Game of the Week preview: Rangers need to find their offense fast

The Rangers at one point in early January appeared to be poised to go on a tear that would see them emerge as championship threats in the Eastern Conference. They had won four out of five games and were building off a 1-0 win over Vancouver. Things were looking well for the Rangers and with Marian Gaborik then returning to the lineup to help them score more often, the positives were booming.

Of course, all good plans never quite play out the way you hope they will and for the Rangers, the offense never arrived. Gaborik came and then went out of the lineup again with a concussion but his offensive impact was never felt while he was in. The rest of the Rangers, including new arrival Wojtek Wolski, haven’t filled the net with goals and with that Henrik Lundqvist’s ability to win games has been tested. Lundqvist has to be flawless virtually every night for New York to win games.

The Rangers have fallen as far down as eighth in the Eastern Conference but are currently seventh. They’re just one point ahead of Carolina in eighth two points ahead of 9th place Buffalo. With Toronto and New Jersey streaking in behind them, things could get dicey.

Finding it hard to believe? You shouldn’t.

Since beating Vancouver on January 13th, the Rangers have gone 8-13-1 since then. In those 22 games the Rangers have been as offensively dismal as you’d think. In their eight wins, they’re averaging 3.875 goals per game. In the NHL scoring nearly four per game with Henrik Lundqvist in goal should win you plenty of games. In those 14 losses, however, the offense puts out an average of 1.642 goals per game. Scoring either one or two goals a game is extremely poor and even the greatest goalie in the world would have a hard time making that stand up night in and night out.

Seems like these are obvious observations to make, more goals mean more wins and the like, but the inability of the Rangers to generate offense during this run of games lately is startling. Only seven times over that 22 game span did the Rangers score more than two goals. They had two games that were runaway blowouts, a 7-0 thrashing of Toronto in January and their 6-0 romp over Washington just last week. Everything else has been a nail-biter and coming back from deficits is a major problem for the Rangers.

With the supply of offensive talent the team has in Brandon Dubinsky (in the midst of a career scoring year), rookie Derek Stepan who’s had a lot asked of him in his first season, Ryan Callahan, and Wolski there shouldn’t be these problems. The Rangers have been getting the defensive responsibility that John Tortorella demands of all his players, but the lack of fire on the offensive side is troubling.

Gaborik may be back soon for New York as he’s been skating without concussion symptoms for a few days now. If he can jump back in the lineup and get his touch back scoring that’s been absent for most of the season then it’s the thing the Rangers have been dying to get from him all year.

If he continues to be out and they don’t get improved performances from Vinny Prospal and Wolski this Rangers team will continue to struggle and that playoff spot they thought was automatic just a month ago might turn into a battle that goes down to the last day. Considering how things went down last season, the Rangers would be happy to not let it get to that again. If the wins don’t come more consistently, they may not have a choice in the matter.

Don’t panic? McDavid can’t save Oilers once again

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Things are about as ugly for the Edmonton Oilers right now as this stomp by Dallas Stars pest Antoine Roussel.

Maybe, as Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli insists, the Oilers really aren’t in panic mode right now. But are we certain that they aren’t experiencing something just as bad, like, say, paralysis?

Saturday presented another disconcerting loss in the form of a 6-3 defeat to the Dallas Stars, dropping the Oilers to 7-11-2. Performances like these can’t do much for Cam Talbot‘s confidence, as he allowed six goals on just 21 shots.

Connor McDavid finished the game with a -2 rating, yet the beleaguered, poorly supported captain of the Oilers doesn’t deserve the blame. Not when he’s giving his team a chance to win by being involved in all three of their goals (one goal, two assists).

There’s the creeping feeling that the Oilers are finding ways to lose, as they tend to grab the shots advantage, yet they drop games with many and few games alike. You can’t even really pin everything on the likes of Milan Lucic, who grabbed an assist and at least seemed to show a pulse. Even if his efforts increasingly seem futile.

It’s never a good sign when people give McDavid & Co. the Simon & Garfunkel treatment, yet what else can you do when you’ve lost four of five games and seem to be digging the hole deeper and deeper?

And, to little surprise, there’s at least some grumbling about the play of number 97, too. That’s the nature of the beast when it comes to losing, especially when you’ve done as much of it as the contemporary Oilers have.

“General disappointment, that’s your headline” is what Chiarelli recently said of his team’s play, according to TSN’s Frank Seravalli.

On Saturday, it felt a bit more like “general disillusionment,” even if the Oilers haven’t suffered a total defeat. With four games remaining on this current road trip and only three home tilts in their next 11 games, something needs to give.

The Oilers are running out of both time and patience.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

2019 Winter Classic: Bruins – Blackhawks at Notre Dame Stadium

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It’s official: the Boston Bruins will take on the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2019 Winter Classic.

That edition of the event, which will air on NBC on Jan. 1, 2019, gets a really fun hook: it will take place at Notre Dame Stadium, home of the Fighting Irish. Maybe both teams will wear special gold helmets as an ode to their hosts?

