Monday, May 2, 2011

Stepan, Kreider, McDonagh All Play Roles In Team USA 4-2 Comeback Win Over Norway

In their second game of the 2011 IIHF World Championship tournament, Team USA played a game very reminiscent of the 2010-11 New York Rangers. The team fell behind 2-0 heading into the third period despite dominating in shots for the opening 40 minutes.  In the final period they finally solved Norwegian goaltender Lars Haugen and once they got the first one they erupted on their way to a 4-2 win over Norway. 
All three Rangers prospects had a role in the comeback win for Team USA.  Chris Kreider made a beautiful cross ice feed to Nick Palmieri of the New Jersey Devils for the tap in goal to get USA on the board and cut the deficit to 2-1 early in the third period.  The assist was Kreider’s second point of the tournament to go with his goal against Austria.  Kreider’s speed has been on display for the American squad in the two games thus far. 
Team USA tied the game on a goal from Jack Skille in which Ryan McDonagh got the secondary assist.  McDonagh was not as impactful in this game in terms of ice time or his overall level of play in comparison with his performance against Austria, but he still saw 15:19 of ice time and was a plus 2.
Derek Stepan, the top line center for Team USA, struggled some early in the game, but was very effective as the game went on and recorded an assist of his own on the final goal for the Americans.  Late in the third period, while on the power play, Stepan played a perfect deflection pass off the stick of former Wisconsin teammate Craig Smith with just 1:26 left to seal the game.  Stepan has shown great chemistry with Smith and Blake Wheeler during the first two games and coach Scott Gordon is clearly relying on the Rangers’ rookie forward as he played 23:56 during the game.  Stepan recorded seven shots in the game, four of which were in the third period. 
While the USA power play was not the prettiest thing to watch at times today, especially giving up a shorthanded goal, it is encouraging to watch Derek Stepan used properly along the left wing wall on the man advantage.  It is easy to envision a power play unit with Stepan along the wall and Chris Kreider manning the slot in the not so distant future.
It would have been fun to watch Mats Zuccarello take on Team USA today, but with his injury he was unable to participate and play against his Rangers counterparts.

Grading the 2010-11 New York Rangers Forwards

The New York Rangers 2010-11 season has now been finished for over a week, so there has been sufficient time to reflect on the highs and lows of the season.  Overall the year has to be considered a success give the way the team performed in the face of injuries, lack of elite offensive talent and the level of incorporation of youth to the team.  Now let us get to what people love to do which is grade the performances of the individual players.  Today comes a look at the forward core.  There are those who played this year that are not on the list either because of a lack of games or being so far out of the team by the end they just didnt matter that much.

Brandon Dubinsky: Dubinsky led the team in goals (24), assists (30), and points (54).  In addition he was second on the team in shots (202).  The numbers say that Dubinsky had a great year, but the reality is he only did so for half the season.  His first half was a tremendous leap forward for the forward as he played to a borderline All-Star level, but in the second half the maddening and inconsistent version of Dubinsky came back to the forefront once again.  Despite the two goals in the playoff series against the Capitals, his play overall in the series was subpar.  Consistency continues to be the biggest issue for the 25-year-old forward and if will ultimately be what determines whether he ever fully reaches his potential.  Grade: B+

Ryan Callahan: Callahan was already considered a heart and soul player for the Rangers but he took another step to solidifying his position as the leader of the forward core.  In addition to his roles as a checker, energy player, he added to his offensive game this season.  Despite missing 22 games he was second on the team in goals (23) and points (48).  The only thing you can criticize about Callahan is about his durability considering he broke both his hand and ankle during the course of the year.  That said, it is tough to criticize a guy who was injured blocking shots and playing his game because if he changed those things, then he wouldn’t be Ryan Callahan.  There is still a need to keep him healthy and on the ice as well.  His presence might have been the difference in the first round of the playoffs had been on the ice.  Grade: A

Marian Gaborik: No forward for the New York Rangers had more expected of them coming into the season than Marian Gaborik and he severely disappointed.  For many a 22-26-48 season would be considered successful, but when you are coming off a season of 42-44-86 there is nothing acceptable about it.  Gaborik missed 20 games on the season due to shoulder, concussion and flu issues.  Gaborik had nights where he was the dominant player he is expected to be, but those were far too rare and seemingly only happened against the worst teams in the league.  In the playoffs he was a complete non-factor as he seemingly gets.  In too many games Gaborik seemed to glide around the outside of the ice and make himself far too easy to defend against.  smaller the bigger the game is.  If Gaborik is not willing to get back to skating and going to the tough areas it will be a long three years left on his contract.  Grade: D

