Edmonton Oilers by Karan Bawa

Rangers Need to Find Scoring Touch Again

It’s hard to imagine, but despite being fourth in the league in G/GP at 3.18, and fourth in 5-on-5 goals (139) this season, the Rangers seem to be having a bit of trouble finding the back of the net of late.

In their last ten games, they are averaging just 2.2 G/GP. That is roughly an entire goal fewer per game than their seasonal average, and that number is starker over their last seven starts where they’re scoring an average of 1.85 G/GP. In fact, they’ve scored more than two goals in a game just once in their last nine—an overtime affair against the Devils back on February 25th.

Worse yet, what little scoring is occurring is happening almost entirely at even strength, as the Rangers power play has fallen through the proverbial floor. Their power play has failed to capitalize in its last 19 attempts and has capitalized just three times in its last 52 attempts (5.8%).

Their last power play tally—a Jimmy Vesey goal—came in the 4-2 loss against the Islanders on February 16th in which they went 1-for-4 on the night.

While the sample size is relatively small, the 5.8% conversion rate over their last 52 attempts is more than twice as futile when compared to the league’s worst man advantage club, the Detroit Red Wings, who are playing with a seasonal average of just 12.9%.

While the Blueshirts’ seasonal power play average is 18.1%, its fallen considerably from earlier points this season. They were 7th in the league at 22% at the 20-game mark and were as high as 4th (22.9%) at the halfway point of the season. Since then they’ve fallen to 18th, nestled between the Anaheim Ducks, Dallas Stars, Los Angeles Kings, and New Jersey Devils. Of that group, only the Ducks and Kings are in a playoff position as of today, and the Kings’ hold on the second Wild Card position is a tenuous one at best. They lead the Blues by just one point.

This might be a survivable performance for now, but it may not be when the playoffs come around.

The Importance of a PP in the Playoffs

If the Rangers plan on making some noise in the playoffs this Spring, it’s important this ship is righted, because recent history isn’t very kind to teams whose power play is this unreliable when the postseason rolls around.

Boston Bruins fans, as an example, might be quick to note that the Bruins won a Stanley Cup back in 2011 despite the team owning an 11.4% power play that Spring—the 14th worst conversion rate of the 16 teams who qualified for the playoffs that season. But that Bruins club was something of an exception to the rule.

Since the 2004-05 lockout, seven of eleven Cup winners won with a functional power play, where just four of eleven won a championship without one, or with an especially poor one:

Year Team Playoffs PP%
2015-16 Pittsburgh Penguins 23.4%
2014-15 Chicago Blackhawks 17.9%
2013-14 Los Angeles Kings 23.5%
2012-13 Chicago Blackhawks 11.4%
2011-12 Los Angeles Kings 12.8%
2010-11 Boston Bruins 11.4%
2009-10 Chicago Blackhawks 22.5%
2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins 20.6%
2007-08 Detroit Red Wings 18.9%
2006-07 Anaheim Ducks 15.2%
2005-06 Carolina Hurricanes 24.0%

Drawing back on the focus to account for all four clubs who advanced beyond their respective Conference Final, what we find is that more often than not, the club with the superior power play in each series advanced over their opponent:

