Over the last two games, the Blueshirts have been outscored 8-5, and both were contests in which they could have won if they played responsible, mistake-free hockey.
The surprising part of the Rangers' last two defeats is that they came during a time in which top center Derek Stepan was in the lineup. The Blueshirts' No. 1 center had missed the previous 12 games with a broken fibula but returned to action against the Toronto Maple Leafs on November 8.
The Rangers are in for a tough battle with the Metropolitan Division-leading Penguins, and Alain Vigneault will need to make some tweaks before the puck drops on Tuesday night for his club to have a fighting chance.
Vigneault first and foremost needs to make changes involving personnel. That means either AV has to put a new player or two in the lineup, or he will have to reshuffle the lines to better support each player's individual set of skills.
The current lineup as constructed won't get the job done, because under this configuration the Rangers will only be able to roll three lines against the Penguins. The Rangers are technically playing four lines, but the fourth line isn't being used in a correct manner.
|Left Wing||Center||Right Wing|
|Rick Nash||Derick Brassard||Martin St. Louis|
|Chris Kreider||Derek Stepan||Mats Zuccarello|
|Carl Hagelin||Dominic Moore||Lee Stempniak|
|Tanner Glass||Kevin Hayes||Anthony Duclair|
|Rangers vs. Oilers lineup|
This is an issue because Pittsburgh has shown early on that they can roll a full lineup, and the Rangers can't afford to have tired players on the ice against Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist, Chris Kunitz or Evgeni Malkin.
With Stepan back in the lineup, the Rangers have a decent top nine, but the current lineup is still weakened due to roster decisions involving the fourth line.
During Saturday's contest against the Maple Leafs and Sunday's vs. Edmonton, the fourth line consisted of Anthony Duclair, Kevin Hayes and Tanner Glass.
This construction is a head-scratcher for a number of reasons, and if the line is kept together the Penguins will look to exploit it.
Duclair is a skilled forward with speed, offensive upside and creativity. Hayes is a straightforward player who is still getting his feet wet in the NHL and has some potential. He skates well for a big man and is a decent companion for Duclair.
Hayes is able to create space on the ice, and Duclair can fill that space to generate offense. There is nothing wrong with this duo, but they have been put in a position to fail because of the third man on their line.
Tanner Glass does not fit at all on this line and drags it down because he is devoid of offensive ability. Plus, he's not very good when it comes to puck possession, according to Patrick Kearns of The Washington Post.
The current Ranger and former Penguin is a tough-guy pugilist and an average penalty-killer. He is on the fourth line for a reason, and his limited skill set is currently costing Alain Vigneault an opportunity to roll four lines that can contribute in all areas of the game.
Due to the fact that Glass isn't the most useful player when it comes to scoring, the entire fourth line has seen relegated minutes during the season. During the aforementioned loss against Toronto, Hayes played 9:16, Duclair 10:49, with 1:50 coming on the power play.
Both are players who can help the Rangers, but they need ice time to make things happen. If there were a player like Ryan Malone on this line, the Blueshirts would be better off. Malone has some offensive awareness and isn't a complete liability defensively, so he'd be a better fit for what the line is trying to accomplish.
He isn't a major upgrade over Glass, but he's an upgrade nonetheless. Obviously, the best decision would involve scratching Glass, but that's unlikely given the fat three-year, $4.35 million contract he was awarded this summer.
If by some chance the Rangers realize that something needs to be done with Glass, another solid option would involve the recall of Oscar Lindberg to fill a center or wing position.
The Wolf Pack stud is a prospect most Ranger fans are unfamiliar with, but he could help the current roster. Lindberg is a 6'1", 190-pound center of Swedish origin who was acquired in the trade with the former Phoenix Coyotes that sent Ethan Werek out of town.
In 2013-14, Lindberg tallied 18 goals and 44 points in 75 games, and through 12 games this year he's tallied eight goals and 11 points. Not only is Lindberg a decent offensive player, but he's a skilled defender who plays a 200-foot game and can handle himself at the faceoff dot.
He arguably would be a better fit than Glass or Malone due to his vast skill set, but for some reason he's been kept in Hartford. The 23-year-old pivot has shown that he's ready for an NHL shot, but for the time being he will have to remain on standby in the AHL.
