Derek Stepan

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Rangers in danger of slipping out of playoff race

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At this rate, the New York Rangers might not even need to debate their possible fate as trade deadline sellers.

Tuesday presented the latest dispiriting loss for the Rangers as they fell 6-3 to the Anaheim Ducks despite generating a 44-31 shots on goal advantage. NHL.com’s Lisa Dillman collected some morose quotes from Henrik Lundqvist – who certainly had a tough night – but Mats Zuccarello most succinctly captured the mood and discomfort.

“It’s hard to be positive in times like this but nothing is going to help by thinking negative,” Zuccarello said. “I think we’ve got to take a lot from this game. A lot of guys stepped up, a lot of guys played good. But we gave up too many easy goals and you’re not going to win hockey games like that.”

Lundqvist didn’t make it through the first period (16:21) before making way for Ondrej Pavelec, but that wasn’t the only telltale sign of struggles for the Rangers.

Alain Vigneault said he “saw enough” after J.T. Miller made a turnover, gluing the young forward to the bench. One can understand sending messages, yet Miller’s been a key scorer for a team that needs any boost it can get.

This was the play in question: Ryan Getzlaf picked off Miller’s pass, leading to Adam Henrique‘s breakaway goal.

No one likes mistakes, but such decisions revved up the latest round of “Fire AV” talks from Rangers fans, who frequently cringe at lineup choices involving younger players such as Pavel Buchnevich.

Trouble ahead

So far, the Rangers have lost the first three games of their road trip (combined score: 13-6) and close the stretch off with a Thursday date against the Sharks in San Jose before getting what might be a much-needed All-Star break.

While this current road trip is nearing an end, the Rangers are going to pay for their home-heavy start to 2017-18 with what could be a blistering month-plus of challenges beginning in February. From Thursday’s game in San Jose to a March 10 contest in Florida against the Panthers, the Rangers play seven games at home versus 13 on the road.

They already trail the Capitals, Devils, Flyers, Penguins, and Blue Jackets at the moment, with very little separation from the Islanders in the Metro races. Such a stretch could really douse any momentum the Rangers have toward making a playoff spot, a possible reality that management seems aware of, as rumors swirl that they’re considering being trade deadline sellers.

And really, a big fall might just convince the Rangers to “pull off the Band-Aid” and retool.

Selling points

You could argue they already dipped their toes in the water by trading away Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta for futures.

Yes, such moves opened up room to sign Kevin Shattenkirk, but the Rangers generally got younger, and there are opportunities to do more of that. Consider some of the trade chips the Rangers boast:

After dealing with some truly puzzling puck luck for much of 2017-18, the goals are really starting to come for Nash. He scored two goals against the Ducks, representing his third multi-goal output in his last five games (six goals, one assist).

Nash has his critics, but he could be a scary weapon if asked to be more of a secondary scoring option after years of being asked to carry much of the offensive burden for the Rangers and previously the Blue Jackets.

  • Would the Rangers part ways with a young, pending RFA like Miller or Kevin Hayes?
  • Also, there are some guys with expiring deals in 2018-19 who would maybe stand as too bold to move, but could fetch quite the price. Zuccarello and Ryan McDonagh are justifiably beloved by much of the fanbase, yet their affordable contracts could make them highly desirable. McDonagh is 28 and Zucc is already 30, so if it’s rebuild time, those guys might be beyond their primes by the time a rebound is complete.

***

Moving Grabner and Nash makes the most sense, but the Rangers have to do some serious soul-searching.

At least they’ve seen this coming, and the next few weeks could very well provide that final push to sell mode.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Domingue almost quit hockey; Should Wings trade Howard?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Eric Lindros talks jersey retirement and about the buzz in Philadelphia now that the Eagles are in the NFC title game. (Philly.com)

• It will be awfully hard for the Blackhawks to make the playoffs if Corey Crawford misses the rest of the year. (Chicago Tribune)

• Willie O’Ree became the first black hockey player to play in the NHL 60 years ago this week. Not many people have had a greater impact on the game. (NHL.com)

• There’s a few reasons why Sean Couturier is having a great season for the Flyers. (Broad Street Hockey)

• The Detroit Red Wings should be sellers at the deadline and one of the guys they should look to trade is goalie Jimmy Howard. (Detroit News)

• It sure looks like hockey has become fun again for Nathan MacKinnon. (Denver Post)