Year Eastern Conference Final Western Conference Final
2015-16 Pittsburgh Penguins (21.1%)
v. Tampa Bay Lightning (16.7%)
San José Sharks (19.0%)
v. St. Louis Blues (23.5%)
2014-15 Tampa Bay Lightning (31.8%)
v. New York Rangers (29.2%)
Chicago Blackhawks (13.6%)
v. Anaheim Ducks (14.3%)
2013-14 New York Rangers (319.2%)
v. Montréal Canadiens (8.7%)
Los Angeles Kings (35.3%)
v. Chicago Blackhawks (21.1%)
2012-13 Boston Bruins (0.0%)
v. Pittsburgh Penguins (0.0%)
Chicago Blackhawks (8.3%)
v. Los Angeles Kings (6.7%)
2011-12 New Jersey Devils (11.1%)
v. New York Rangers (36.4%)
Los Angeles Kings (10.5%)
v. Phoenix Coyotes (12.5%)
2010-11 Boston Bruins (12.5%)
v. Tampa Bay Lightning (22.7%)
Vancouver Canucks (37.5%)
v. San José Sharks (31.8%)
2009-10 Philadelphia Flyers (25.0%)
v. Montréal Canadiens (6.3%)
Chicago Blackhawks (27.3%)
v. San José Sharks (21.4%
2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins (17.6%)
v. Carolina Hurricanes (8.3%)
Detroit Red Wings (27.8%)
v. Chicago Blackhawks (28.6%)
2007-08 Pittsburgh Penguins (27.8%)
v. Philadelphia Flyers (17.6%)
Detroit Red Wings (20.0%)
v. Dallas Stars (8.7%)
2006-07 Ottawa Senators (15.4%)
v. Buffalo Sabres (6.9%)
Anaheim Ducks (9.5%)
v. Detroit Red Wings (26.9%)
2005-06 Carolina Hurricanes (23.1%)
v. Buffalo Sabres (20.0%)
Edmonton Oilers (17.2%)
v. Anaheim Ducks (7.7%)

*Series winners are depicted in bold. Blue percentages were superior power play percentages. Red percentages were inferior power play percentages.

Now, we can’t go so far as to say the power play was the most important reason why these teams won, but it was certainly an edge given that 14 of the 22 series played saw the team with the superior power play advance to the Cup Final. That’s just shy of a 65% margin.

While it’s not exactly a death knell to not have an especially good power play, the odds certainly skew more positively to those with one than those without.

If the Rangers maintain their pace and finish the season fourth in the Metropolitan division, they are likely to avoid certain disaster awaiting them or anyone else set to run the Metro gauntlet in the form of the Capitals, Penguins, and Blue Jackets. However, while an easier path to a Conference Final likely lies through the Atlantic, if these scoring issues persist, particularly on the man advantage, a first-round matchup against the Canadiens, who the Rangers failed to defeat in three attempts this season, or the Senators, who own a shutout against the Rangers in one of the two meetings they’ve had, might be just as disastrous.

A reliable power play can be all the difference in the postseason where even strength goal-scoring can dry up and the margin between wins and losses can often be just one goal.

In recent years, where the Stanley Cup winner has typically relied on their power play to help them win the close games necessary to advance each round, the Rangers of late have reverted to the previous season’s failings with the man advantage. What was once a strength that helped keep them atop the NHL in terms of goals per game is now a glaring weakness. The juggernaut Blueshirts of the first half of this season have won just once in regulation in their last seven games and the lack of an effective power play is a big reason why. If they don’t get that sorted soon, they will likely skid into the playoffs rather than charging in as they were poised to.

Perhaps it isn’t a full-blown crisis just yet, but the precedent being set over the last dozen games or so isn’t one conducive to winning, and isn’t one anyone should accept.

NYR 2, BOS 1 - Hank Steals the Win

New York Rangers’ newest member, Brendan Smith, wearing the number 42, got to start the game paired on defense with former University of Wisconsin teammate Ryan McDonagh. With Michael Grabner out after an injury suffered in the off-day practice, the starting forward combinations featured Pavel Buchnevich, Mika Zibanejad and Rick Nash as one unit, while Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello made up another. J.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes reunited along with rookie forward Jimmy Vesey while the fourth line was made up of Brandon Pirri, Oscar Lindberg and Matt Puempel. Rangers’ Head Coach Alain Vigneault again managed to keep the early season dominate forward line of Buchnevich, Zibanejad and Kreider apart. It is the one combination he has inexplicably yet to come back to with any regularity.

