Any combination of Stepan, Brassard, Miller, Nash, Kreider, and Zuccarello, in the top six is fine by me and probably most Ranger fans. I’ve never understood Jesper Fast being in the top six mix, when all hands are on deck, and even when Rick Nash was down, and then while he was being eased back into the lineup. But if Nash’s game against Montreal was any indication, it appears he has his legs. If the Rangers can keep the afore mentioned in the top six, and healthy, then some potential for some playoff success exists.
With the fourth line of Moore, Glass and Stalberg kicking in a consistent, gritty effort since their inaugural debut, a little more playoff optimism exists. Left to make up a neccessary third line is Eric Staal, Kevin Hayes, Jesper Fast and the forgotten Oscar Lindberg. Fast could be a key cog on that line, bringing his defensive awareness to the mix. Eric Staal and Kevin Hayes both showed a bit of chemistry, against the Canadians just missing on a couple of neat passing plays. Staal has to take charge on that line and make it work. If he does, and Hayes and Fast follow along, then some real playoff optimism exists.
The Rangers defense has some work to do cleaning up the giveaways, and slot abandonment in front of Henrik Lundqvist or Antti Raanta, both areas of concern on display against the Canadians. The defense as a group either picks up their play and competes, or the playoff optimism will evaporate. The status quo won’t cut it come playoffs.
The other area of concern and again in hi definition exhibition against the Canadiens, was the unbelievably weak clearing attempts by Ranger players when under some opposition pressure. Viktor Stalberg had a chipshot to clear the puck while killing a penalty in the third period. He coughed it up instead, the puck was kept in the Ranger end, and Stalberg eventually took a penalty. That penalty doesn’t happen if he clears the puck the first time. Next shift Derek Stepan had a easy clear and instead turned the puck over. Another lengthy containment took place. All season the Rangers have really struggled clearing the puck out of their zone. They continually make poor decisions, and are not near hard enough on the puck when they do try to clear it. Playoff opponents will be well schooled on forcing the Rangers in their defensive zone. This seasons game films are full of Ranger examples of weakness on the puck, and if they don’t clean it up they will be cleaning out their lockers.