Mailbag Monday: Playoff matchups, consistency from Zuccarello and Nash and more

Bobby Bevilacqua

Welcome back to the first mailbag Monday in a while. With the playoffs approaching and getting closer, lots of questions are floating around in people’s heads about the Rangers, their chances in the playoffs and more.

If you have a question you’d like answered for the next article, leave it in the comments section below, or click the “Contact Me” tab and send an email with your name and question.

With that out of the way, let’s get started.

Do you thing we have a chance in the playoffs without Nash scoring goals? – Scott Rosenberg

rick nash profile 11-23

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

When he’s playing at his best, Rick Nash is clearly the Rangers’ best player. We’ve seen it in the past few games, scoring twice in the past four games. And in the last two games, he attacked the net and got some great chances despite not finding the back of the net.

With that being said, the Rangers are obviously a better team when he’s scoring goals. Last year, when Nash scored a career high 42 goals, the Rangers were great. And it was partially because they were getting incredible offensive production from their best forward and from the first line.

But I don’t think they’re dead in the water if Nash isn’t scoring consistently. The Rangers held their own and played well when Nash was injured, and they can do well when he isn’t scoring. This is a deep team, one that has Eric Staal and Kevin Hayes playing on the third line. Plus there are at least two, if not three, defenseman that can contribute to the scoring as well.

I personally think it’s more important to get Eric Staal scoring consistently, and last night was a great start. EStaal looked so much more comfortable on the wing and Kevin Hayes is able to be more of a playmaker at center, so this is a line that can hopefully be consistently effective. If Nash is scoring goals, this team will be very dangerous, as long as they get their defensive issues sorted out. If Nash isn’t scoring goals consistently, the Rangers will have to work harder to be good, but they can still do well in the playoffs.

What’s your opinion on not rotating Hayes and Lindberg? – Yvonne Morgan

I don’t understand the perspective of some fans that Kevin Hayes is an ineffective player this season. Sure, he’s not going to match his rookie season scoring totals, but he’s had a tough season in terms of consistency. Consistency in his play and consistency with his lines.

Last season, he was practically cemented as the third line center, and his wingers would shift occasionally. He played a lot with JT Miller and apart from that, his role never changed. This season, he’s been on all four lines, he’s played all three forward positions, and he hasn’t been able to consistently remain at center and continue his development there, which hurt his play.

People argue that he’s a natural winger, but the kid spent an entire season and three playoff rounds at center in the NHL. He was acclimated to it and learned how to play there in the NHL, not on the wing. So I don’t think Hayes should be scratched for Lindberg, especially since Hayes is a better offensive player.

Instead, we should look as to why Lindberg is being scratched for Tanner Glass. I wrote an article (HERE) praising Glass and the fourth line, because they’ve been good lately, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a damn shame that Lindberg’s development is being sacrificed at the expense of Tanner Glass. He’s definitely an improved player from last season and has been fine on the wing, but Lingberg really should be playing over him, since he’s better offensively and needs to develop.

Next season, this realistically won’t be a problem. Dom Moore probably won’t be re-signed (too expensive) and Lindberg will take over as fourth line center. But as of now, I think Hayes needs to play over Lindberg, and Lindberg needs to play over Glass. This question segues nicely into the next question.

Knowing the fourth line is set, how would you set up the remaining top nine? And should Hayes or Staal center the third line? – Jake Treccapelli

Like I said last question, the fourth line has been good and it probably is going to stay like that in the playoffs, but it’s a shame that Lindberg is a healthy scratch. Because he shouldn’t be. But assuming that the fourth line of Glass-Moore-Stalberg stays, this is how I would set up the top nine.

Rick Nash-Derick Brassard-JT Miller

Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-Mats Zuccarello

Eric Staal-Kevin Hayes-Jesper Fast

The top line shouldn’t have Brassard and Zuccarello because they haven’t been as good this season, especially with both of their defensive deficiencies at times. Nash and Brassard are a good combination, and JT Miller has turned into a fantastic offensive catalyst. Not only that, this was the line that combined for 13 points in Game 6 against the Lightning last season.

I’m sure you’ve noticed, but Mats Zuccarello and Derek Stepan have developed considerable chemistry lately. I like how they play together, I like that Stepan’s defensive ability makes up for Zuccarello’s poor backchecking at times, and I like Zuccarello’s creativity alongside the speedy Kreider.

