The Rangers will attempt to end a three game losing streak tonight in Las Vegas. Since the calendar flipped to 2019, New York has been outscored 18-3 in those three contests. Facing a solid Golden Knights team on the road is no easy task, especially for a fragile team lacking any semblance of confidence.
Kevin Hayes will miss his third straight game, which means the same 12 forwards from Sunday will be in the lineup. While Hayes’ absence isn’t the sole reason for the two recent defeats, you can see how big a difference he makes, especially defensively when matched up against the opposition’s top or second line center. Speculation is in earnest that Hayes is most certainly on the trading block, but as I have discussed, the return sure as heck better warrant dealing him, especially if trading him results in Hayes not re-signing with the team.
On defense, coach David Quinn did not specify the change/changes, but said there would be a lineup adjustment on defense. Brendan Smith, who was benched for the duration of the first period after taking a senseless elbowing penalty 6:37 on Sunday against the Coyotes, is a likely candidate to watch in street clothes. With eight defensemen available, Tony DeAngelo, scratched from three straight and six of the past eight games, may also be the odd man out tonight. Though any number of blueliners should be in the press box following the last three debacles, so Quinn has his choice of candidates.
In addition, Alexander Georgiev will be between the pipes, his second start in three games. Henrik Lundqvist, who struggled against Pittsburgh, was rested against Colorado but didn’t fare much better versus Arizona and was pulled, matching what transpired against the Penguins. While he wasn’t good, the defense, including the forwards in front of him, provided little assistance or resistance.
Rangers and Knicks CEO James Dolan was at practice yesterday and sat with Larry Brooks of the NY Post and Colin Stephenson of Newsday. Dolan is all in for the rebuild, as his comments will show. His point on the playoffs, which was in Newsday and not the Post, is the one little fly in the ointment but that remark is outweighed by everything else he said. There is no turning back or veering off the future path for the Rangers, as Dolan is aware of the growing pains and difficulty of the rebuild, though as you will see, is not enameled with the word “tanking” for the ramifications (I.e. financial) associated with that term.
“The stew has just gotten on the flame, so like everybody else, I’m waiting to see who we’re going to be,” Dolan told two reporters Monday after taking in his team’s practice in advance of Tuesday’s match against the Golden Knights. “I’m very happy with our coach, he’s a teaching coach, a development coach who understands how to work with kids, bring their level up and build a team.
“I’m very happy with how the organization is organizing itself around development. We’re staying the course.”
“It shouldn’t surprise you too much,” he said of this slide. “It’s an opportunity, though, to learn, especially for the kids. They’ll probably always remember this dip because it’s so dramatic. Hopefully we won’t see one again. This is part of the learning process.”
The Blueshirts are 17-17-7, barely on the periphery of the playoff picture. And while there is always pressure in the NHL, there is no organizational pressure on Gorton or coach David Quinn to drive the Blueshirts to the postseason.
“I’m pleased that we’re following the strategy we agreed on,” Dolan said. “I don’t want them lunging for the playoffs. Nobody’s job depends on whether we make the playoffs or not, although the team still believes we can make it.”
“None of my teams are going to tank. I’ll never tell a team to lose,” Dolan said. “I think teams that tank are giving away something really big. I think they’re giving away that emotional development for the team. You can see how important that is.
“You have responsibility to the fans; fans pay for tickets and they deserve best game you can give them. That’s probably No. 1. But when you go in and tell a team, even if you’re just telling the coach, to lose the game, you’re dispiriting your team. That hurts more than getting a better draft pick helps. It’s hard to reignite the spirit of the team.”
“It’s still a development year, but the one thing with the team that shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody is that Hank can carry a team,” Dolan said, citing Henrik Lundqvist. “I think our success up until this point is largely attributable to Hank, but that’s not what our plan is.
“Our plan, of course, is to stay with Hank but develop these kids and have a potent team besides the goalie. That’s coming along, but they’re young. The older guys, I think are contributing, but we’re not expecting to compete for a Stanley Cup this year.”
Lundqvist, who has been pulled from each of his last two games in allowing 11 goals on 50 shots in 81:18 and will back up Alexandar Georgiev on Tuesday, has of course pledged his fealty to the franchise on more than one occasion. No, he is neither jumping ship nor about to be pushed overboard.
“The real big difference between the Knicks and Rangers is Henrik,” Dolan said, in assessing the state of his two rebuilding franchises. “If the Knicks had a Henrik, they’d probably be competing for a playoff spot. No Henrik, no playoff spot.
“Hank is excellent about his conditioning, health, etc. He thinks he’s going to be here [for the payoff on the rebuild]. I think he can make it as long as [Martin] Brodeur. Maybe a little further on in his career we can give him a little more of a break here and there, but he’s an All-Star this year.
“It’s hard to find another Hank. Damn near impossible.”
This paragraph is from Stephenson in the Newsday:
“But with the Rangers, no,’’ he said. “I think the team believes they still have an excellent shot at making the playoffs, and if they keep getting better, by the time they get to the playoffs, they’ll be a better team than they are today. And maybe they got a shot to get past the first round, or whatever. I mean, it gets them more playoff experience.”
Dolan has been known in the past as an owner who looks at the short- and not long-term. In addition, speculation always was that making the playoffs and obtaining that revenue, even for one round, outweighed what was good for the future. By virtue of the letter last year and remarks yesterday, the good news is that he is and remains all in for the rebuild. The underlying meaning is that management won’t need to sacrifice what’s better for down the road to improve the product right now, which should drive the path at the trade deadline and also in free agency.