The New York Rangers gained four critical points in the standings over the weekend by beating two Pacific Division clubs at opposite ends of the standings to kick off their four game road trip. Don't look now, they've won three in a row. [Blueshirts United]
First, they used 3 goals on their first 4 shots to cruise to a victory against an otherwise resurgent Vancouver Canucks club. Quick hitting odd-man rushes against a defense that was reeling and a goaltender who is clearly out of sorts put that game to bed relatively easily, despite the defensive shell and score effect running up the shot attempts for the Canucks as the game wore on. Mats Zuccarello scored twice, and he needed it. Henrik Lundqvist made the stops he had to, and he needed it. All in all, a solid win. [Blueshirt Banter] [Nucks Misconduct] [Canucks Army] [NY Daily News] [NY Post] [Newsday]
They then traveled to Alberta to take on the hapless Oilers, a team chock full of problems that I described here in-depth before the game. [Blueshirt Banter]
Despite an absolutely boring late game, some of us made it all the way through to see the Rangers shutout the Oilers. The game was never really in doubt even though it was 1-0 right down to the wire. Boy...yaaaaawn. Ugly (boring) win...but a win nonetheless. Edmonton is just 1-10-4 in their last 15 games. [Blueshirt Banter] [Copper and Blue] [Blue Seat Blogs] [NY Daily News] [NY Post] [Newsday] [CBC] [NHL]
All-in-all...the game was a snoooozer.
I wish this game flow was just a flat line. pic.twitter.com/Itnkb8KyKz— Nick Mercadante (@NMercad) December 15, 2014
Take a look at the shot-attempt battle, courtesy of war-on-ice.com, below. The chart is pretty self-explanatory, with shots, misses and blocks denoted. Larger letters indicate better chances (rushes, rebounds).
The Oilers really made nothing happen. They had a few tough ones in tight down low, but their attempts at one-manning it through neutral ice were usually stood up at the Rangers blue line. Most shots on net came from Nowheresville, CA. Most attempts from higher probability scoring areas like the slot were blocked because the shooter was isolated and swarmed into a panic shot attempt. Their offense simply wasn't competitive, even with the Rangers clearly feeling the effects of back-to-back games and, probably, the time zone change.
Marc Staal and Dan Boyle had particularly effective games. Actually, Marc Staal had a very understated and solid weekend. Really. He did great in both games. Here, take a look at the individual player corsi from last night's game. Being on the low right, but at least to the right of the center line in general, is ideal.
5v5 possession, Rangers +4% at Oilers. pic.twitter.com/rKfTMQEaPJ— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) December 15, 2014
AV discusses the win and his decision to start Henrik Lundqvist, to the surprise of some, in a back-to-back:
Hank was certainly happy about his shutout and cited the need to stay patient and focused, even in a slow game. King wants to play, likes to hold court, has beautiful hair always that he should not cover in a hat:
So four points is great. Looking ahead...four more on the road trip are well within reach. The Calgary Flames, most immediately, are starting to show that you can't get outshot every game and expect to win consistently.
A few interesting lineup changes happened over the weekend.
Chris Kreider was dropped to the fourth line on Saturday. The thinking being, he hasn't produced enough and maybe this will simplify his game. [NY Daily News] [NY Post] [Blue Seat Blogs]
Tanner Glass was a healthy scratch guys OMG WE DID IT. But it was short lived because... [Blueshirt Banter] [NY Post]
...Derick Brassard has the mumps. Glass was reinserted into Sunday's lineup and Kreider was bumped back up. J.T. Miller took center duties on the first line and I guess did fine. No word yet on a timetable for Brassard. He is headed back to New York to undergo treatment and get better. Enough with the mumps already. [Blueshirt Banter] [Blueshirts United] [NY Post] [Newsday] [The Hockey News] [NHL]
That dude Sidney Crosby has the mumps too. Many question how Pittsburgh Penguins team doctors didn't know to hold him out, despite it being readily apparent on his ENTIRE FACE HIS FACE WAS ALL SWOLLEN HE LOOKS LIKE HE HAS THE MUMPS. [CBC] [The Hockey News]
Sidney Crosby diagnosed with the mumps http://t.co/dlqX1higkW pic.twitter.com/iHvqsvoSnH— CBC News (@CBCNews) December 14, 2014
Here's the thing about the mumps. Folks on Twitter were ratcheting up all these wild theories on the hows and whys. It's pretty simple, in my mind. The mumps are relatively easy to contract from contact with an infected person. The vaccine is only ~88% effective, and some aren't vaccinated. The virus can lay dormant in individuals for sometimes weeks before symptoms manifest. So is it really that surprising that in a population of athletes that are in physical contact with each other, a few got the mumps? What did Occam's Razor tell you about fewer assumptions, media folks? Use your heads. But 14 players so far is still crazy.
The big question is how do the Rangers replace one of their few consistently outstanding producers and yet another top 6 center? [Blueshirt Banter]
Alain Vigneault describes the experience of the World Juniors as something akin to a Christmas gift for Anthony Duclair. As a primary piece of a stacked team, Duclair is going to have a blast. It should also be a treat for us to watch. [NY Post] [Newsday] [Yahoo - Buzzing the Net]
An NHL ready prospect like Anthony Duclair is a rarity for Canada, who usually wouldn't get such a loan. [NHL]
Derek Stepan isn't winning faceoffs at a good clip since returning from his broken leg (~44%). He never has been great at them in all situations. This shouldn't be a big concern. Larry Brooks actually does a fine job reporting it, and Derek Stepan does a wonderful job answering it. He is winning at near 50% in the offensive and defensive zone, but getting crushed in neutral zone faceoffs. It's not that big a deal. Stepan, refreshingly, had this to say:
I don’t focus on the overall number as much as I do the result of specific, critical draws, and especially in the defensive zone where I’m usually going up against players who are on their strong side ...
There are a couple of things, and again, all this is with the understanding that I have to improve," he said. "First, if I lose one in our own end, we know our assignments as a team in that situation, so as long as I’m not hopelessly beaten so cleanly where I don’t give our guys a chance, we can adjust. ...
I don’t want to give the impression that this didn’t mean anything to me, but when I thought about going to the NHL, I knew there were so many parts of my game that needed to get better, faceoffs weren’t such a high priority," he said. "I work at my game all the time; it’s just that I don’t zone in on faceoffs. ...
I’m taking this game by game and situation by situation ... I’m not oblivious to the issue. I want to get better at it ... But I also don’t believe it should be blown out of proportion.
Atta boy Step. Don't let the haters hate. [NY Post]
Ryan McDonagh is beginning to look a bit more like himself. That's good. As noted over and over and over again, the Rangers need him at the top of his game to compete. [Newsday]
Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller, two youngsters the Rangers maybe weren't expecting much from this season, have really started to thrive. [NY Times]
Brad Richards isn't bitter about how he left New York. He's having a blast playing with Patrick Kane in Chicago, that's for sure. [NY Post] [Newsday]
Tomas Vokoun, a 300 game winner over his career, has decided to officially retire. [The Hockey News] [NHL]
I need to get some ladies in my life a few fun Christmas gifts. Any unique ideas? Happy Monday, y'all.