Jason Brough

AP

Suddenly, some holes are showing in the Rangers’ game

8 Comments

The New York Rangers fell woefully short last night at MSG, losing 6-1 to the visitors from Pittsburgh while getting outshot 38-17.

It was by far the worst performance of the Rangers’ mostly excellent season, and it left head coach Alain Vigneault perplexed.

“I can’t explain to you at this time exactly what happened,” Vigneault told reporters. “Obviously I’m disappointed. The players are disappointed in our game. I know our fans are disappointed.”

Now, granted, every team has a few stinkers over an 82-game season. The Rangers are still a very respectable 14-6-1, with a plus-29 goal differential. Only Montreal (14-4-2) has more points in the overall standings, and nobody has a better goal differential.

The question with these Rangers is a matter of sustainability — just like it was last season, when they started 16-3-2, only to play .500 hockey the rest of the way before getting tossed aside by the Penguins in the playoffs.

This year’s Rangers, unlike last year’s, have not been riding the goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist. In fact, Lundqvist (9-6-1, .911) has been outplayed by his backup, Antti Raanta (5-0-0, .934). Those two combined, the Blueshirts have been getting around league-average goaltending.

What hasn’t been average is the Rangers’ shooting percentage, currently at an NHL-high 13.5. The next highest percentage belongs to Columbus, at 11.2, then Montreal, at 10.8. Last season, only one team finished with a shooting percentage over 10, and that was Dallas (10.1). The Rangers finished second, at 9.95.

You look at the Rangers’ top scorers and almost all of them have been shooting the lights out:

rangers

History suggests that it’s not if the Rangers shooting percentage regresses, it’s by how much, and whether they can make up for it in other areas, like goaltending or increased puck possession.

Speaking of puck possession, in the Rangers’ last 10 games, their score-adjusted Corsi ranks 29th out of 30 teams, with only the Islanders below them. On the season, they rank 22nd, just below Buffalo and just above Vancouver. Which isn’t the greatest company to be keeping.

We do not mean to pour cold water on what’s been a very encouraging start to the Rangers’ season. GM Jeff Gorton still deserves much praise for adding the likes of Jimmy Vesey, Michael Grabner, and Brandon Pirri in free agency. And let’s not forget that Mika Zibanejad just got hurt, and that may help explain last night’s stinker.

Read more: The new-look Rangers are dangerous on every line

This is simply something we’ll be monitoring, whether the Rangers maintain their winning ways or they don’t. That’s the problem with getting off to such a great start. Everyone starts poking holes, wondering how long it can last.

The Rangers take on the Flyers in Philadelphia tomorrow afternoon. The game can be seen on NBC, starting at 1 p.m. ET.

Rinne holds the fort as Preds beat Stars

AP

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Pekka Rinne doesn’t want November to end.

Filip Forsberg, James Neal and Ryan Johansen each had a goal and an assist to lead the Nashville Predators over the Dallas Stars 5-2 on Wednesday night.

Rinne made 33 saves for Nashville, improving to 7-1-2 this November. After he made eight saves in the first, Dallas put 22 on the Finn in the second, and he denied them all. He stopped 3 of 5 in the third.

“They came hard that period, they shot the puck a lot,” Rinne said of the second. “For the most part, I was able to see it. I felt good all night, and that was a busy period. Obviously now looking back, that was a big period just being able to defend that.”

Mike Fisher and Craig Smith also scored for Nashville, winners of three of four.

Patrick Sharp and Brett Ritchie scored and Kari Lehtonen made 16 saves for the Stars, who have lost two of three.

“There was a lot of good stuff in the game,” Dallas coach Lindy Ruff said. “Our energy was good. I thought the second period on, our breakouts coming out of our own end were good.”

Forsberg scored the game’s first goal with 5:08 left in the opening period. With the puck above the right faceoff circle, P.K. Subban sent a pass to Forsberg in the lower part of the left circle. There, Forsberg squeezed the puck in between Lehtonen’s right skate and the right post.

“It was a really nice play by Subby to find me back door and I just tried to hit the net,” Forsberg said.

It was Forsberg’s second goal of the season. In 2015-16, Forsberg matched a franchise record with 33 goals.

Subban has points in four consecutive games.