• Many expected the Rangers would shift to a younger lineup after parting ways with Dan Girardi and Derek Stepan, but that hasn’t been the case. (New York Post)

• Washington Wizards forward Mike Scott isn’t a hockey fan, but he has a pretty large collection of NHL jerseys. (Washington Post)

• Lightning goalie Louis Domingue admitted that he almost quit hockey when he was struggling with the Coyotes earlier this season. (Raw Charge)

• The U.S. Women’s National Team won a pair of exhibition games against the best players from the NWHL. (Victory Press)

• The ECHL has already announced their new 2019 All-Star format, and it’s a little odd. (Scottywazz.com)

• A Canadian team hasn’t won the Stanley Cup since 1993. If hockey fans want that streak to come to an end this year, they’ll probably have to root for the Winnipeg Jets. (Spector’s Hockey)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Can Rangers break out of funk after bye week?

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A couple months of competitive play cooled the once-hot seat of New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault considerably, but there was plenty of grumbling going into the team’s bye week (which began after Sunday’s loss to Vegas).

If there’s one thing Rangers fans and media could see eye-to-eye on, it was that the team’s been struggling lately, particularly when it comes to scoring. Blueshirt Banter captured some of this frustration while calling for GM Jeff Gorton to “stop the madness.”

The Rangers haven’t won a game in regulation since 12/19 when they beat the Ducks 4-1. In that span they’ve needed overtime or the shootout to beat the objectively bad Sabres and Coyotes, lost to the mediocre Red Wings, got totally dominated by Chicago in an embarrassing loss, and got dominated again by Vegas on Sunday. The only reason the (scores) have been as close as they have been is because of the Henrik Lundqvist and Ondrej Pavelec duo standing on their heads.

Indeed, it’s true that Lundqvist has played his typically vital role in the Rangers turning things around, even at his advanced age.

To some degree, there’s a “Groundhog Day” element to all of this: Lundqvist standing on his head to mixed-yet-arguably-inoffensive results, goals being tough to come by, and people calling for Vigneault’s ouster thanks to some head-scratching lineup decisions.

Heading into the break, fans were especially frustrated with the continued yo-yo-ing of Pavel Buchnevich.

The disdain bubbled up enough that the New York Post’s Brett Cyrgalis called for Rangers fans not to “lose their composure” over the scratch.

Plenty of hand-wringing takes place regarding lineup choices, but it all brings up an uncomfortable question: are the Rangers truly equipped to handle this problem? Is this something that’s a matter of will, or is there simply not enough skill on this roster?

Just today, the Rangers announced that Chris Kreider underwent “rib resection surgery” on Sunday and will be evaluated again in six weeks. (Click here for a brain-full on what that procedure entails, if you enjoy going deep on medical jargon.)

There are plenty of Rangers fans who will always want more from Kreider, fairly or not, but he’s been a steady 20-goal scorer as is. With Derek Stepan in Arizona, Mats Zuccarello dealing with some injuries, and Rick Nash experiencing the sort of lousy puck luck he usually only suffers from during the postseason, it’s less and less surprising that the Rangers’ options boil down to “hoping Lundqvist will save the day.”

All of that makes scratching Buchnevich feel more egregious, although perhaps that snub and some rest might light a fire under the young scorer (and the rest of the Rangers’ offense)?

Such a thought might be excessively optimistic, although give the Vigneault-era Rangers this much: they seem to do their best work once people give up on them.

Considering how road-heavy the rest of their schedule looks, they shouldn’t struggle to find odds that they must defy.

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.

Fantasy adds & drops: Dustin Brown is slowing down

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Every week, PHT will provide its readers with some fantasy hockey advice. This weekly column will aim to help you navigate through your league’s waiver wire by recommending players that are owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues.

We’ll also look at players owned in most leagues that can safely be dropped.

Adds:

• Here’s your weekly reminder that Mathew Barzal (41 percent) and Mikko Rantanen (42 percent) need to be added off the waiver wire. After last week’s article, Brock Boeser‘s fantasy ownership jumped to 68 percent. It’s now time for these two players to be picked up.

• Blues forward Alex Steen (46 percent) has missed time due to injury, but he’s been relatively productive of late. He has six points in his last six games, and he’s eligible to play all three forward positions in Yahoo! leagues. Steen is a solid add in deeper leagues.

