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Rangers Vs. Lightning: J.T. Miller Drops Them Jaws

NHL: New York Rangers at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
  • I find it hard to believe the New York Rangers we saw last night are the same team that nearly lost to the Vegas Golden Knights. We’ve seen a history of these Jekyll and Hyde acts the past few years with the Rangers and, well, it looks a lot like this week has looked. What to expect this weekend against Florida? We don’t know! It’s a fun game! (It’s not fun.)
  • That was easily the most complete game the Rangers have played this year, and against a pretty good team to boot. Yeah, they leaned on Henrik Lundqvist a lot, and the game might have looked different without his brilliance, but overall the players who needed to be good were good. The offense created a ton of chances (the goalie at the other end was good, too) and the defense was pretty good.
  • J.T. Miller’s goal? That’s a man’s goal. A damn man’s goal. Holy crap what a rush. First, he makes the defensive play at the back to get the puck, then he takes it all the way into the zone, drives the net, and then he cuts across the crease to put the puck top shelf. Boom. Game over. One of the pretties goals I’ve ever seen end to end, and further proof that Miller is going to be (deservedly) expensive this summer.
  • Chris Kreider has four goals in six games. Now, at least, fans screaming for him to be traded because he sucks are turning back toward “OK, maybe he’s pretty good.” That’s two games in which he’s scored a goal thanks to a beautiful without-the-puck rush that Mika Zibanejad has spotted to get him the puck for the finish. Beautiful stuff.
  • He didn’t record a point, but I thought Pavel Buchnevich was one of the most memorable Rangers from last night. He does so much work on all ends of the ice that goes unnoticed. How people think his game isn’t developed defensively is beyond me. In the third he worked his ass off to get back to cover the trailer on a 2-on-1 to keep the game tied. In the offensive zone he forechecked like a demon, and made the Bolts’ lives miserable all night. And he played. Fifth-most ice time among forwards. And he started in OT!! Baby steps.
  • I’m going to say this every notes story where he’s great: Zibanejad deserved every dollar of that contract, and that was true before he even signed it.
  • Zibanejad has 14 points in as many games. Miller and Kevin Shattenkirk have 11 points, Buchnevich and Mats “The Fighter” Zuccarello have 10. That’s the top of the offense charts for you as of this writing.
  • David Desharnais was benched for the third period and played just 10:23 in the game. I am not sure why, but he played the better players properly so whatever.
  • Boo Nieves looks like he can be a really solid bottom-six center. I will be honest, I didn’t expect him to make this kind of an impact right away. Really pleasantly surprised.
  • About the defense: One of the problems with playing both Steven Kampfer and Nick Holden is that you’re left with two bad options. Option 1: Play both of them together, which is the worst pairing on the ice whenever it’s on the ice. Option 2: Split the pair up to share the pain, but make two pairings objectively worse instead of having two good pairs and one horrible pair. Toward the end of the game, Alain Vigneault elected to do the latter, pushing Holden and Kampfer with almost every other defenseman in the lineup.
  • Shattenkirk played one of his better games on defense all year. I have no idea why people aren’t giving him a little more time to breathe out there with his transition, but whatever. 11 points in 14 games will play, and it’s exactly what the doctor ordered for him here.
  • Marc Staal has been ... good. Like, shockingly good. Maybe he’s simplified his game, or stopped gripping the stick so tight, but he was on the ice for 11 shots for last night and just three against (even strength). His expected goals against was a 0.01%.
  • Ryan McDonagh had a bounce back game, too. Maybe this gets him going. (Not something I ever expected to be writing.)
  • And now the heavy stuff: What, exactly, is the timetable for Vigneault? On the podcast we talked about the back-and-forth between the national media and the local media (Larry Brooks) in terms of reports. I also highlighted the strange place the Rangers are in right now with Vigneault’s future and the future of the team. Does this win earn Vigneault more time? Is he a losing streak away? Safe for the year? There’s too many questions right now, and I don’t see any way for Gorton or Vigneault to escape that. I mentioned this on the podcast, but now that his future is publicly in question (even if Brooks was wrong) it’s out there and can’t be taken back. This was the showing the Rangers should have hoped for against Vegas, but better late than never. I think a little winning streak will go a long way toward putting the matter to rest (at least for the rest of the year) but there’s always going to be the nagging feeling that the next series of errors is going to be his last.
  • I still think the Rangers would be better served getting a new voice in the room, but if Vigneault is going to coach scared (read: dress a good lineup/use it properly) then I’m not going to complain. Vigneault is a good coach, who has a system that works, but it needs the proper pieces in place to work. When those pieces don’t fit, or he tried to adjust, the entire thing comes down. It’s one game -- and one without Brendan Smith in the lineup, so we’re not all the way there — but perhaps this is the start of something for him.