The line changes didn’t help the Rangers to start the game. The Bruins dominated zone time getting high-quality chance after chance in odd man situations as well as to wide open attackers. If not for Henrik Lundqvist, who started celebrating his 35th birthday under siege, the Rangers would have found themselves in a hole on the score sheet. After an icing, Brendan Smith took the first penalty of his Rangers’ career for a hook behind the net to give Boston a power play but the Rangers were able to kill it off.

After the penalty expired, Boston went right back to work dominating the period, if not the scoreboard. The Rangers gained the man advantage for the final two minutes of the first period as Buchnevich was tripped but they were unable to generate a shot. They escaped the period scoreless while taking only three shots on goal to Boston’s nine.

The second period started with the Rangers playing marginally better. They drew their second power play just three minutes into the second frame. They had more movement and offensive pressure than their first attempt, but the 0-for-15 power play in recent games would make it 16 straight without a goal. Another depressing power play stat – they are three for their last 50.

The Rangers picked up their play after that and began shifting the momentum in their favor. They got off many qualify point shots only to have them blocked by the Bruins who crowded the slot. The few that got through were stopped by Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask.

Each team had a couple high-quality chances in the final five minutes of the period, and the Bruins would finish the last minute on the power play, but both goalies were up to the task. Like the first, the second period ended without any scoring.

The Rangers killed off the remaining Bruins power play to start the third period. Boston would dominate much of the first five minutes of the period, but on their first sustained shift in the offensive zone, Buchnevich would patiently rifle a shot over Rask’s shoulder to give the Rangers the 1-0 lead.

https://twitter.com/myregularface/status/837484488569532416

A few minutes, Lindberg added a second goal on a strong individual effort where he beat a defender one-on-one and then snapped a shot past Rask on the far side. It was his third goal in his last six games.

https://twitter.com/myregularface/status/837487397755633664

The Rangers would fail on another power play (1-for-17, 3-for-51), and Hank would lose his shutout bid moments later on a delayed penalty call on Nick Holden.

The Rangers went back and forth between smart defensive play and being pinned in their zone trying to hold on for the final 6:00 of the game as the Bruins pressed. David Backes took an interference penalty as he crashed the net on Lundqvist with 2:22 left in the game.

AV smartly used two defensemen on the ensuing power play and the Rangers tried to run down the clock rather than score. They were content to keep the puck to the outside fire most of the man advantage and play keep away. Boston managed to get Rask to the bench with half a minute left in the game, but wouldn’t be able to get another shot on goal.


Assorted musings: The Rangers snapped a two-game losing streak; Henrik Lundqvist moved into a tie with Grant Fuhr for 10th all-time in wins; Marc Staal has now played in the sixth most games among defensemen in Rangers’ history; The Rangers have scored 86 third-period goals, the most goals by a team in any period in the league; and the Rangers won their league-leading 22nd time on the road this season.

Ranger's Deadline Marred by Injuries

First it was Kevin Klein, who has missed a handful of games with back spasms. He skated at the end of the Ranger’s game day skate prior to their 4-1 loss to Washington on Tuesday. Then it was Dan Girardi, still unable, it seems, to recover from a blocked shot that tore open his ankle weeks ago. Girardi missed time after that, came back, but aggravated the injury again prior to the Washington game. He’s on a 10-14 day time table at this point. Just prior to the game, Mika Zibanejad who had been at the game day skate, was scratched do to an “upper-body injury” that most likely came from the previous game against Columbus where late in the game he was struck on the hand with a puck. He is considered day-to-day.

The Rangers recalled Steven Kampfer for last night’s game, but have since sent him back to Hartford. That is likely thanks to acquiring Brendan Smith from Detroit for a couple of draft picks. Smith should be in the lineup tomorrow night against the Bruins.

As we await news of any further roster moves prior to today’s trade deadline, word came down that Rangers’ forward Jesper Fast, who was in obvious distress after taking a hit from Alex Ovechkin that would knock him out of last night’s game, would be out for a while.

