Thursday, February 28, 2013

Nash, McDonagh, Del Zotto All Return Tonight; Zuccarello On Radar?

With game-time about fifteen minutes away, the Rangers will get three huge boosts back to their team as they look to snap a five-game losing streak against the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight at the Garden. Rick Nash (undisclosed), Ryan McDonagh (undisclosed) and Michael Del Zotto (hip) will all make their return to the lineup tonight  after all three missed Tuesday night's game against the Winnipeg Jets. Nash has missed the last four games (all Rangers losses), while Del Zotto has missed the last two and McDonagh one.

If anything can get the Rangers out of this terrible slump it surely will be the return of two of their top four defensemen and their (easily) No. 1 scoring threat. The Rangers have looked absolutely abysmal on offense while Nash has been out, and the defense looked equally as bad on Tuesday night without McDonagh and Del Zotto that left the Rangers with, essentially, three defensemen they could count on for the entire game (Marc Staal, Dan Girardi and Anton Stralman).

The Rangers, however, will be without Arron Asham (back) and Matt Gilroy (flu) for tonight's game. Steve Eminger, who played over 20 minutes in Tuesday's game, will remain in the lineup while Stu Bickel will move back up to see limited minutes at forward on the fourth line tonight.

Speaking of lines, there's been no word on what line Rick Nash will skate on tonight, but I wouldn't be surprised to see John Tortorella stick him on a line with Brad Richards. Richards has struggled mightily, and the return of Nash might be just what he needs to regain his confidence. Marian Gaborik has also struggled to score recently, and playing on a line with Nash can only help both guys in my opinion.

Meanwhile, it looks like we can finally put an end to those Ryan O'Reilly to the Rangers rumors. According to Darren Dreger of TSN, the Colorado Avalanche restricted free agent center has signed an offer sheet with the Calgary flames worth $10 million over two years. The Avalanche have seven days to match the Flames' offer or else O'Reilly will head to Calgary and the Avalanche will receive the Flames' first and third round draft picks as compensation in this year's draft. I never thought there was any chance the Rangers would trade for O'Reilly anyway, nor did I want them to, so this definitively ends all speculation that he could head to the Rangers.

And finally, it looks like Mats Zuccarello could be a Ranger once again before long. Glen Sather told Larry Brooks of The New York Post yesterday that he "is definitely interested in talking to Zuke" about a reunion with the Rangers once his first season with the Mettalurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL is over. Zuccarello's team is currently in the playoffs playing against Salavat Yulaev and are tied 2-2 in the first round of a best-of-seven series. Game 5 will be played Friday with Game 6 scheduled for Sunday.

Zuccarello signed a two-year deal to play in the KHL last offseason, but his contract contains an opt-out clause after the first year should he return to the NHL. Zuke's only option, should he want to return to the NHL this year, would be the Rangers since they own his rights. The Rangers would likely need to offer him a two-year deal to keep him under contract for the 2013-2014 season, though, otherwise I can't see Zuccarello coming over.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Rangers Send Chris Kreider To AHL, Plus Recap Of Last Night's Loss To Islanders

It seemed like for the past few weeks it was only a matter of when, not if, the Rangers would decide to send rookie left wing Chris Kreider down to the AHL. Today, we got our answer when the Rangers officially sent down the struggling forward to the Connecticut Whale and have instead opted to keep rookie center J.T. Miller on the roster, at least for the interim.

 Kreider, who was a healthy scratch last night and also missed time earlier this season with a broken bone in his ankle, has recorded just one goal and one assist in seven games for the Rangers this season while recording three shots on goal. I personally don't have a problem with the move. Kreider has struggled mightily this season, and has followed an eerily similar career path that Michael Del Zotto did early in his Rangers career - a ton of success as a 19-year-old that was followed up by an inconsistent, injury-plagued season that resulted in being sent down to the AHL. Judging by how well Del Zotto wound up rebounding following his demotion, I certainly hope the same thing happens to Kreider. Whether or not we see him in the NHL again this season will largely depend on how he plays in the AHL and how J.T. Miller continues to play in the NHL.

Speaking of J.T. Miller, the timing of this move seems to be John Tortorella's way of giving Miller a vote of confidence . The 19-year-old center has played in five NHL games so far this season and if he plays in a sixth this season would automatically count towards the first year of Miller's Entry Level contract that he signed last year. I have to believe if the team had many reservations about Miller's ability that they wouldn't waste a full year of his Entry Level deal by letting him continue to play in the NHL. Miller was a minus-1 in 9:41 in last night's game against the Islanders with one shot, including being benched for nearly all of the third period and overtime, but the Rangers have continually praised Miller's ability on the forecheck and his physical play. Miller had seven hits against a tough, big Bruins team in Tuesday night's shootout victory.

