Analysis

Chicago Blackhawks Eye On The Enemy: New York Rangers (Blue Line Station)

By Gregory Bradshaw
Oct 7, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane (88) controls the puck against New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh (27) in the second period at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 7, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane (88) controls the puck against New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh (27) in the second period at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports /
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Nov 12, 2016; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; New York Rangers right wing Michael Grabner (40) skates against the Calgary Flames during the first period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 12, 2016; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; New York Rangers right wing Michael Grabner (40) skates against the Calgary Flames during the first period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports /

Q&A with Brandon Cohen of Blue Line Station

Who’s been the biggest surprise for the New York Rangers and why?

BC: While I wish to say Kevin Hayes to infuriate the Blackhawks faithful (sorry), his outbreak has not surprised me. Hayes led the NHL in even-strength primary assists in his rookie season, a feat signaling his tremendous talent.

Hayes and J.T. Miller have stood out as bright young forwards, but the real surprise has been Michael Grabner. Grabner was a player I’ve been begging for the Rangers to get in recent seasons, but I could not have predicted this offensive outburst. With 13 goals — all at even strength — Grabner has been a reliable offensive weapon, while also playing key defensive minutes.

The addition of Grabner has solidified a formerly woeful Rangers penalty kill, and those that have played with Grabner appear refreshed by his blazing speed. His contributions have far outweighed expectations.

Who’s been the biggest disappointment and why?

BC: Kevin Klein has been the worst defenseman on a roster that includes Dan Girardi. It takes an especially poor season to do that. Klein was a two-way weapon last season, performing admirably. This season Klein has been putrid, bringing down those he plays with and failing to make any offensive contributions at all.

Offensively, no players have disappointed. The Rangers offense clicked from opening night and has not slowed down since. Every forward on the roster has done his respective part to help the Rangers win, especially considering the Rangers must outscore their own defense’s miscues each night.

What has been the key to the Rangers’ success offensively?

BC: Depth, depth, depth and more depth. The Rangers have one of the worst offensive defenses in the NHL, putting all of the pressure on the offense.

For most teams that would be concerning, but for the Rangers it is not a problem. When healthy, New York can roll four offensive skill lines to wear down opponents’ defenses.

Think Michael Grabner on the fourth line despite scoring 13 goals on the season. Think Brandon Pirri terrorizing opponents’ defenses with his lethal shot on the fourth line.

Currently, Pavel Buchnevich and Mika Zibanejad are out with injuries, so the four skill lines have narrowed down to three skill lines and a defensive fourth line. Still, that fourth line can put up points, and there is no weakness among the group of forwards. It is incredibly rare for a team to be able to boast such talent.

What separates the Rangers from the rest of the Eastern Conference?

BC: Let me start by saying I do not believe the Rangers are the best team in the Eastern Conference. In fact, I do not believe they are the best team in their own division. That being said, they are separated from the pack in offensive depth. The Rangers boast more skill forwards than any team in the NHL, though the top line is not as talented as other teams’ top lines.

Where the Rangers separate from the pack is their ability to roll their offense without any breaks, making opponents unable to shelter their worst defensive pairings.

Additionally, the Rangers’ speed causes nightmares for opposing teams. Like the Pittsburgh Penguins last season, the Rangers prioritize speeding past teams to create uncomfortable situations for their defenses. When the offensive is skating circles in the opponent’s zone, there is a lack of comfort and a lack of understanding of where to be by opponents. It’s natural.

Oh, and a guy named Henrik Lundqvist doesn’t hurt matters as well.

The Rangers will beat the Blackhawks if?

BC: The Rangers offense outscores the Rangers defense’s mistakes. Truthfully, this would be my answer for any team the Rangers face, as that is currently Rangers hockey.

The Rangers offense cannot be matched, but the Rangers defense is bad enough to take away that advantage. Once that advantage is taken away, it becomes a fair fight.

A fair fight between Patrick Kane and company vs. Rick Nash and company could certainly result in a Blackhawks win. The Rangers must make sure the fight is not fair.

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