That news may make it more likely that Rangers GM Jeff Gorton looks to trade for forward depth. Talk among NHL pundits have him looking for a forward with both size and speed. That’s not an easy combination to come by, though. We’ll have to wait and see if anything materializes.

NYR 1, WSH 4 - Ragtag Rangers Run Over by Reinforced Capitals

2/28/2017 40-21-2 NYR 1, WSH 4 (Home) Game | Event | Play-by-Play | FO Sum. | FO Comp. | TOI – NYR | TOI – WSH | Shot Report | Shift Chart

In the Eastern Conference, all roads seem to lead to Washington (89 points), who bolstered their blueline by picking up the league’s top trade target, Kevin Shattenkirk. The Rangers looked to continue their strong play (7-2-1 in the last ten games, 82 points) and beat the league leaders for the second time in ten days on Thursday night. But banged up and without three regulars after Mika Zibanejad was a late scratch, the Blueshirts didn’t have the firepower to stay with Washington and fell 4-1.

The game was Kevin Shattenkirk’s first game after being traded from St. Louis earlier today, but while many predicted he’d be making the debut in Rangers’ Blue, he instead arrived at MSG and pulled on Capitals’ white. He had three of the Capitals first five shots and four total, but, for the most part, didn’t do too much to give Jeff Gorton FOMO about not pulling the trigger on a trade.

With Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein out of the lineup, Brady Skjei got top-four minutes and Adam Clendening remained in the lineup. They combined with J.T. Miller to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead on one of the sweetest transition goals involving two defensemen that you’ll see.

Just like the last time these two teams met, New York had great jump and controlled play in the first period, but the Capitals had the distinctive edge in the second. Henrik Lundqvist, who entered tonight with a 2-0 record and a .950 save percentage against Washington this year, made 17 saves but got beaten twice as the Rangers’ patched-together defense lost coverage in front. He finished with 34 total.

The Rangers trailed 2-1 after two and didn’t have the juice to muster any consistent offense in the third period. They surrendered two more goals, one on a Nicklas Backstrom seeing-eye power play goal, to lose their second straight.

While Shattenkirk was not particularly impactful in his debut, New York’s consolation prize (maybe that’s unfair) Brendan Smith wasn’t active as his plane didn’t arrive from Vancouver on time after the deal was announced earlier today. His presence will be most welcome as Steven Kampfer, who will be sent back down to the AHL, was on for two goals against.

There’s no doubt that the Rangers were decisively outplayed in the second and third periods. It’s worth noting, though, that through two periods they hit three posts and had a Michael Grabner goal disallowed. As we’ve seen a few times this year, if the Blueshirts were able to cash in on another opportunity two, the entire complexion of the game could have been quite different.

The Rangers’ next game is on Thursday, as it starts a tough March schedule in Boston.


Notes: Steven Kampfer made his first appearance of the season; Rangers are now 16-5-1 after a loss; New York was 0-4 on the power play; Alex Ovechkin had scored in seven-straight games at MSG before going scoreless tonight; Barry Trotz became the sixth coach to win 700 games in the NHL.

Rangers Acquire Brendan Smith from Detroit for 2nd, 3rd-round picks

After missing out on Kevin Shattenkirk sweepstakes—and justifiably so, given the price he commanded—the Rangers have settled for their fallback – Detroit’s Brendan Smith.

I wrote about the kind of player that Brendan Smith is last week when there were some rumblings that he could be a target:

The real value in adding Smith to the lineup would be in the fact that he’s a strong possession player. This year, on a struggling Detroit team, he still owns a neutral Corsi rating and, other than this season, he’s never been below 53.2%. That ability, combined with his size, makes him a nice add for defending against teams like Columbus and Washington, who want to get the puck down low and grind out goals.

While Smith won’t be a one-for-one replacement for Shattenkirk, he will almost certainly be used to add a presence to the right side, despite being left-handed. This year, he’s played most of his minutes on the right when partnered with Niklas Kronwall and Xavier Ouelette. Though adding a righty might be preferable, Smith’s position flex makes him a good add as we could see him partnering with just about anyone.

