The Rangers host Chicago tonight for the second and final meeting of the regular season between the two original six franchises.
The teams played in the Windy City in mid-November and the Blackhawks scored three goals in a 4:07 span in the first five minutes of the third period, breaking a 1-1 two-period tie on their way to a 6-3 win. The defeat was the first for the Blueshirts after they had won their previous six games.
The 2018 Winter Classic is in the books, and in one of the more competitive and well-played outdoor games, the Rangers prevailed in overtime over Buffalo when J.T. Miller knocked in his own rebound to secure a 3-2 win. Miller is slowly but surely becoming a very important part of the Ranger story. It’s funny though, as he can go from the penthouse to the outhouse in coach Alain Vigneault’s eyes in a hurry.
Over time, the key to coaching is managing the people in the lineup. The X’s and O’s are what they are, but coaching success is largely a result of knowing who to poke, and who to treat with kid gloves. To his tremendous credit, J.T. Miller shows up every day with work boots on, ready to play in a situation where there seems to be an awful lot of poking going on. Maybe he needs it, maybe he doesn’t but at the end of the day, J.T. is well on his way to a long career and a big payday.
Marc Staal is a good example of a player who set out to prove that he had plenty of game left in the tank. Enduring an off-season that was rife with the opinion that, the speed of the game was grinding his career to a halt, Staal came to camp with a chip on his shoulder to prove otherwise. And he has done just that. What he has shown is that there are many ways to out-think and out-position an opponent to retrieve the puck and make that important play to get out of the defensive zone. While quickness is good, thinking works also. Marc Staal is exemplary of the latter.
1. Protect the Crease
The Hawks dominated the area around Henrik Lundqvist’s crease in the Rangers’ 6-3 loss earlier this season. Better play with the puck and a more physical presence around the net should alleviate a repeat performance by Chicago around The King.
2. Where is “He?”
That “He” would be Chicago’s future Hall-of-Famer, Patrick Kane. Kane is 13 points ahead of the next highest Hawk scorer. Dangerous with and without the puck, Ranger defenders need to know where Kane is at all times when he is on the ice.
The Rangers’ top center has not garnered a point and is -2 in his six games back in the lineup since missing nine games due to a concussion. The coaching staff has moved wingers around in an attempt to get Mika Zibanejad back on track. Top players need to be top players. The Rangers need more from Zibanejad.