With all that in mind, if it is assumed that Vigneault is going to keep the same players in the lineup, the next-best thing he could do would involve bumping up minutes for Duclair and Hayes while double-shifting another forward in Glass' place.
This was a strategy employed against the Oilers, as Vigneault played Hayes and Duclair more, but only because the rest of the Rangers looked flat and lifeless. For context, Hayes played 8:57 in the first two periods combined, but his ice time jumped to 6:20 over seven shifts in the third period.
Duclair on the other hand, played 6:38 in the first two periods and tallied 5:35 in the third period. Had Vigneault started rolling his youngsters out earlier, there is a chance that the game would have ended with a different result.
There are no guarantees, but in the second night of a back-to-back, odds are that Hayes and Duclair would be fresher based on their age and the minutes they played the previous night.
If Duclair and Hayes are not going to be used in a manner that plays to their strengths, it is in the best interests of all parties to reassign both players. Hayes could stand to beef up his all-around game in the AHL, and Duclair could be sent back to the Quebec Remparts to play his heart out and potentially skate for Team Canada at the U20s.
UPDATE: Monday November 10, 5:55 p.m.
For the time being, both will remain, as Jesper Fast was recalled, and Ryan Malone was demoted on Monday evening.
With that transaction now official, here are a potential set up of lines for the Rangers' matchup vs. Pittsburgh.
|Potential Lines for Tuesday vs. Pittsburgh|
|Rick Nash||Derick Brassard||Mats Zuccarello|
|Chris Kreider||Derek Stepan||Martin St. Louis|
|Carl Hagelin||Kevin Hayes||Lee Stempniak|
|Tanner Glass||Dominic Moore||Jesper Fast|
|Tom Urtz Jr.|
In this configuration, the first line keeps together the Rangers' top duo from last year with an upgrade over Benoit Pouliot in Rick Nash. Nash has looked solid alongside "Brass and Zucc," and as the saying goes, if it isn't broke don't fix it.
The second line puts Stepan and Chris Kreider, another successful duo, with Martin St. Louis. Both wingers have speed and can hold on to the puck, and St. Louis can be the setup man with Kreider ready to pull the trigger.
The third line then takes the two youngsters and puts them with a solid and reliable two-way speedster in Carl Hagelin, while the fourth line would get its identity back.
Instead of the fourth line being the holding spot for rookies, it would become the checking unit it has been over the last few years. Lee Stempniak would become a bit of an odd man out, but at this stage it wouldn't be a terrible role for him.
In addition, this top nine would balance speed, size, skill and offensive ability and would be good enough to skate with the Penguins. They could still be outgunned based on how hot Pittsburgh has been, but the construction of lines would give the team a realistic chance of pulling out a W.
|Penguins' Current Top Nine|
|Chris Kunitz||Sidney Crosby||Patric Hornqvist|
|Pascal Dupuis||Evgeni Malkin||Blake Comeau|
|Nick Spaling||Brandon Sutter||Steve Downie|
Right now, the Rangers are weathering a storm until the waters recede. John Moore is almost done serving his suspension, while Dan Boyle is closer to returning, according to Brett Cyrgalis of the New York Post. Ryan McDonagh will be out for a while, so the best thing the team can do right now is roll solid forward lines while they are sporting a papier-mache defense.
Once Moore and Boyle are eligible to return, changes will be made to the defense. Two of Conor Allen, Matt Hunwick and Mike Kostka will leave the lineup, since all three competed for the No. 7 spot during training camp.
Although the Rangers have had a slow start, things aren't all bad. They clearly have the talent, as they are scoring a 13th-best 2.71 goals per game, but right now they don't have the right combinations.
The amount of turnover this past summer was sizable (Pouliot, Brad Richards, Anton Stralman, Brian Boyle, Derek Dorsett, Dan Carcillo, etc.), and they are still going through a feeling-out period.
If there is any silver lining with the current squad, it is this: One year ago, the Rangers' record through 14 games was 6-8-0, according to ShrpSports. The team's current record is 6-6-2, so things could be worse. The Rangers have an opportunity to push forward with a win against the Penguins but will need to make adjustments to stand a chance.