At first glance, the two picks seem costly, though in line with the Michael Stone trade. While I’m glad no prospects—Sean Day especially—are included, it’s a tough pill to swallow for a guy who, at the end of the day, is going to give you a moderate upgrade over Kevin Klein or Nick Holden. Should the Rangers choose to extend him, and/or flip one of Klein or Holden for an asset, that hit is reduced and long-term could be a nice pickup. But if Smith is purely a rental, he’s a costly one.

With both Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein hurt, it’ll be interesting to see if the Rangers can get Smith to New York and dressed in time for tonight’s game. Even new to the system, he’d be an upgrade over Steven Kampfer, who figures to dress tonight after being called up earlier today. Smith would have to come all the way from Vancouver, so that might be too big of an ask, but he’s well-rested as Detroit is coming off of their bye week. It’d be nice for him to get an immediate welcome the Metro against the Capitals.

As an added bonus, the fans would get to welcome him and Shattenkirk to the Garden at the same time. The prognostications based on one game would, without a doubt, be a lot of fun!

In related news, the Rangers are also expected to assign Pavel Buchnevich to their AHL affiliate, the Hartford Wolfpack, though it’s likely a temporary solution to the 23-man roster limit to carry them through the trading deadline while they finalize their plans for the playoff run.

NYR 2, CBJ 5 - Rangers Outworked and the Score Showed It

“I think we got outworked tonight. They had better execution than we did. They stuck to their gameplan, we kind of got off track on ours and the score showed that.”

That’s what Rick Nash told MSG’s John Gianonne in the post-game interview following tonight’s 5-2 loss, the Rangers fourth game in six nights, to the Metropolitan division rival Columbus Blue Jackets.

While the game wasn’t yet lost, surely the game’s opening tally, scored by Jackets forward Alexander Wennberg just 62 seconds into the contest was a sign of things to come for the Rangers tonight. Despite Rick Nash finding the game-tying answer just a few minutes later off a beautiful feed from Jimmy Vesey, the Rangers just never seemed to get their game going quickly enough to take a lead.

With 13:13 to go in the first period, Cam Atkinson scored his career high 28th goal to give the Jackets a 2-1 lead that the Rangers would never threaten before the final buzzer.

The Rangers would leave the first period down 2-1 and keep the game close through most of the second, but Wennberg would find his second of the night to put the Jackets up 3-1 less than a minute after Atkinson nearly scored his second on a breakaway attempt.

The Blueshirts made much effort to draw within one but just couldn’t solve Bobrovsky as the period drew to a close.

Unfortunately, the third period would only stretch Columbus’ lead as Atkinson would make up for his failed breakaway attempt, burying a pass from ex-Ranger Brandon Dubinsky to get his second of the night. Nick Holden, who had an especially poor night, gave the puck away to Dubinsky in front of the benches and the Rangers couldn’t get back in time to stop the Jackets attack.

To the Rangers credit, they never quit on the game and they forced Bobrovsky to stand tall through the remaining minutes of the period, including forcing him to make a desperation save on Chris Kreider with exactly 3:00 to go in the game. It just wouldn’t be enough, however.

The icing on the cake came in the game’s final minute as Josh Anderson gave the Jackets a commanding 5-1 lead. Though Jesper Fast would actually score one more goal with just three-tenths of a second remaining on the clock, the Rangers ultimately fell in the second game of their back-to-back games this weekend by a final score of 5-2.

Their next game is Tuesday night against the Washington Capitals—just one day before the NHL’s trade deadline of 3 pm EST this coming Wednesday.