Moving onto last night's loss against the Islanders in which the Rangers blew a first period 2-0 lead - to put it mildly, it was incredibly frustrating. After getting off to a quick 2-0 lead in the first period with goals from Dan Girardi and Marian Gaborik, the Rangers proceeded to come out completely flat in the second period and quickly found themselves trailing 3-2 after several defensive breakdowns to go along with some awful goals let in by Marty Biron. I said after the game last night on Twitter that, despite the Rangers being back on their heels in the second period, I thought Biron was the No. 1 reason the Rangers lost last night. The Islanders' first goal came off a quick pass from the corner boards that completely caught Biron off guard, as you could tell he wasn't set properly in goal when the shot was fired past him by Colin McDonald. I'm not going to possibly fault Biron on John Tavares' two-on-one goal, but Biron did get a piece of the shot and could've had it, which just made that goal all the more frustrating. The third Islanders goal by Brad Boyes, though, was absolutely brutal and a save that any NHL-caliber goaltender should make. Biron also failed to stop either of the Islanders' two shootout attempts - Tavares' goal was almost impossible to stop, but Frans Nielsen's goal was dreadful. Biron certainly looked like a backup goaltender last night against a sub-par Islanders team, but those games are to be expected. Still, I can't help but think that if Henrik Lundqvist was in net last night the end result might have been different, though.

The second biggest problem last night was without a doubt the power play, and I have to question first and foremost why assistant coach Mike Sullivan continues to have a job with the Rangers. The power play has been dreadful (1-for-4 last night, including a dreadful two-man advantage that the team failed to generate any sort of productivity on) and the team has had several God-awful defensive breakdowns this season - an area which is supposed to be Sullivan's expertise. The Rangers in all likelihood won't fire him during the season, but in no way shape or form should he be back next season. I fully understand John Tortorella wanting to stand by his coaching staff, but it's clear that a change has to be made and the Rangers desperately need to bring in a coach or an adviser who can work with the team exclusively on the power play. Who that is, I have no idea, but I have to imagine they'll at least look into it following this season. The biggest problem with the power play isn't just that the Rangers are failing at seemingly all of their opportunities, it's that they're complete momentum-killers. The team and the crowd looked and sounded completely dead last night after the Rangers failed to convert even a single quality shot on a two-man advantage in the second period last night. These guys are only human, and I have to imagine every single one of them is lacking confidence when they go on the power play right now. I'll have more on one way I think the Rangers could fix the power play this weekend.

The third biggest problem last night was in fact John Tortorella. Torts was clearly frustrated by Brad Richards' play last night, and benched him for nearly all of the third period except for a brief 47-second shift, although Richards did see two shifts in overtime. I didn't see anything glaring in Richards' game that warranted him being benched for almost all of the third period other than the fact that he was awful on the power play. But if Tortorella were to start benching everyone who has strugglesd on the power play, then the entire team will find themselves glued to the bench. I understand Brian Boyle and Jeff Halpern were playing well last night, but I'm of the belief that you eventually need to let talent take over. Boyle being out there for crucial shifts in the third period as Torts exclusively rolled three lines of Carl Hagelin-Derek Stepan-Rick Nash, Marian Gaborik-Brian Boyle-Ryan Callahan and Darroll Powe-Jeff Halpern-Taylor Pyatt while Brad Richards and J.T. Miller saw nearly zero action was a huge mistake in my opinion. Richards is a huge part of this team and has been an incredibly clutch player for the Rangers over his one-and-a-half seasons on Broadway. I don't mind it when John Tortorella sends a message by benching star players for a few shifts when their play is noticeably dipping, but when he does it for extended periods of time like he did last night I'm firmly of the belief that he's hurting the team by his insistence of sending a message to one or two specific individuals. I understand Torts wants to show his team that he's not playing favorites and will reward those who play hard and punish those who make critical mistakes, but still. It's just a pet peeve of mine that I have with John Tortorella.

Anyway, the Rangers are off today and will resume practicing tomorrow before playing the Washington Capitals Saturday at 6 p.m. at Madison Square Garden on NBC for the NHL-appointed "Hockey Day In America." I'll have more tomorrow.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Breaking News: Rangers Acquire Forwards Darroll Powe and Nick Palmieri For Mike Rupp

The Rangers have announced that they have traded center Mike Rupp to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for center Darroll Powe and right wing Nick Palmieri. Powe is expected to be in the lineup for the Rangers tomorrow night when they take on the Devils in Newark, while Palmieri will be sent down to the Connecticut Whale (AHL).

Powe, 27, has skated in eight games with the Wild this season and has been held pointless with five shots on goal and nine penalty minutes. Powe is a gritty type of forward who has experience killing penalties and can help on faceoffs. Last year he skated in 82 games for the Wild and recorded six goals and seven assists for 13 points to go along with 57 penalty minutes.

Palmieri, 23, is a former third round draft pick of the Devils who has always put up good numbers in the AHL, but has never been able to translate it to the NHL. He's a good pick up for some forward depth, which the Rangers needed with injuries to Ryan Callahan and Chris Kreider early on this season, but that's about it. He's spent this entire season so far with the Wild's AHL affiliate the Houston Aeros and previously skated in nine games with the Wild last season while being held without a point.

On the surface, I like this trade for the Rangers. Darroll Powe is a Brandon Prust-type of player who can add some character and toughness to the fourth line while bringing some penalty killing skills along, too. Mike Rupp has done next to nothing offensively since he signed with the Rangers two offseasons ago, but there's no doubt he brings an element of toughness and size that the Rangers will now have to find a replacement for. Rupp has posted four goals, one assist and 145 penalty minutes in a combined 88 games in the regular season and postseason with the Rangers. I think at some point the Rangers will need to bring in another grinder who can add some size to the lineup and skate against teams like Philly and Boston.

More to come later on the trade.