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Rangers Vs. Blackhawks: Blueshirts Deserved Better

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NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at New York Rangers Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
  • One obligatory podcast note: The show will be at 9 p.m. tonight rather than 8. I have a work thing I have to go to because we don’t have enough money in the Patreon for me to buy that island yet. If you can’t catch it live you can always archive on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, Blog Talk Radio directly or below every story on Blueshirt Banter. Thanks for the support, go leave a nice comment and rating on iTunes/Stitcher and donate if you can!
  • This could have been the season’s third installment of “trust the process not the result” notes after a game but I tried to be more creative than that. That was one of the better hockey games I’ve seen in a long time; not from the standpoint of the Rangers’ play so much as the entertainment of the game itself. You don’t see that many wide open three-goal games (although the Rangers 1-0 win in Chicago was even more wide open if you can believe it).
  • That said, the Rangers played a hell of a game. They won the possession game, dominated the scoring chances and the expected goals. Down Ryan McDonagh (which was a late surprise), Rick Nash, Pavel Buchnevich and Mika Zibanejad? That’s a hell of an effort from a hurting team against a very good team. It’s really good to see.
  • The Rangers have really come together with all these injuries. They’ve tightened up in their own zone, have learned how to win games without a flood of offense and have done a better job closer to their own net. That last point is something I got into a little when it comes to the goalie situation I covered yesterday, will be interesting to see if that happens with Henrik Lundqvist in net, too.
  • Speaking of the goalie: Antti Raanta continued his strong play. I have no idea what the end result is going to be with him -- my guess is Lundqvist was always starting the next game, but we’ll see. In that game he was very, very good. You can’t blame either goal on him — both were pretty bad defensive breakdowns — and he saved the Rangers’ bacon a few times to keep the game close. He deserved a lot better here, too.
  • Those two goals actually raised Raanta’s GAA to 1.69 on the year. His .941 SV% is eye-popping, as is his 8-2 record. Small sample size alert (you’d expect those numbers to find the medium over a longer span of time) but his 11 starts have been mostly fantastic.
  • That game felt like something of a coming out party for Brady Skjei. It’s too bad he got hurt (which cut off his ice time) because in the time he did play 5v5 he had a 73% corsi, drove the puck into the zone with possession a handful of times, generated scoring chances and was mostly solid in his own end. His wheels help him make up for a lot of mistakes with positioning that comes as he keeps getting reps. It’s good to see.
  • Jimmy Vesey had four shots in eight minutes of ice time through two periods. How that was all he saw was beyond me, but at least Alain Vigneault smartened up and rode him hard in the third period — where Vesey dominated. He does things with the puck that makes my jaw drop, and he’s at his best when he’s crashing the net (longer story alert on this).
  • Brandon Pirri, Nicklas Jensen and Marek Hrivik all looked good on a smaller sample size. Hrivik played the most of the three, and is really proving himself as a deserving fourth liner on this team. (In an inside look at Blueshirt Banter: I see a headline from Adam about him deserving a nice, long look in the works. Figure that will be ready by August.)
  • The Rangers played so well with the puck that only four players had a below 50% corsi. J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes, Michael Grabner and Dan Girari.
  • Hayes and Miller both had very strong third periods, with Miller coming oh-so-close to tying the game with a (literal) crash to the net that saw Scott Darling make a sprawling save. Moments later, he stopped a Vesey drive to the net. Sometimes the other goalie beats you.
  • Big game from Marc Staal, who I thought was really solid. Vigneault elected to go with the Nick Holden - Girardi top pair which has worked oh so well (hint: no it hasn’t) and Staal and Skjei had to pick up the pieces. Holden actually played pretty well (outside of the game-winning goal) on the first pairing, which is somewhat encouraging since he struggled there massively early on. With Skjei down and Vigneault needing to shorten his bench Holden, Staal and even Kevin Klein at times were doing just enough to keep things together. And when they fell apart Raanta was there to pick them back up.
  • Still, the mistakes hurt the team in the long run. Klein and Grabner had a miscommunication in the netural zone, leading to a two-on-one goal against for Chicago’s first goal. Girardi snow angels, doesn’t stop a cross-crease pass at all, Holden is three feet away from Artem Anisimov and he puts Chicago ahead for good. Little mistakes that kill you. And when the offense isn’t fully healthy it’s hard to overcome those.
  • I thought Oscar Lindberg was struggling horribly to start the year. Some of it was the injury and I’m sure some of it was him not playing every night. This string of injuries has allowed Lindberg to play consistently and he’s starting to find his game. He had an assist on the Jesper Fast goal, and played a pretty solid game top to bottom. Vigneault actually played him a lot, too. If he gets going again (or, rather, keeps this level of play up) it’s going to make the forward decisions even harder.
  • I tweeted a slew of positive things about that game then had to audacity to speak out about Adam Clendening’s usage after the game and, of course, the crabs flew from the sand clicking their claws like some type of weird animalistic cult. Clendening didn’t play a single shift the final seven minutes of the game. He wasn’t out on the ice down a goal and with Raanta sitting on the bench. This is classic Vigneault, sadly. He doesn’t think anything of Clendening (that much is abundantly clear, now) and he adjusts his personnel around who he trusts. Girardi was the defenseman on the point with the empty net. That’s inexcusable, especially with Clendening just sitting these twiddling his thumbs. And even if Vigneault didn’t want to use him (for whatever reason) then run with six forwards. What do you have to lose? I’m not even saying Clendening would have made a difference, but you use the right people in the right situations. Girardi provides no advantage there. None.
  • Thoughts?