Assorted musings: Nick Holden is just one goal shy of tying his career high of ten goals in a season; He and defense partner Marc Staal had an especially miserable game, however, as both men were on the ice for four of the five goals scored against the Rangers; Michael Grabner, despite not scoring tonight, has five goals against the Blue Jackets this season; With his next win, Henrik Lundqvist will officially tie for tenth all-time in goalie wins with Grant Fuhr; Fatigue probably played a sizable factor this evening as the Rangers have played in three consecutive overtime matches prior to the drop of the puck against the Blue Jackets.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/butohmedusa/30170803935/in/photolist-MY6fSK

Why Buchnevich Should Not Be Trade Bait

As we encroach on the final days before the NHL’s March 1st trade deadline, the Rangers have expectedly been linked to multiple defensemen. In the last week, that includes Detroit Red Wings pending UFA Brendan Smith, who the Rangers are apparently “zeroing in on”. Smith was a former teammate of Ryan McDonagh at Wisconsin and plays both sides of the ice, which could explain the interest. Also included is Kevin Shattenkirk, who the Blueshirts have been tied to for the last three seasons. Additionally, I’ve written about the unique situation the Anaheim Ducks might offer regarding the Rangers’ need to add to a measurably substandard blue line, though this particular scenario is purely speculative at this point in time.

According to CapFriendly.com, the Rangers project to have $10M+ available to take advantage of at the deadline. It’s no surprise they appear to be big-game hunting—they have ample room to accommodate just about any contract. Awarding Ryan McDonagh a more reliable partner than Dan Girardi appears to be the goal for the post season. The cost of acquiring that upgrade might prove prohibitive, however.

Bob McKenzie noted back in late January that the Rangers don’t want to continue mortgaging the future. He specifically spoke to the consecutive first-rounders they’ve parted ways with in the last four seasons—a point that can’t be understated. That report has only been reinforced of late, even as the Shattenkirk rumors have continued to build.

The question isn’t whether the Rangers want Shattenkirk, or whether he wants the Rangers. It’s whether the cost St. Louis will demand to get an early look at him is too high to pay. Given some of the latest reports, it very well might be.

General manager Doug Armstrong of the Blues is looking for a first-round pick, a top prospect, plus something else for Kevin Shattenkirk.”

That “plus something else” is where some of the chatter has begun to include Rangers rookie Pavel Buchnevich. Back on February 18th, Steve Zipay reported that Buchnevich is among the list of young talent teams are asking about, and Don LaGreca protested the idea of including Buchnevich in a trade for Shattenkirk in an episode of his Game Misconduct podcast late last week.

While we’ve yet to read any direct confirmation that the Blues’ ask would include Buchnevich, the scuttlebutt that insinuates it might is enough to justifiably raise fears.

Buchnevich is a first-round talent who happens to have been drafted in the third round. The Rangers were able to take a chance on him back in 2013 when fears over his desire to play in the NHL were still high.

He has 15 points in 26 games this season, having missed a significant stretch of time to chronic back spasms earlier this year. That’s a 48-point pace over an 82 game season. That kind of production would have put him in line with the performance pace of fellow rookies Sebastian Aho of the Carolina Hurricanes and Mikko Rantanen of the Colorado Avalanche this season.

Moreover, Buchnevich’s 2.61 points per 60 minutes (P/60) is directly comparable to impact forwards Nikolaj Ehlers (2.60), Charlie Coyle (2.61), and William Nylander (2.65).

Buchnevich is also an analytics boon to the Blueshirts. Among forwards who have skated in at least 25 games for the Rangers, he’s one of just four players this season with a positive CF% (50.48), and one of just five with a positive FF% (51.21).

Beyond his talent level, his entry-level contract is one of his biggest selling points regarding his value to the Rangers. The natural cost-control built into it is something teams can’t find easily in free agency. As early as next season, Buchnevich should be penciled in as a top-nine scoring winger with top-six potential. The fact he costs the Rangers just $925,000 for the next two years is invaluable for a club who are no strangers to the salary cap ceiling. This is especially true if Shattenkirk remains a July 1st target. He won’t come cheap, which means other players have to.