Artem Anisimov: Anisimov got off to an incredibly hot start playing with Dubinsky and Callahan (6-8-14 in 17 games), but was hot and cold the rest of the year. Consistent impact on the offensive end is still a very real concern for Anisimov who finished the season with 18-26-44 on the season.  The improvement of six goals and ten assists bodes well in terms of the season totals, but there is that question of how consistent he will be.  Anisimov showed once again his willingness and ability to be a solid two-way player, but sometimes he becomes so focused on the defensive side that he loses his aggressiveness in the offensive zone.  Definitely needs to improve consistency, faceoffs and strength to be a more consistent force. Grade: B

Derek Stepan: Overall his rookie season was a very good one for Stepan.  He had the expected ups and downs of being a 20-year-old going straight from the college ranks to the NHL, but he showed flashes of how good he can be.  Overall a 21-24-45 season was more than could have been expected of Stepan.  His goal scoring prowess was better than expected as was his timing for many of those goals as he showed a penchant to score goals in big moments.  His vision and play-making skills are there and now he needs to work on his faceoff skills and be taken off the point on a power play.  An eventual move to left wing both at even strength and on the man advantage might be in the card, but he has shown enough to be considered a top-six forward of the future.  Grade: B+

Brian Boyle: To say that Boyle’s season came out of nowhere would be a severe understatement.  Boyle was a critical component of the Rangers this season not just with his 21 goals, but his role on arguably the most consistent line with Ruslan Fedotenko and Brandon Prust.  Having the trust of his coach as Boyle does is crucial for any player.  On the negative side we have to point out the differential between his start and the struggles he had down the stretch to continue his goals scoring.  The production tailed off and overall he seemed exhausted having played significantly more than ever before at this level.  Showed he can be not only an NHL regular but even a solid third line center given his two-way play.  Grade: B+

Brandon Prust: Prust was considered a throw-in during the Jokinen trade during the 2009-10 season, but what he brought to the team this season is significantly more than that.  The toughness, and determination he showed while playing through numerous injuries during the year helped to define the identity of this team this year.  Those things defined why he was the winner of the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award this year.  Prust is able to fight, but is much more than a fighter.  As a skilled penalty killer he is also a threat to go the other way and score a shorthanded goal as he did five times this season.  Grade: A

Ruslan Fedotenko: The statistical numbers (10-15-25) cannot define what Fedotenko brought to the Rangers lineup this season.  His work as a fore-checker was critical to the Rangers having their system filter through the lineup.  The impact of Fedotenko to the lineup was felt during his absence for 16 games (shoulder, appendectomy) as the team did not have the same force in their game.  He was arguably the best forward for the team during their playoff series against the Capitals. Grade: B

Sean Avery: Avery is one of those players that the Rangers have too many of in that he can be great one night and then disappear from any impactful role for far too many games.  Avery is clearly in the doghouse of coach John Tortorella because of previous actions, but playing with less edge to try and stay in the lineup made him less effective and basically a fourth line type player.  Avery was very effective in the playoffs as he played with more of an edge to his game, but is a question mark to come back next year. Grade: C

Erik Christensen: Christensen’s inability to find consistency is seen for yet another season.  The skill is clearly there and he exercises it at different points, but then goes on his disappearing acts. Grade: C-

Vinny Prospal: Prospal missed the entire first half of the season with his knee injury and played well in the 29 games he was able to hit the ice.  In those 29 games he recorded nine goals and 14 assists, but also showed serious limitations due to the knee.  Was a no-show in the playoffs. Grade: INC/B-

Chris Drury: The captain missed most of the season with various injuries to his finger and then his knee.  The team was able to compensate for much of what he can now provide them in his absence. What he can do is win face-offs, kill penalties and be a solid two-way player, but for his salary he simply does not produce enough offensively.  His role inside the room seems solid in all the quotes that come out, but expect for a buyout to happen next month, especially if the Rangers are looking to make a run at a free agent like Brad Richards. Grade: INC/C-

Mats Zuccarello-Aasen: Zuccarello had an impact with the Rangers in the shootout and those points ended up being critical to the team making the playoffs.  He scored a few goals and showed flashes of being able to play at the NHL level, but there were also holes in his game that show he has work to do.  Effort was never the issue for Zuccarello, so next up is assessing the results as they are next season without the thoughts about adjusting to being in North America or being a rookie.  The passing skills and vision are there and his willingness to go to the dirty areas is something that bodes well, but the biggest question mark following this season might be about his goal scoring. Grade: C+

Wojtek Wolski: The inconsistency of Wolski continued following his trade from Phoenix to New York and showed why despite his tremendous skill he cannot find a home at the NHL level.  There is little that Wolski cannot do offensively, but there is also little he has shown to be able to do it with any consistency.  He will likely be bought out this summer and while he personally disappointed in his time with the Rangers on the ice, the trade to get him for Rozsival was still a brilliant move. Grade: C-