The lineup-challenged Rangers completed their home-and-home sweep against the Flyers, defeating Philadelphia 5-2 on Saturday. The victory is the Blueshirts’ third in as many games over their divisional rivals and extends the Flyers’ futility on the road to seven straight. In addition, Philly is now 1-7-1 in their last nine and you have to figure that sooner or later some type of shake up has to occur.
When yesterday’s game ended. New York was already going to be without Tanner Glass, who originally was thought to have the flu. It was announced today that Glass actually has the mumps, and given how long Corey Perry and several others from the Ducks, Blues and Wild were out, don’t expect to see Glass for a few weeks. The mere fact we are talking about mumps in 2014 seems of, but when we have multiple cases of it, you almost think we are in science fiction theatre.
After the Rangers’ 3-0 win over Philadelphia on Friday, it was announced that Chris Kreider would miss the Saturday rematch due to the passing of his grandfather. In his stead, J.T, Miller was called up. Just because not enough players have missed time this year and the lineup wasn’t slated to be sufficient enough of a patch job, Dan Boyle was scratched due to “flu-like” symptoms. In his place, John Moore – who was a healthy scratch Friday – the word healthy a misnomer on this squad – was re-inserted back in the lineup for Boyle. As a precaution, each player was to receive a booster flu vaccine while separate water bottles for each one was used Saturday. With all the illnesses, including Henrik Lundqvist, who admitted on Wednesday to Pat Leonard that he too was dealing with stuffed sinuses and a head cold, the concern has to be that several others might end up scratched Monday against Tampa Bay.
The illnesses and absences resulted in the following line combinations:
Nash-Brassard-Zucc, Hagelin-Stepan-St. Louis, Duclair-Hayes-Stempniak, Miller-D. Moore-Fast
Staal-Girardi, Moore-R. McDonagh, Hunwick-Klein
The Rangers didn’t dominate Saturday’s game as they did Friday, but did enough to win. New York took advantage of Claude Giroux’s needless offensive zone, four-minute, high-sticking penalty to grab a 1-0 lead on Derick Brassard’s PPG. The set up isn’t a thing of beauty, as Stepan missed on the one-timer, but was able to get it back, dish it to Nash, who fed Brassard for the goal. The Rangers kept the pressure up, outshooting Philly 9-2, but unlike the last two games, Philly was able to breakthrough at 13:46 of the first. Nicklas Grossman got the puck near the faceoff dot and had all day to pick a spot due to Lee Stempniak moving over to cover Giroux and Duclair drifting to the wrong side. Grossman didn’t miss, beating Lundqvist wide side, top shelf to even the game.
Philly played well to start the second and capitalized on a questionable Mats Zuccarello penalty to make it 2-1. No shock that it was Jakub Voracek, who notched an assist on the first goal, tallying the PPG to make it 2-1. Less than three minutes later, Jesper Fast evened it. Kevin Klein had his shot blocked, Fast picked up the puck in traffic and blasted it with a quick release to beat Ray Emery wide side for his first career goal. After that goal, the Rangers started to tip the ice and many of the blueshirts commented after the game how big of a turning point that evener was. Miller was all over the place, as was Klein, and even though the period ended tied, you had the feeling it was only a matter of time before NY took the lead.
Three minutes and six second into the third, that happened. The Rangers transitioned from defense to offense in a flash, coming up ice on a 3-on-2. Kevin Hayes came down the right side, Lee Stempniak took his man to the net, opening up the passing and then shooting lane for Brassard, who made no mistake top shelf short side over Emery, Brassard now has eight goals and 11 assists in 23 games, living up to the contract he signed this offseason.
Miller, who got his shot due to the passing of Kreider’s grandfather, made the most of that chance. What was nice about the goal is that he showed tremendous patience. Matt Hunwick made a good play at the blue line and got the puck to Miller, Miller went past Grossman, maintained possession of the puck and beat Emery on a wrap-around. After the game, Miller said the right things about being happy for the chance but wishing it didn’t come about because of the circumstances with Kreider’s loss. All that was left was to see what the final score was, which ended up 5-2 due to Stempniak’s late empty-netter.
The fourth line, which has been much maligned and area that I have been harping on needed improvement, was huge tonight. The two kids – Miller and Fast – each had a goal and an assist while Dominic Moore won 64% of his face-offs. Granted, it’s one game, but with Glass likely out a bit, coach Alain Vigenault has some decisions. Miller showed today that he may be able to handle a solid workload at wing, while Fast has been good since his promotion. So the question is who would come out if Kreider is back Monday and Miller is given a real chance to play?
The answer to that question has to be Duclair. The World Juniors start in a few weeks and Duclair has to be on Team Canada by December 19 to be eligible to play. Much has been made when AV sits him and how it’s retarding his growth by keeping him here and having him watch. Duclair has tremendous talent and we see that talent every once in a while but it’s not consistent. I will put it this way: are the Rangers better with Duclair or Miller or Stempniak in the lineup? Duclair likely has the most talent, but Stempniak and Miller can either play on the third or fourth line, while Duclair can only play the third. For all his talent, he has just one goal – with six assists – in 18 games. While scoring is not the full measure of a player, in Duclair’s case, if he is going to stick, he has to produce and lately, that has not been the case. Stempniak and Miller fit well with the team’s game plan, so I would suggest have Stempniak or Miller play with Hayes and Duclair with the one not on that line skating with Moore and Fast.
These were two good wins, but to really impress me, beat Tampa on Monday. The Rangers can throw all the focus into that contest knowing they have four days off before they face Calgary on Saturday. At a minimum, the effort level has to be better than the last time the two teams played at MSG and a step above Wednesday’s contest. Find Ryan Callahan and be physical. Use the transitional game as they did the last two days. The good news is that Tampa is in the other division, the bad news is, that team looks like it’s going nowhere, so New York has to stand up and find a way to defeat the Lightning.