This is exactly the reason he should not be considered in trade talks, even if those talks are for an undeniable upgrade to the team’s most glaring weakness. His long-term value is simply too great to gamble on a potentially short-term fix.

This is not to say that upgrading the defense shouldn’t remain a priority because it should. It just shouldn’t come at the cost of arguably the most valuable contact the Rangers own.

If that means the Rangers can’t entertain the idea of Kevin Shattenkirk before the summer, so be it. It’s better to bring in the New Rochelle native to be part of a team with Buchnevich than to bring him in at the cost of him. That cost would be too counter-productive to pay, no matter how attractive the idea of a McDonagh-Shattenkirk tandem may be for a playoff run (and beyond).

It’s clear the Rangers are in win-now mode. That means management should be giving the team every reasonable edge heading into the postseason. It also means that sacrificing more futures in an attempt to fill holes is still the correct near and long-term strategy. Buchnevich, though, has a future that is now, and with the Rangers roster filled with young talent about to transition towards larger paydays, young cost-controlled players with a high immediate ceiling are too valuable to the franchise to sacrifice, even if that means that some holes remain unfilled.

NYR 4, NJD 3 (OT) – Rangers Cast Out Devils in Overtime

8-1-1 in their last ten games, the Rangers invaded Newark Saturday night to take on the New Jersey Devils who were just 4-4-2 in their last ten. Having won both prior contests against their cross-river rivals, the Rangers looked to take a commanding lead in the season series, though it wouldn’t come easy.

From the drop of the puck, the Devils played with an early sense of urgency, easily controlling the games first few shifts. That was until Mika Zibanejad forced Devils defenseman John Merill into a turnover behind the goal line close to the mid-way point of the period. The puck found it’s way to the point where Girardi rifled it at Schneider. It bounced off multiple skates and legs along the way and was credited to Chris Kreider as the Rangers drew first blood at 13:20.

Despite being out-shot 12-7 by the Devils with less than five minutes to go in the period, Jesper Fast hooked up with Oscar Lindberg on a beautiful goal to increase the Rangers lead 2-0 at 17:32. Fast faked a slapshot, instead opting for a cross-ice pass to a wide open Lindberg who roofed it past Schneider. He and Holden were given assists on the play and the Rangers would close out the period with a comfortable two-goal lead.

That comfort wouldn’t last long, however, as just the Devils would strike back early in the second.

After Mats Zuccarello made a phenomenal backcheck, lifting his stick to prevent a 2-on-0 opportunity, Adam Henrique spoiled Antti Raanta’s shutout bid, opening the scoring for the Devils at 18:28 on a wrap-around attempt that snuck in through Raanta’s five hole. The period would draw to a close with the Rangers still leading 2-1, but like the end of the first, that lead would prove tenuous.

Kyle Palmieri tied the match just 27 seconds into the final frame, firing a puck through a Dan Girardi screen past Raanta’s glove. Raanta got a piece of the shot, but not enough to stop the puck from bouncing over the goal line.

It was a sign of the surge to come, as the Devils increased the pressure, forcing Chris Kreider to take a delay of game penalty at 18:50. It would send the Devils to their first power play of the night, and they made short work of the opportunity, as Andy Greene blasted a shot over Raanta’s right shoulder right off the face-off. Girardi again screened his own goaltender on the play. The Rangers did challenge the goal, as it appeared Devils rookie Miles Wood may have interfered with Raanta in the crease, but the call on the ice stood, and the Devils took the lead for the first time in the game, now ahead 3-2.

Both the tying goal and the go-ahead goal came in a span of just 47 seconds early in the third period.

The Rangers again took another penalty as Jimmy Vesey was whistled for tripping at 18:05, though this one they’d manage to kill. They even forced Schneider to make a big save in the dying seconds of the power play on a failed Kevin Hayes shot down low.

