Monday, March 25, 2013

Reports: Rangers Re-Sign LW Mats Zuccarello

In the Rangers' latest move as they continue to retool their roster, the Rangers have reportedly agreed to a contract with LW Mats Zuccarello, according to The Bergen Record's Andrew Gross. Terms of the deal have not been disclosed yet, but Zuccarello had previously said it would have to be a one-way, two-year deal for him to return to the Rangers since he still had an additional year on his KHL contract following this season.

The Rangers have yet to officially announce the deal, but Zuke's agent, Erik Ryman, sent out a Tweet earlier today in Norwegian that loosely translates to "Zuccarello is looking forward to getting the chance again to show what he can do in the NHL."

Unlike other international free agents, Mats Zuccarello does not have to pass through waivers since he is still technically Rangers property and was placed on the restricted list lat the end of last season.

The re-signing of Zuccarello is the third roster move the Rangers have made within the last three days, after they waived C Jeff Halpern (claimed by the Montreal Canadiens) and D/RW Stu Bickel (cleared waivers; assigned to the Connecticut Whale). Gross, who has been all over the Rangers being interested in reuniting with Zuccarello since his KHL season ended, seems to believe that Zuke's signing could be a precursor to a bigger move prior to the April 3 trade deadline, noting that "San Jose Sharks scout John Ferguson Jr. has been at the majority of Rangers’ games this season and surely Tortorella would love a reunion with his former Lightning power-play quarterback Dan Boyle." We shall see.

Zuccarello has posted eight goals and 18 assists for 26 points in 52 career NHL games with the Rangers, with 10 of those assists coming on the power play. He immediately adds playmaking ability to the lineup and should provide some secondary scoring that the Rangers are in dire need of. If nothing else, he provides an upgrade on what they previously had and doesn't cost and picks or players to acquire. Zuccarello hasn't played in a few weeks since his KHL season ended, so I'm not quite sure when we might see him suit up. With J.T. Miller nursing a wrist injury, it would probably make sense for Zuccarello to replace Taylor Pyatt in the lineup, who has just one goal and zero assists in his last 23 games, including 13 straight without a point. That would allow Kris Newbury to remain in the lineup centering the fourth line after a strong showing yesterday against the Capitals until Miller is able to return. The Rangers, of course, could always opt to send Miller back down to the Whale, too, given that he hasn't scored a goal in 20 games, although John Tortorella has been impressed with the youngster's two-way play lately.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Recap: Rangers Lose 3-1 To Panthers

One step forward, two steps backwards. That's really the best way to describe the Rangers' season so far this year, and that trend continued on Thursday night when they inexcusably lost 3-1 to a Florida Panthers team that seemingly has half their team on IR. Despite outshooting the Panthers 45-24 in the game, the Rangers could muster only a single goal that came from Marian Gaborik late in the third period to cut the Panthers' lead to 2-1. Despite getting a power play in the final minute of the game, though, the Rangers quickly gave up an empty net goal with Henrik Lundqvist pulled for an extra skater, and that was all she wrote.

There's really not much else to say beyond the fact that the Rangers have underachieved to this point in the season. I must admit that even when the team won back to back games against the Hurricanes and Devils earlier this week I was still feeling uneasy about the way the team looked. In the Devils game they basically sat back to try and defend a 3-2 lead for the entire third period and half of the second, while the game against the Hurricanes was a lot like tonight in that the Rangers fired shots from anywhere and everywhere on goal and only one puck found the back of the net. The difference, of course, was the Rangers were able to steal two points in the game against Carolina, unlike tonight.

I'm not going to put the individual struggles of players like Marian Gaborik (who, even before his goal tonight, has been much better in the past few games and just hasn't had any good luck go his way) and Brad Richards on John Tortorella. Both men have been around long enough that they need to, and I believe ultimately will, figure things out on their own. They're just simply way too talented not to. I will say, however, that the Rangers' gameplans have been way too tentative lately, and that falls on the coaching staff. The Rangers seem to come out flat seemingly every game, and play the game almost as if they're afraid to take chances in the offensive zone. Maybe the players are afraid of taking chances because they think they'll get benched if they screw up or maybe the gameplan just simply is to wait out the other team until they make a mistake from the beginning. Either way, things are clearly not working and the coaching staff needs to do something to right the ship here. Coming up with a new gameplan for this team to follow is ultimately up to John Tortorella.

