Rangers Have Chance to Reset at All-Star Break

The Rangers get a chance to catch their collective breath after a much-needed, and certainly imperfect win in San Jose salvaged an otherwise winless four-game road trip.

That is, the Rangers other than Henrik Lundqvist, who has been overworked and will now face the additional stress of a three-on-three all-star tournament this weekend — and three players (Tony DeAngelo, Vinni Lettieri and Peter Holland) who were sent to Hartford to play games during the break.

When they return, it will be February and the season’s dog days, three and a half weeks until the trade deadline, after which the roster may look decidedly different.

[Watch Rangers-Maple Leafs Thursday on MSG & MSG GO]


1. Alain Vigneault sure seems to know how and when to push J.T. Miller’s buttons. And Miller sure seems to need his buttons pushed, and usually responds the right way. Vigneault sat Miller on the bench for the last two periods in Anaheim Tuesday, after a pair of ghastly turnovers led to goals.

Miller responded, with the game-winning goal and two assists in the 6-5 win in San Jose Thursday. It didn’t hurt that his centerman, Kevin Hayes, returned from a leg injury, helping that line (with Mats Zuccarello) put up a pair of goals and five assists.

“Played a simple, smart game,” Vigneault said after the win.

“Of course (it feels good),” Miller said. “It’s amazing – you just sit back and look at how simple you have to play sometimes and that’s when the ice really seems to open up. You know, it’s when you stop (moving) your feet and looking for plays and making something out of nothing is when you get yourself in trouble. I just went back … to try to play my game and create a little room for us.”

The kid is nothing if not honest about his play.

J.T. Miller credits a simple approach to his three-point night in the Rangers' 6-5 win over the Sharks.

2. Speaking of honesty, Lundqvist on Tuesday and Ondrej Pavelec on Thursday both assessed their performances in goal as not good enough. Pavelec, after the team hung on to win after Miller had made it 6-4 late and Tomas Hertl scored for the Sharks in the final minute to cut it to 6-5, had this to say: “To be honest, I had nothing to do with the win.”

Not sure if I’d go that far, but the Rangers have lived with exceptional goaltending for a long time, and to get a pair of stinkers was surely surprising.

Henrik Lundqvist talks about giving up three goals on seven shots and the Rangers effort in the loss to the Ducks.

3. So the Rangers claimed (very) tough guy Cody McLeod off waivers from Nashville. In today’s NHL, where staged fights and flat-out goons are naturally becoming extinct, was this a necessary move?

I’m going to sing my usual song on this, and sorry if it straddles two sides of the same fence. I don’t think having a tough guy deters other teams from taking liberties. Last week, Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang got clobbered while Ryan Reaves, who was brought in to deter such actions, was on the ice. If I’m not mistaken, Dylan McIlrath was on the ice when Matt Beleskey broke Derek Stepan’s ribs a couple of years ago. Deterrents don’t really exist.

Having said all of that, the players feel better, more comfortable, somehow protected, by having a tough guy in the lineup. The Rangers loved having McIlrath and/or Tanner Glass in the lineup the last couple of seasons. And if the players feel better, if it allows them to play better, then is it worth having those rugged fellows in uniform?

4. I’m not pumping the Rangers’ tires here, but I kind of agree with the notion – sold by Vigneault, the players, MSG Networks’ Steve Valiquette et al. – that they didn’t play terrible hockey on the 1-3 trip. But their mistakes in Games 2 and 3, in LA and Anaheim, were enormous and terribly timed and almost all of them ended up in the net. You could say the same for the San Jose win. Yes, it could have been a 0-4 trip. Yes, it also could have been 2-2 or better just by eliminating a couple of the colossal mistakes.

Suffice it to say, the Rangers have a lot of areas to improve when they come out of the break.

5. Is it just me, or does it seem the Christmas break, the “bye” week and the All-Star break are much too close together? Fits and starts. It could be worse. There could be an extended Olympic break this year.

[Watch Rangers-Maple Leafs Thursday on MSG & MSG GO]