Blueshirt Faithful Expect a Return to Greatness from Key Players
Well folks, welcome to the vast hockey wasteland known as August – the most dismal month of the year for hockey fans. The trade frenzy is over and everyone’s favorite RFAs has been signed. The playoffs were to most of us, a complete disappointment and there was a lot of blame placed all around. But some necessary changes to coaching and the roster were made, and the anticipation of a brand new season is palpable.
The biggest news of the Summer for Blueshirt fans was the earth shattering trade of top line center and leading scorer Derick Brassard for the little known Mika Zibanejad from Ottawa. After the initial outrage had settled into a cooler mood of reason, analysts and fans alike agreed that the trade actually makes sense. The younger, bigger Zibanejad has similar stats (81 GP/21 G/ 30 A) to the seasoned Brassard (80 GP/27 G/31 A) but with a much cheaper price tag. Fans and players alike are looking to the new guy to inject youth and power into the lineup and more importantly, to continue to improve for a number of years.
That being said, the kid might still have a problem filling the shoes of Big Game Brass who was a leader both on New York ice and in the locker room. And there is no denying the chemistry that existed between Brass and everyone’s favorite right winger, Mats Zuccarello was a thing of beauty. Ranger fans will vocalize their disappointment loudly if they see this trade not panning out as expected. All eyes will be on Mika come October.
Regarding the signing of the RFA’s, most of the debate centered on enigmatic left winger Chris Kreider. The fan base in general is satisfied with the 4 year / $18.5M contract but the lingering question of what else Kreider has left to show us is there. Kreider declares he is committed to improving his game and being a more reliable player. He promised he’d be hitting the gym and the ice all summer to get in the best shape of his life, which is not hard to believe considering he is one of the fittest guys in the NHL. He’ll also work on the key elements expected of a true power forward. That means puck possession, using his size, speed and strength more effectively, and what we’ve all been asking him to do – driving to the net. He’s made it clear he wants to be a “bully” on the ice. We know he has the capability so all that’s left is for him to make good on those promises. Let’s see what you got, Mr. Kreider.
Lundqvist, coming off a 35 win season is still undoubtedly one of the best netminders in the game but at 34 years young, fans worry he has few productive years left. Last year Henrik had a stellar early season with an incredible 0.945 save percentage during the 16-3-2 hot streak. Then we witnessed his play deteriorate as the season wore on.
The culmination of this was during the almost unwatchable Penguins game on March 3, when Lundqvist upended his net in frustration over referees not calling a whistle after Captain Ryan McDonagh collided dangerously into him. Clearly the situation and its after effects had the NY star rattled as he seemed to struggle with positioning, reflex and overall confidence for some time. With Raanta in net for several games after the Pittsburgh debacle, Lundqvist only tallied 4 more regular season wins for the remainder of the season and an overall save percentage of 0.897.
To pin the disappointing season squarely on Lundqvist would be unreasonable though, as the defense played poorly for most of 2016. To make matters worse, Henrik had the worst possible luck getting speared in the eye by his own teammate in the first playoff game against the Penguins. No one is ever more dissatisfied than Hank every time a season ends without a championship. But being the fierce competitor that he is, we’ll see him well rested come this Fall, with is head on straight and ready to battle. He knows there are plenty of doubters out there and he’s surely ready to shut them up. Bad luck aside, things won’t go smoothly for the usually dependable Swede unless the defense improves their play significantly. That means YOU Dan Girardi and Marc Staal.
To be fair, Dan G was plagued by a significant ankle injury during the 2015 playoff run and his summer preparation was cut short because of it. In December he suffered a cracked kneecap and was out several games, did not heal completely and played through the injury for the rest of the season while coaching continued to rely on him heavily. Then in early April he was dealt a concussion from a hard hit into the boards by former teammate Brian Boyle. No wonder it was tough to even recognize the typically durable and trusted D man. The NYR organization states with the lengthy off-season and proper recovery they expect better of him come October, and Girardi himself vows “100%” he can return to the shot blocking, shutdown Ironman his fans love and teammates count on. Boy do we hope so.
It remains to be seen if the fearless Finn, Antti Raanta will play more this season, giving the veteran Lundqvist what some say he needs – less ice time. Raanta had an impressive 11 wins in 18 starts for the 2015-16 season and was the first Ranger to be re-signed post season on May 2. The current NYR goalie pairing of Lundqvist / Raanta is power ranked fourth in the NHL based on skill, usage, and potential. We’ll be relying on our main guy Henrik to forge the path but will also look to Raanta to come into his own and be not only a strong and resilient backup, but a future starter.
It was quite a wild ride this season filled with exciting highs and depressing lows. The Blueshirt Faithful are some of the most passionate, opinionated and loyal fans in the world. We’ve cheered, laughed, cried, trash talked, complained and couch-coached. The off-season lands us into a deep depression and seems never ending. But we’re waiting patiently. Let’s see this team make us proud again. Come on October!
Posted on August 11, 2016, in In the Crease, Uncategorized and tagged Chris Kreider, Dan Girardi, Henrik Lundqvist, Kevin Hayes, Madison Square Garden, Mika Zibanejad, MSG, New York Rangers, New York Rangers blog, NYR, Rangers, Rangers blog, Ryan McDonagh. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.