Fisher doubled the lead with 3:54 left in the second. His initial attempt from the left side was blocked by Jason Spezza, but Fisher regained control of the puck, skated behind the net and beat Lehtonen with a backhanded wraparound.

A lengthy video review determined the puck had completely crossed the goal line, giving the Nashville captain his fourth goal of the season.

Sharp got Dallas on the scoreboard at 5:32 of the third with a short-handed goal. It was the first of the season for Sharp, who missed 14 games with concussion-like symptoms before returning Nov. 17.

“Yeah, disappointing third period,” Sharp said. “We kind of put ourselves in a good spot there on the road trailing by one against a tough team. It’s not a bad spot to be in, but a couple of mistakes ended up being the difference in the game.”

Johansen answered 41 seconds later with a power-play goal. Neal sent a pass from the left circle in front to Johansen, who had a tap-in for his second of the season.

“That was a really big goal,” Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. “At that point, they had fired a lot of shots, a lot of attempts. We were on the power play and there’s a chance to really blow it open, and we give one back the other way. I don’t think there was much time left in the power play, maybe 25 seconds or so and to go out there, get it in and get it to the net, and score a goal and take back the two goals at that point I think was really important.”

The assist was the 200th of Neal’s career.

Smith scored with 8:51 left off Forsberg’s pass.

Ritchie scored his sixth of the season with 1:16 left, but Neal answered a minute later with an empty-net goal.

Pre-game reading: Sharks GM believes Burns is ‘just coming into his prime’

This is a new feature on PHT. It’s like the Morning Skate, only not in the morning. 

— Up top, J.R. loves him some Brent Burns.

— Sharks GM Doug Wilson on the 31-year-old Burns: “I honestly do feel he’s just coming into his prime.” Wilson better hope so, because Burns is now signed until he’s 40. Speaking of 40, there are only 40 NHL defensemen who are older than Burns. The oldest is 39-year-old Zdeno Chara, who’s slowed down a touch but remains a huge part of the Bruins. At any rate, the Sharks had little choice but to bow to Burns’ demands. They want to win a Stanley Cup, and their chances would take a serious hit without him. (CSN Bay Area)

— If you thought the players cashed in on the World Cup, think again. “Each of the 184 players who was on a World Cup roster projected to be paid between $75,000 and $80,000 (U.S.), while players who spent all 186 days on an NHL roster last season will be paid about $10,000 each.” While that’s a decent chunk of change for the Average Joe, it’s not for the best hockey players in the world. Burns, for example, is set to make almost $100,000 per game on his new deal. (Hockey News)

— A list of seven rookies making unexpected contributions, featuring Flyers forward Travis Konecny, who has four goals and eight assists in 20 games. The key word is “unexpected,” so don’t expect to read about Patrik Laine or any of the Maple Leafs young forwards, the latter of whom have been written about enough. (Canadian Press)

— Mark Recchi will have to sell his “very, very, very, small” share in the Vegas Golden Knights. That’s because Recchi is the Pittsburgh Penguins’ player development coach, and owning a share of another NHL franchise would be a conflict of interest. According to ESPN’s business reporter, Darren Rovell, other minority owners of the expansion team include Rob Gronkowski, Jose Bautista, Prince Amukamara, Carol Alt, and Alexei Yashin. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

— The Golden Knights are hoping to be more successful than the Golden Seals. That shouldn’t be hard, given the Golden Seals were a total disaster. The Seals eventually moved to Cleveland, where things didn’t go much better. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

— Former NHL defenseman Ian White is on probation after pleading guilty to three firearms charges. The 32-year-old has also battled opiate addiction, though he maintains he’s been clean for six months. White last played in the NHL for the Detroit Red Wings. It was not a good fit under Mike Babcock. (Winnipeg Sun)

Tweet of the Day

Enjoy the games!

Eichel practices with Sabres, glad to ‘get back in the swing of things’

Getty
5 Comments

Jack Eichel was back practicing with his Buffalo Sabres teammates today. It’s still not certain when he’ll be able to play a game, but it’s progress all the same.

