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.


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