Some notes from tonight's game (I'll make this quick because I really don't feel like talking about how frustrating this game was anymore):

- I thought tonight was easily Rick Nash's worst game as a Ranger. He seemed very tentative with the puck like everyone else on the team and constantly looking to pass first before shooting. He also had a few awful turnovers and wasn't particularly strong on the puck at all. He only had two shots on goal and was a minus-1 tonight, although he did pick up an assist on Marian Gaborik's goal.

- Taylor Pyatt had a game-low 2:51 time on ice tonight, all coming on even strength. After recording three goals and two assists in his first eight games this year, Pyatt has just one goal and no assists in his last 22 games, including 12 straight games without a point.  Pyatt has been a non-factor for several few weeks now, and if the Rangers had any other better alternatives to insert into the lineup I have to believe he would've been a healthy scratch at some point by now.

- Marian Gaborik had a game-high eight shots on goal. As I said above, I really think Gaborik has been playing a lot better lately but he just hasn't gotten any results until his third period goal tonight. Unfortunately for the Rangers, it seems like neither Gaborik or Nash are particularly comfortable playing the left wing after playing right wing for relatively their entire careers, but one of them will have to learn to adjust to it for at least the remainder of this season.

- Making his return to the Rangers, Chris Kreider was held off the stat sheet in 12:03 TOI.

- Brian Boyle lost all 10 faceoffs he took in the game. Boyle sure as heck isn't in the lineup for his scoring, so that's just not going to cut it.

- The 45 shots on goal tonight marked a season-high for the Rangers.

- The Rangers went 0-for-3 on the power play tonight while only mustering four shots on goal.

- Henrik Lundqvist stopped 21 of 23 shots he faced, and came up with a couple of huge stops in the second and third periods to keep the Rangers in the game. I thought the first goal was one he should've had, but the second one wasn't on him at all (scramble in front of the net and no Ranger could get to the puck or clear the front of the net). I originally thought if the Rangers got a win tonight that we might see Marty Biron in goal on Sunday, but I would now say the chances of that happening are slim to none. The Rangers may be forced to ride Lundqvist for just about every remaining game because of the hole they've dug themselves into.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Kreider Rejoins Rangers, Lundqvist Back In Goal Tonight

Chris Kreider officially rejoined the Rangers today at practice after being recalled from the Connecticut Whale (AHL) yesterday. Kreider practiced on the third line tonight against the Florida Panthers and will take Michael Haley's spot in the lineup after he was optioned back down to the Whale.

Here were the lines from practice today:

Rick Nash-Brad Richards-Marian Gaborik
Carl Hagelin-Derek Stepan-Ryan Callahan
Chris Kreider-Brian Boyle-J.T. Miller
Taylor Pyatt-Jeff Halpern-Darroll Powe

Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi
Michael Del Zotto-Steve Eminger
Roman Hamrlik-Anton Stralman

An interesting quote from Kreider today came courtesy of Andrew Gross, which I believe is very telling:

“I was able to play big minutes and play in all situations. Any time you can do that, it helps your development, I guess.”
 “[Being recalled] was not something I was really thinking about. Obviously it’s something you want but you focus on the day to day stuff.”

Kreider hit the nail on the head in that it's imperative for his growth as a player that he gets big minutes, otherwise there's really no point for the Rangers to bring him back up. Kreider needs to be getting 15 minutes a night, in my opinion, with some power play time. There's no reason guys like Darroll Powe, Jeff Halpern and Taylor Pyatt should be finishing regularly with more ice time than Kreider.

Meanwhile, in a bit of a surprise, Henrik Lundqvist will be back in goal tonight against the Panthers after most people assumed Marty Biron would get the call. Tonight seemed like a perfect game to rest Lundqvist and give Biron a start considering the Panthers really aren't a very good team and the fact that Lundqvist was banged up with a sore neck after inadvertently being elbowed in the head by Dan Girardi against the Devils on Tuesday night. John Tortorella clearly doesn't want to take any chances, though, and wants Lundqvist in there so that the Rangers can continue to build on their back-to-back wins earlier this week. I suspect there's a good chance we'll see Biron in net come Sunday against the Capitals considering how well he played against them a few weeks ago, but if the Rangers are still riding a win streak by then it wouldn't shock me if Torts just relies on Lundqvist the rest of the way here.