• It’s not often that you’ll find an Arizona Coyote on this list, but here we are. Even though he hasn’t scored in five games, Derek Stepan (28 percent) is riding a six-game point streak. He’s a decent short-term add in most leagues. Don’t expect him to produce at a high clip all season though.

[More Fantasy: Check out RotoWorld’s PP Report]

• With Marc-Andre Fleury still sidelined by a concussion, the Golden Knights will clearly be rolling with Malcolm Subban (34 percent) now that he’s healthy. Solid fantasy goaltenders aren’t easy to come by, and if Vegas keeps winning that’s exactly what Subban will be.

• Don’t look now, but Artemi Anisimov (28 percent) is on pace to score close to 40 goals this season (I’m not suggesting that’s going to happen though). Still, the fact that he’s playing with Patrick Kane should help boost his fantasy value.

• After missing most of last season because of a hip issue, Tyler Myers (19 percent) has bounced back nicely for the Winnipeg. He had just one point in his first nine games, but he’s now on pace to score over 10 goals and 40 points.

[Fantasy Podcast: RotoWorld hands out quarter mark awards]

Drops:

• Kings forward Dustin Brown was one of the pleasant surprises early on. It would’ve been nice to see him continue producing as much as he did early on, but it just wasn’t realistic. It might still be a little too early to drop him, but just start thinking about it. He has one goal in his last seven games and two points in his last six.

• Scoring defensemen are hard to come by, but you can definitely find someone more productive than Brent Seabrook (65 percent), who has two assists in his last 13 games. It’s time to drop Seabrook for Myers.

• Another weekly reminder: If you’re still carrying Patrick Maroon and Milan Lucic in non-penalty leagues, you’re doing it all wrong (yes, I know Lucic has four points in five games).

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Arizona Coyotes’ season is only getting worse

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WINNIPEG — The Arizona Coyotes’ start to the 2017-18 season — a complete tire fire by all accounts — managed to burn a little brighter on Tuesday.

After dropping a 4-1 decision to the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday, the Coyotes, now 2-15-3, became the first team in National Hockey League history to play their first 20 games and not register a regulation win.

It’s not the first time the Coyotes have flirted with the unfortunate side of the history books through the first quarter of the season.

Arizona’s first win came just in time to partially save their own blushes after ending an 11-game slide to start the year (partially, because they still tied a league record set back during the 1943-43 season for most games without a win to start a season) and prevented them from becoming the sole owners of a piece of history coveted by no one.

“I’ve been saying it all year: You can’t complain, you can’t moan,” Coyotes forward Brandon Perlini said on Tuesday after the loss. “Like, just go play, work hard. There’s no other special secret or special juice. You just have to work your way out of it everyone shift after shift … and eventually I believe it will turn.”

Perlini’s frustration, despite trying to remain positive, was evident, and while the results for the Coyotes are borderline shocking, to say the least, they might not be all that surprising.

The Coyotes have been bleeding for a while now, missing the playoffs in their past five seasons since their remarkable run to the Western Conference finals in 2012.

They lost veteran captain Shane Doan to retirement over the offseason and traded away Mike Smith, who had backstopped the ‘Yotes for six seasons as they entered full-fledged rebuild mode.

They gained Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta via trade with the New York Rangers and have watched Clayton Keller blossom into the league’s best rookie early this season, although he’s been held off the scoresheet in four straight games.

Adding three-time Stanley Cup-winning defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson didn’t hurt either, but he hasn’t played since Halloween due to an upper-body injury.

Arizona is in the middle of the pack in terms of goals for but last in goals against. They’re second last in expected goals for and have the second-worst team save percentage.

None of that equates to wins and the Coyotes aren’t even getting lucky from time to time.

“It’s been a rough start,” said Raanta, who got the yank in Tuesday’s game. “When you have a young team and lots of new things going on, you need that confidence that comes from those wins. We haven’t gotten that early on in the season. But we’re still working hard. It’s the only way we can get over it.”

Raanta, who was arguably considered the best goalie without a starting role in the NHL over the past couple of seasons, said he’s had to battle his own demons this year amid all the losing.

“It’s tough when you’re a goalie and you lose a couple games in a row, you start looking at yourself and wondering what is going on,” said Raanta, who missed nine games with a lower-body ailment earlier this year. “For me, I just have to give us a chance to win. If I can look in the mirror after the game and say that I did whatever I could, of course, you can’t be satisfied, but you can find a positive.”

The land where the Coyotes are a contending team in the Western Conference seems like its far, far away at this point.

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.