‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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As Thanksgiving approaches, NHL general managers start “talking turkey.”
While your family is gathered around the table and carving up a delicious bird, GMs around the league are keeping their phones attached to their hip pocket and are ready to excuse themselves from the table should a potential deal emerge.
As the weather gets colder and December creeps closer, phones begin burning up and big trades come to fruition. The Rangers’ lack of a cutting edge is essentially forcing general manager Glen Sather to make a move.
RANGERS LACKING TRUE FINISHERS
The Rangers are doing the right things to generate offense. What they lack is finishers. The Blueshirts rank sixth overall among NHL teams in shots per game at 32 and have surrendered 28.8 shots against per game for 10th-best in the league.
Through 24 games, the Rangers have been a .500 team, as their record stands at 12-12-0. The standings aren’t lying — the Blueshirts have been the definition of mediocrity.
As a team, the Rangers are putting up high shot totals and often have little, or nothing, to show for it on most nights. The Rangers have outshot their opponents in seven of their last eight games. Over that stretch, the Rangers have been a .500 team. They’ve also been a .500 team throughout the season when outshooting opponents (7-7-0).
THE LIGHTNING TOOK ADVANTAGE OF THEIR CHANCES, WHILE THE BLUESHIRTS WERE ‘SHOCKING’
The first period of Monday night’s 5-0 defeat at Tampa Bay Times Forum showed you everything that’s wrong with the Rangers. Having outshot the Lightning, 17-10, in the first period, the Rangers were unable put the puck past 6-foot-7 Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop.
Then it got a whole lot worse in the second period, as the Rangers were handed a 62-second 5-on-3 power play and were unable to cash in.
When it was all said and done, the Rangers’ power play sputtered to an anemic 0-for-6. The Rangers put up 37 shots on goal, but also fired countless shots high and wide.
“We were unable to make them pay, especially in the first period when they made some mistakes and we had quality chances,” Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault told reporters following the loss.
Meanwhile, the Lightning were capitalizing on the Rangers’ poor positioning and frequent turnovers.
Martin St. Louis is a hockey god. At 38, his jet-like speed and sniper’s eye remains in the rarefied bracket of “world class.” Ben Bishop isn’t a god-like netminder. While Bishop is off to a tremendous start at 14-3-1 with a sparkling goals against average of 2.08, he’s certainly solvable. The Rangers should have figured out a way to pierce his armor and put the puck in the back of the net.
Vigneault was fuming at the Rangers’ lack of intensity and absence of any kind of physical game on Monday night.
“It was sort of a Martin St. Louis love-fest out there,” Vigneault told reporters. “Nobody touched a soul, especially not him. At the end of the day, turnovers led to the first three goals, and we were unable to make the other team pay when they made mistakes.”
TIME FOR SATHER TO MAKE SOME CHANGES?
Questions are starting to be asked about the character and skill of a Rangers team that is 1-11-0 this season when their opponent scores first. The Blueshirts are failing to answer the bell when the chips are down.
It’s clear that the Rangers need added scoring punch. Having one elite scorer in Rick Nash isn’t enough. If the Rangers are to fulfill their ambitions and live up to the tag of contenders for Lord Stanley, Sather must address his team’s overreliance on Nash’s game-changing abilities and Callahan’s limitless spirit.
The Rangers have a surplus of defensemen. Giving up five goals on Monday night was a rare blemish. For the most part, their blue line has proven to be a sturdy defensive unit.
Michael Del Zotto is a movable piece and not a major reason why the Rangers are successful at limiting opponent’s chances. He’s had his audition of three consecutive games, and there is a market of admiring GMs who believe they can fix Del Zotto and rekindle his natural puck-moving abilities.
Of course, it will take more than Del Zotto for Sather to pry a steady scorer away from a rival GM. It will take something creative and gutsy from Sather to shape the Rangers into a fearsome team.
History has told us that Sather isn’t afraid to make a major move to shake up the Rangers. Don’t be surprised if that move comes sooner rather than later.
J.T. MILLER SENT TO HARTFORD
On Tuesday afternoon, the Rangers sent 20-year-old forward J.T. Miller to the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL.
Miller was a healthy scratch in each of the Rangers’ past four games. He has scored one goal and tallied a single assist in 15 games with the Rangers in 2013-14.
It would have made little sense for Miller to remain with the Rangers while he’s on the periphery of cracking their lineup.
At this stage of his promising career, Miller requires significant minutes to aid his development. He’ll get those minutes with the Wolf Pack.
For Miller to have stayed with the Rangers, Vigneault would have needed to offer Miller consistent NHL minutes and accept the bumps that come along the way in his development. That wasn’t going to be the case, as Miller hasn’t been given a look on the Rangers’ road swing.
Miller’s future remains extremely bright. After all, he’s still 20. He is still projected to develop into a complete NHL forward once he adds bulk and physicality to his determined style of play.
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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