And finally, some terrible news to pass along. Rangers General Manager Glen Sather, it was reported yesterday by Newsday, will undergo surgery sometime today for prostate cancer. Sather was not in attendance for the general managers meetings that took place in Toronto on Wednesday, and instead was represented by Rangers Assistant GM Jeff Gorton. Obviously, I speak for all Rangers fans when I say my thoughts and prayer are with Sather during this time. Hopefully, he can beat this terrible disease and we never have to hear anything about it again.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Rangers Release Update On Staal, Expected To Make Full Recovery

The Rangers officially released an update on Marc Staal's condition after he was hit in the eye with a puck in the third period of yesterday's game against the Flyers.

The statement reads:

"Following an injury suffered in last night's game vs. Philadelphia, Marc Staal was examined today in New York by Dr. Mark Fromer, ophthalmologist, and Dr. Mendel Markowitz, maxillofacial surgeon.  The injury has improved significantly and both doctors are optimistic that Marc will make a full recovery.  Staal will be sidelined indefinitely."
 Blueshirts United

While the statement doesn't go into a great deal of detail, it's still obviously great to hear that the doctors feel that Staal will come out of this injury fine. Earlier in the day, Marc's brother Eric Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes told that he spoke to his brother this morning and said that he is waiting for the swelling around his eye to go down before they can learn more about the injury. Eric did say that Marc "was in OK spirits" after the injury when he spoke to him on the phone.

There was also a rumor earlier in the day going around that Staal won't require surgery, but the Rangers have yet to confirm that themselves.

How long the Rangers will be without Staal is anyone's guess. In addition to checking out his vision and making sure there are no broken bones in his face, the Rangers will also likely look to rule out any signs of a concussion after Staal missed 36 games last season while recovering from a concussion (coincidentally thanks to his brother Eric). I think it's safe to say, however, that they'll at the very least be without him for a few weeks in a best-case scenario. That means the Rangers will need to rely on Michael Del Zotto and Anton Stralman to pick things up and log heavy minutes for the foreseeable future, while last year's super-pair of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi will likely be reunited and will need to be the shutdown machine they proved to be last year. McDonagh's game has slipped a bit this season, especially in recent weeks, but he'll need to go back to being at his best while the Rangers are without Staal. Newly-acquired Roman Hamrlik and Steve Eminger will also need to prove to be a competent third D-pairing, as well.

More tomorrow morning when the Rangers resume practicing before taking on the Islanders at 7 p.m.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Rangers Claim Roman Hamrlik; Staal Out Indefinitely

While we continue to wait for an official update from the Rangers on Marc Staal's eye injury, which will reportedly come later today, the team added some depth to their blueline today by claiming defenseman Roman Hamrlik off waivers from the Washington Capitals. Hamrlik, 38, has skated in four games with the Caps this season while registering one assist and two penalty minutes. Hamrlik is owed $3.5 million this season before becoming a free agent this July.

Before everybody panics, Katie Strang of ESPN Tweeted that the Rangers were talking about placing a claim for Roman Hamrlik even before Staal's injury last night. I really don't think this move is indicative at all of any diagnosis on Marc Staal's eye injury, so jumping to conclusions that one is tied to the other just seems silly to me. If the Rangers really were talking about claiming Hamrlik prior to last night's game, it's entirely possible they may have decided to just play it safe by claiming Hamrlik late last night without knowing anything definite on Staal's status at the time. I think the Rangers might have simply viewed Hamrlik as a possible upgrade over Stu Bickel, Steve Eminger and Matt Gilroy as a sixth defenseman, and that need only escalated after Staal left last night with the eye injury.

Meanwhile, even though the Rangers have yet to release an official update on Marc Staal just yet, Nick Kypreos of Sportsnet Tweeted earlier today that "early indications [are] his eye injury isn't career threatening. Out indefinitely." Now, "out indefinitely" is a relatively vague label that can mean anything from two days to the rest of the season, so it's hard to read too much into what this means just yet. Some good news to come out of yesterday, though, was that Marc Staal reportedly was not taken to the hospital following the injury. Slow motion replays also showed that Staal seemed to be tracking the puck as it was coming towards his face and it looked like the puck caught him right above the eye around the eyebrow.

More to come later once the Rangers release an official update. Thoughts and prayers are definitely with Marc Staal as we continue to hope for the best.