And for the third line, Hayes at center with Staal on the wing. Staal gets some responsibility taken away from him and gets to focus purely on offense, while Hayes remains at the position where he plays best. Jesper Fast is a good addition on the wing here because of his forechecking and his ability to keep plays alive in the offensive zone (i.e. Derek Stepan’s Game 7 OT Winner last year).

Based on numbers versus certain teams, do you think Zuccarello will be the real deal come playoff time? Or is he just another Ranger that can’t come up big in the big game? – Al D.

mats zuccarello goal celebration 11-30

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

This is a topic I’ve seen brought up occasionally but never really discussed in depth. Zuccarello has 57 points this year (24-33-57) and is two away from tying his career high of 59 points (19-40-59) set two seasons ago. But a lot of those goals have come against non-playoff teams.

For example, he hasn’t scored a goal against the Islanders, Capitals, Flyers, Blackhawks or the Canadiens over the past three seasons. There are a few other teams he’s struggled against, like the Dallas Stars (0 G in 3 yrs) and the Bruins (1 G in 3 yrs).

But personally, I’m not going to put a lot of stock into this. Because before this season, I didn’t view Zuccarello as a goal scorer. I viewed him as an incredible passer and set-up man who would chip in 15+ goals a season. Against Pittsburgh, he has three goals in the past three seasons, but you can broaden that and say that he has 10 points (3-7-10) in 12 games against the Penguins in the past three seasons. And I’m not complaining about that. He also has five assists in 13 games against the Islanders, six assists in 13 games against the Capitals, and four assists in 11 games against the Flyers in that same span. So it’s not all bad.

I think Zuccarello will be one of our best players in the playoffs, regardless of who the Rangers matchup against. Last season, the team had it all figured out and had the team to win a Stanley Cup, but Zuccarello went down and that severely hurt the team’s chances. I think he will be more motivated than ever to win and to succeed and to contribute, so I don’t think there should be much worry about him.

If the Rangers do not win the Cup this year, what moves do you think should we expect in the offseason? – Dan Marley

I’m not sure I can say what to expect, because the offseason is so unpredictable, but I can tell you what I would do and what I think should happen.

With the news coming out of Edmonton that former first overall draft pick Nail Yakupov has requested a trade, I’m contacting Peter Chiarelli and seeing what he wants. In this case, maybe you can trade Marc Staal or Dan Girardi (I know you have to maneuver around the NMCs) and free up some cap space while getting a nice prospect in return. Plus he’s Russian so that could help Buchnevich’s transition.

I also think there is a possibility of Rick Nash getting traded, since he only has a partial NMC and you can move him to 15 teams of his choice. Somehow this team needs to clear some serious cap space and I think that’ll be a big part of the offseason.

Regardless of how this season ends, I think we’ll see some serious turnover in the organization and a lot of change. I do hope that the future involves Keith Yandle for the long term, because he’s the Rangers best offensive defenseman since Brian Leetch.

Are the Rangers better off dropping down to the first Wild Card spot to avoid playing the Capitals as long as possible? – John Emanuele

Rangers vs Capitals 12-20

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

This is less of a possibility now with the Islanders dropping off, but still a possibility that the Rangers are a Wild Card team. So let’s discuss it.

I think most people would say yes, avoid the Caps as long as possible. But call me crazy, I’d rather take them earlier rather than facing them in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Capitals have never advanced past the second round of the playoffs with Alex Ovechkin on their team. And despite bringing in new, experienced players like Justin Williams, the core of this team is a group of guys that have choked early in the playoffs. So that means that in the locker room, the majority of these guys may have to get over that hump and get rid of their worried mentality in order to succeed in the playoffs. Couple that with the ridiculous expectations that this team has, and it makes the pressure in the playoffs really tough.

On top of that, if the Capitals do happen to get past the first two rounds and were to play the Rangers in the Conference Finals, then they would have progressed farther than they have ever gone before with Ovechkin. A lot of the pressure is off. They’ll be adjusted to the playoffs and potentially a hot team at that point. I don’t want to face that Capitals team.

I’ll take my chances against the Capitals in the second round, while they’re still struggling to deal with the pressure of advancing past the second round while facing the team they choked against last season.

Posted on March 28, 2016, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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