8 Thoughts: Rangers At Midpoint of Season

So the Rangers are in their “bye” week, which is not quite a week – five days without a game, four and a half without a practice – and not actually a bye.

But somebody at the NFL decided that a week off would be called a “bye” and somebody at the NHL decided to go along with it.

A “bye,” as everybody knows, involves advancement in a tournament. Google dictionary defines, “bye” the noun as “the transfer of a competitor directly to the next round of a competition in the absence of an assigned opponent.” So, it’s not a vacation, not a hiatus, not some time off.

As a word person, this bothers me. But that’s my problem, not yours.

[Watch Rangers-Islanders Saturday on MSG & MSG GO]

Some thoughts for the bye week, as the Rangers and the NHL just moved past the midway point of the season:

1. Glen Sather is known to have said it, and Mike Keenan professed it, and countless coaches, including Alain Vigneault, have repeated it:

“Don’t dissect the wins.”

The Rangers certainly are worth dissecting in the first 42 games, which hasn’t been so much a roller coaster as a Pogo stick (Google it, kids). You know, the slow start, the fabulous stretch back into the playoff picture, was roller coaster stuff. But the recent stretch of good and bad – both periods and games – are head-scratching.

Like the poorly-played shootout win in Arizona Saturday, and the much-better regulation loss in Las Vegas Sunday. Or the OT win over Buffalo in the Winter Classic, or the shootout loss in Detroit, or the shootout win over Washington … You get the idea. There’s plenty to dissect in the wildly varied way the Rangers played in those games. Even AV said, after the Vegas game, “well, it was better than last night (against Arizona).”

Alain Vigneault speaks on Kevin Hayes' injury status, the Rangers effort and his decision to scratch Pavel Buchnevich for the game.

2. So, Vigneault scratches Pavel Buchnevich in Vegas. A young highly-skilled player (whom the coach loves, by the way), still learning the non-offensive parts of the game, takes a seat after a couple of games of having difficulties with puck management, etc., for a match against a fast, counter-attack team? Gee, that’s never happened before (cough, cough, Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, et al).

3. But puck management has to be much better and much more consistent, by everybody, not just Buchnevich or the young guys or the skilled guys.

4. I still think the Rangers don’t get enough shots on goal because they’re a pass-first, pass-happy team. So many of John Giannone’s (or Dave Maloney’s) second-intermission coaches’ reports include “got to get more pucks to the net” and yet it seems the Rangers only start getting pucks to the net when they’re trailing late.

I thought it was interesting that AV spoke last week about the balance between firing some pucks and the want and need to make plays, and not wanting to stifle creativity. But I don’t think that balance has been found yet. Kevin Hayes nearly knocked me off my chair – and nearly scored on Marc-Andre Fleury – with a slapper before being hurt Sunday.

5. But the Rangers’ advanced stats regarding shot attempts are never going to be good when shooting appears to be the last option. And I know the argument – that there’s no point in taking a shot at an unscreened goalie – except A) sometimes, if not often, a shot/rebound is a better play than a wish pass, and B) I’ve seen many unscreened shots, especially by those capable of elevating, go into the net recently.

Just off the top of my dome, I think of Patrick Sharp’s goal against Henrik Lundqvist last week, James Neal’s goal against Ondrej Pavelec and Mika Zibanejad’s goal against Fleury Sunday.

6. Speaking of shots … In shootouts, it seems, so many guys are still trying to go forehand-backhand, when it’s such a difficult way to score on today’s goalies who play so well, and so much, on their knees.

If you can’t get the backhander up a foot or more off the ice, and quickly, it’s not going in. The backhander needs to go top shelf, or between the pad and arm. The five-hole shot occasionally works, but goalies have gotten good at closing their gigantic pads on those, too.

At the same time, players can’t just give up on the backhander because if you remove options a goalie must consider, that goalie will shut the door on the forehand shot. We saw the Derek Stepan homage to Steve Larmer in Arizona Saturday – a wind-up slapper coming down the slot, and that can work, again, if elevated.

7. Lundqvist simply stole the Arizona game and has really been in top form, even for him, lately. This is how good the Rangers’ goaltending is (and how much it has been relied upon). Over the last 13 games, Lundqvist and Pavelec faced an average of 36.5 shots per game, and have an incredible .947 save percentage and the Rangers are 6-4-3. Pavelec is at .961 in his last four starts.

8. The Rangers penalty kill ranks fifth in the NHL and first in the Eastern Conference at 83.7 percent (as of Tuesday). This is a great stat about that, too; the Rangers have not allowed more than one power-play goal in 40 consecutive games (and only once in 42 games this season).

[Watch Rangers-Islanders Saturday on MSG & MSG GO]