“It’s nice to get out there with a bunch of other people instead of myself,” said Eichel, per the Buffalo News. “That’s what you miss the most when you’re hurt. You miss playing but you miss your time with the guys, being in the locker room at the same time as them, just being around them. It’s tough to not be on the same schedule as them. It’s nice to get back in the swing of things.”

Eichel has been skating by himself for around a week. The 20-year-old center suffered a high-ankle sprain during practice on Oct. 12, the day before the Sabres’ season-opener. He was expected to miss 6-8 weeks, putting his earliest return date right around now.

The Sabres have missed their leading goal-scorer from last season, going 7-8-4 in their first 19 games. Buffalo will enter tonight’s home game against Detroit with the NHL’s worst offense, averaging just 1.89 goals per game.

Five goalies off to surprisingly tough starts

Getty
4 Comments

We all know that Carey Price, Tuukka Rask, and Devan Dubnyk have been near unbeatable to start the season, but here are five netminders off to surprisingly* tough starts:

John Gibson — The Ducks, as a team, have failed to impress under new coach Randy Carlyle. At the same time, Gibson (6-6-3, .908) has been outplayed by his backup, Jonathan Bernier (3-1-1, .935). Gibson is still young, just 23 years old, but the Ducks saw enough from him last season to trade Frederik Andersen to Toronto. So far, Gibson just hasn’t found his groove. Twice this month he’s been pulled and replaced by Bernier. That will need to change if the Ducks are going to compete for a Stanley Cup. The plan was for Gibson to be their man.

Steve Mason — For the record, he was great last night, stopping 38 of 39 shots in a 3-1 victory over Florida. But the Flyers have to hope that’s a sign of things to come, because this season’s Mason (5-6-3, .895) has been far inferior to last season’s Mason (23-19-10, .918). With Michal Neuvirth out injured (after struggling even worse than Mason), the Flyers have recalled Anthony Stolarz from the AHL. No word yet who will start tonight in Tampa Bay, but expect to see Stolarz at some point soon, unless Mason keeps last night’s momentum going in a big way.

Petr Mrazek — Last year, he was arguably the Red Wings’ MVP, going 27-16-6 with a .921 save percentage. This season, he’s sunk to 4-5-1 with a .901 save rate, while veteran Jimmy Howard has outright stolen a few games for the Wings. Howard’s record may be a modest 4-5-0, but his save percentage is .940 and Detroit has been shut out in three of his losses. Mrazek, meanwhile, has had much better run support. In four of his losses, including one in overtime, the Wings have scored at least three goals.

Read more: Ken Holland makes argument to keep Howard

Brian Elliott — He was supposed to solve the Flames’ major weakness. But so far, he’s only exacerbated it. Elliott is a disastrous 3-9-0 with an .882 save percentage. A pending unrestricted free agent, this is not the way he wanted to start his time in Calgary. Lucky for the Flames that GM Brad Treliving signed a proven backup in Chad Johnson (5-3-1, .911), otherwise things could be even worse for Glen Gulutzan and company.

Jacob Markstrom/Ryan Miller — We’ll count these two as one, since they both play for Vancouver and they both have sub-.900 save percentages. The Canucks went into the season thinking that goaltending would be a strength of theirs. While that was the case early on, both Markstrom (5-3-2, .897) and Miller (2-7-0, .899) have struggled of late. While it’s certainly possible that the Canucks’ scoring issues caused the forwards and defensemen to cheat and get away from their structure, there have still been stoppable shots that have gotten past Markstrom and Miller. The Canucks aren’t good enough to win without solid goaltending. If they’re going to compete for a playoff spot, at least one of their netminders will have to get hot.

Related: What does the future hold for Ryan Miller?

Marc-Andre Fleury — Fleury allowed four goals in Monday’s 5-2 loss to the Rangers, dropping his record to 6-4-3 and save percentage to .907. Meanwhile, Matt Murray has been excellent, going 5-1-0 with a .945 save rate. We all know the deal here. The expansion draft is looming and the Penguins may need to trade Fleury in order to protect Murray. Fleury, 31, is signed through 2018-19 for a cap hit of $5.75 million, so it would sure be advantageous to the Penguins if his numbers improved, especially if they try to trade him before the March 1 deadline.

Honorable mentions: Ben BishopFrederik AndersenSemyon Varlamov

*The Dallas Stars goalies do not qualify