The pendulum eventually swung back in the favor of the Rangers, however, as they began to mount a comeback attempt with less than ten minutes to go in the game. Their efforts would pay off as Chris Kreider’s strong work with the puck below the goal line would ultimately lead to an Adam Clendening point shot that would tie the game with 4:25 to go. The goal was Clendening’s first since January 7th against the Columbus Blue Jackets and would allow the Rangers to take the game into overtime where they’d ultimately complete the comeback.

After Raanta made a huge save on a partial Kyle Palmieri breakaway early, Brady Skjei was able to gain control of the puck and lead Mika Zibanejad on a long stretch pass. Zibanejad faked a slapshot, getting Schneider to bite just enough to open his legs where the puck would be neatly tucked in, giving Zibanejad his first in 16 games and the Rangers the hard-fought victory.

The Rangers next game is Sunday, a back-to-back, against a Columbus Blue Jackets team coming fresh off a 7-0 victory against the New York Islanders.


Assorted musings: Chris Kreider has five points (three goals, two assists) against the Devils this season; the Rangers lead the season series 3-0; the Rangers are now 22-2-0 when leading after two periods.

Trade Talk: Brendan Smith

I don’t know what the asking price is [for Shattenkirk], but it’s too high for the Maple Leafs. It’s too high for the New York Rangers, who have dabbled a little bit there. It seems like they’re maybe zeroing in on Brendan Smith of the Detroit Red Wings. (Source)”

Darren Dreger slid this little bit in during a visit to Toronto’s TSN 1050.  Until now, Brendan Smith is a name that has been kicked around as a possible deadline move since he’s an unrestricted free agent at the end of this year, but the link between him and the Rangers hadn’t been made. Considering the Rangers’ immediate need for a puck-moving righty, he doesn’t fit the bill, so any link at all is a bit of a surprise.

At the core, what the 6’2”, 211-pound Smith would give New York is a reliable depth defenseman—more so than Adam Clendening—who can fill in without a drop in play. Marc Staal is a good comparison for Smith, as both are big, minute-eating lefties who will provide some physicality but few contributions offensively. Here is Smith steamrolling Derick Brassard, just for kicks.

While the physical aspect is nice, the real value in adding Smith to the lineup would be in the fact that he’s a strong possession player. This year, on a struggling Detroit team, he still owns a neutral Corsi rating and, other than this season, he’s never been below 53.2%. That ability, combined with his size, makes him a nice add for defending against teams like Columbus and Washington, who want to get the puck down low and grind out goals.

Where he fits is anyone’s guess. As a seventh defenseman, he would figure to slide into the lineup if any injury occurs. Or, if Alain Vigneault likes his game, he could play on the left and allow Brady Skjei to move to the right side while pushing one of Dan Girardi, Nick Holden, or Kevin Klein out of the lineup.

Conversely, he may be a fit on the right side as well. In 33 games this season, Smith has been deployed primarily with Niklas Kronwall and Xavier Ouellet, who are both left-handed. Vigneault prefers to have his lefties on the left and righties on the right, but some positional flexibility would make Smith more valuable as a seventh defenseman and improve his shot at earning significant time.

What Smith would cost is even more perplexing than where he’d fit. The Michael Stone trade set the bar for a depth rental defender at a third-round pick and a conditional fifth-round pick. Maybe fourth-round and sixth-round picks get him? Perhaps Matt Puempel is a guy that the Red Wings might like? Who knows, really. Interestingly, Smith did play with both Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh at Wisconsin, so maybe the familiarity there could make Gorton and the coaching staff a bit more comfortable upping the cost.

At quick glance, Smith doesn’t seem like a great fit and isn’t really what the Rangers seem to be in the market for. But, if the price is right, his ability to play in a number of spots in the lineup and his sound defensive game could make him a smart deadline acquisition. If he plays well, re-signing the former first-round pick could help mitigate the loss of, say, Staal, should Gorton & Co. decide to shed that salary in the offseason.