“The Blackhawks and Bruins, two of our most historic franchises, will be meeting outdoors for the first time at the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “Notre Dame Stadium, with its capacity approaching 80,000, will provide an ideal setting for this ground-breaking event and will host the largest live audience ever to witness a game by either of these teams.”

This marks the fourth Winter Classic for the Blackhawks and the third for the Bruins. It’s also Chicago’s sixth outdoor game overall.

Both teams pumped out some fun videos to celebrate the announcement.

In the case of the Blackhawks, they remind us that their players have had a chance to soak in the Notre Dame Stadium atmosphere before.

Maybe this will paint the picture a bit more?

Here’s a bit more information regarding the history of the Winter Classic, via the league’s press release:

The 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic® continues the tradition the League established in 2008 of hosting a regular-season outdoor game at the onset of the new year. This game will be the eleventh NHL Winter Classic, the first time that the Blackhawks have faced off against the Bruins in an outdoor game, and the fourth Original Six matchup (2009, 2014, 2016). Bridgestone, the Official Tire of the NHL® and NHLPA, returns as title sponsor for the tenth consecutive year. Over the past decade, the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic® has become a tentpole hockey event on the North American sporting calendar, and Bridgestone will be maintaining their partnership with the League through 2021.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Hischier asked to be benched after penalty-filled stretch

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WINNIPEG — Nico Hischier might only be 18 years old, but he’s already revealing a maturity that’s well beyond his years.

New Jersey Devils general manager Ray Shero told The Star-Ledger this past week that the forward asked head coach John Hynes to “just (bleeping) bench me,” after the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft took a penalty 45 seconds into a 3-2 overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Nov. 9.


Two nights earlier, in a 3-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues, Hischier took a penalty 36 seconds into the first period.

The Devils were shorthanded 44 times and were in the lower third of the league in terms of penalty kill percentage (79.6) in the month of October.

Something had to change.

“We had talked to the team about controlling (penalties) and if it didn’t get better, guys were going to sit for a certain amount of time,” Hynes said on Saturday. “We held strong to that and made it clear that it didn’t matter who it was.

“(Hischier) took a penalty the game before. We addressed in between games. He took the first penalty in the next (game) and he came back down and I said, ‘You’re going to have to sit for a bit,’ and he said, ‘I should. It’s my fault.’”

Hischier sat for just over seven minutes but still managed 21:18 of ice-time in the game. He hasn’t taken a penalty in three games since his brief foray riding the pine.

Hynes praised his rookie’s resolve as a team player that hasn’t put his ego before the team.

“He’s not one of these younger players that comes in and thinks, just because of where he was drafted or what his status is or because he’s a good player that he gets preferential treatment,” Hyne said. “That’s why he’s such a special guy for us to have on our team and in our organization. He’s an elite player that really understands what it means to be part of the team. Winning and the team comes before him and his ego.”


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Edmonton Oilers GM not panicking over team’s slow start

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As most teams hit the 20-game mark you have to do some extra scrolling to find the Edmonton Oilers while looking at the overall NHL standings.

A Stanley Cup favorite after a nice run last spring, the Oilers have only 16 points in 19 games. Only the Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes currently have fewer points. A number of things have gone against Edmonton so far. There’s that negative-11 goal differential and the 73.4 percent penalty kill. There’s also the lack of secondary scoring, or scoring in general with their average down to 2.47 goals per game. Meanwhile, Jordan Eberle is enjoying his time in Brooklyn.

Speaking from the general manager’s meetings in Montreal on Friday, Peter Chiarelli described his thoughts on the slow start as “general disappointment.”

Via Michael Traikos of the National Post:

“For me, it goes back to where our mindset was in terms of managing expectations,” Chiarelli said. “We fell behind the eight ball at the start for a number of reasons. Execution was one of them, and now you’re in that recovery mode and you lose runway. So that’s where we are right now.

“I’m not putting blame for our record on (the pressure of meeting expectations), but I think it’s something that we needed to address and we did. And maybe we didn’t do a good enough job of it.”

There are a few things in Edmonton’s favor as they attempt to dig themselves out of this whole. First, they have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Second, their possession numbers are good as shown by a league-best 55 percent Fenwick, via Corsica. Then there’s their 98.12 PDO, which tells you they’ve been a bit unlucky at times. And despite their slide, the Oilers are only four points out of both a Western Conference wild card spot and third place in the Pacific Division.

Chiarelli already made one move to try and help their scoring woes by acquiring Mike Cammalleri, who’s enjoyed a nice start to the season. If things don’t improve, you can bet more trade attempts will be made by the GM because if you take a look at their salary cap picture over at CapFriendly, it won’t get any easier to build a contender.

This is the cheapest the Oilers will ever have McDavid, who will see his cap hit go from $925,000 to $12.5 million for 2018-19. Then you have the numbers of restricted and unrestricted free agents after this season. If initial reports of NHL revenues hold, we could see the salary cap ceiling rise a decent amount in the off-season, which could be beneficial.

Of course, other GMs aren’t going to bail Chiarelli out without helping themselves first, so the Oilers can’t rely solely on trades in order for their season to turnaround.

“All of the teams in the league need more help,” Chiarelli said. “But at this point, these guys have to figure it out also.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.