Rangers Battle Through Injuries

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Justin Yamada.

Welcome back to Blueshirts Blueline Rangers fans! Well it seems that the Rangers impressive start to the season has cooled down. Since they began the season going 11-2-2, they have now gone 5-4-1 in their past 10 games and have looked fairly mediocre during that stretch. But fear not, they can turn things around and the solutions aren’t as hard as they may seem.

First of all, Rangers Head Coach Alain Vigneault had to make Dan Boyle the permanent seventh defenseman on the team. Of course with defenseman Kevin Klein injured for at least the next two to three weeks, Boyle will get playing time but when Klein is healthy, Boyle should not see the ice unless there is an injury. Yes, Boyle has experience and yes, he won’t like the fact that during what is possibly his last season, he will be sitting but Vigneault must do what is right for the team.

Dylan McIlrath brings the factors of toughness and size to the ice and he gives the Rangers an element to their game that Boyle cannot simply bring at this stage in his career. Keith Yandle now provides the team with the offensive defenseman that they were seeking for so long and unfortunately for Boyle, that makes him the odd man out. McIlrath can take people out with thunderous hits and his size makes him someone who is not easy to avoid on the ice. He has improved defensively by leaps and bounds and has done some great things this season when he has been called upon.

With the injury to Klein, McIlrath will now get the chance to start every game and should continue to when Klein gets back. He has been too good this season when given a chance to shine and he needs to play more and give the Rangers the added bite they need on the back end. It seemed at times that McIlrath would never pan out for the team after being selected with the tenth pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft but he is now blossoming. Below are my projected ideas for the Rangers defense pairs going forward. Included are both lineups with Klein injured and with Klein healthy.

Injured Klein defense pairs:

McDonagh – Yandle

Staal – McIlrath

Girardi – Boyle

Healthy Klein defense pairs:

McDonagh – Yandle

Staal – McIlrath

Girardi – Klein

The goals have seemingly not been coming as easy for the Rangers the past 10 games as well. There is a simple solution to that but once again, an injury will derail things for a bit. Derek Stepan had his ribs broken from a late hit by Bruins forward Matt Beleskey this week and will be out from four to six weeks. The lines of the team have been shaken up and when Stepan comes back they should be shaken up even further. Here’s some of my ideas.

First, put Chris Kreider and Rick Nash on a line together. They are the two biggest and most powerful wingers the Rangers possess and the two of them on the same line will cause nightmares for opponents. Sure, this has been done in the past but this year, especially with both Nash and Kreider not doing as well as they could be, putting the two of them back together could help them both benefit. As for the center of that line I believe that Stepan (when healthy) should be given that chance. As of now though, I believe Kevin Hayes should get a chance to play with the big guys. That line would be huge and Hayes’ faceoff percentage would increase. If his faceoff play improves even further, there is no reason why a line with all that size should not do well.

Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello should absolutely stay together. The two of them compliment each other too well. As for who should go on that line with them? Look no further than J.T. Miller. He has proven in the past that he can play a top-six role when called up and I believe he would do great things there with Stepan injured. Once Stepan comes back, Miller can move down a line again but for now he would make a great addition to the top-six. With Stepan injured, Emerson Etem also has something to prove to Vigneault that he belongs in the lineup. I would slot him into the third line with Oscar Lindberg and Viktor Stalberg. Below are the projected line combinations for the next few weeks as well as the line combinations for when Stepan comes back.

Healthy Stepan Forward Lineup:

Kreider – Stepan – Nash

Zuccarello – Brassard – Hayes

Stalberg – Lindberg – Miller

Moore – Stoll – Fast

Injured Stepan Forward Lineup:

Kreider – Hayes – Nash

Zuccarello – Brassard – Miller

Stalberg – Lindberg – Etem

Moore – Stoll – Fast

While the Rangers still have a cushion in the Metropolitan Division they need to act quick and get back to their winning ways because the Capitals are beginning to put it all together, the Penguins are starting to wake up and the Islanders are going to heat up sooner or later.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think the Rangers are going to win the division and have home ice for at least a few rounds in the playoffs but at this moment they need to get back to looking like that team that won the President’s Trophy last season. It’s still early but losses at this point in the season can come back to hurt them at the end. Playoff position always has to be at the back of their minds.

These are just a few of my ideas to help get the Rangers get back on track. The season is getting intense Rangers fans, buckle up! And as always: Let’s Go Rangers!